Athletics: Selectors make leap of faith with hurdles novice McConnell

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The Independent Online

Britain's selectors confirmed two safe bets yesterday when they named Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe in the women's team that will seek to make an immediate return to the top flight of the European Cup on 18-19 June - but elsewhere in the programme they have taken a big gamble by selecting an athlete for an event in which she has never previously completed.

Britain's selectors confirmed two safe bets yesterday when they named Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe in the women's team that will seek to make an immediate return to the top flight of the European Cup on 18-19 June - but elsewhere in the programme they have taken a big gamble by selecting an athlete for an event in which she has never previously completed.

The choice of Lee McConnell for the 400m hurdles in Leiria, Portugal, raised eyebrows, given that the 26-year-old Glaswegian has made her name as a 400m athlete, taking European bronze and Commonwealth silver three years ago. A spokesperson for UK Athletics confirmed that McConnell had attempted only one race over the hurdles, in Deffau, Germany last month, and had fallen after stumbling over the eighth hurdle.

"I know I need to race to justify this selection," McConnell said after the announcement of the women's team that will seek to make amends for its relegation from the Super League last year and the men's team chasing a sixth victory in Florence from 17-19 June. The Scot plans to race at Loughborough today to help get the feel of an event which lost its domestic No 1 Natasha Danvers-Smith last season, because she was having a baby.

The women will also be able to call upon the Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton in an event which they have to win to earn promotion. Holmes has been named vice-captain along with the triple jumper Ashia Hansen, who will play a non-competing role following her serious knee injury in this event last year.

Holmes said: "The women's team were devastated last year to be relegated and they are determined to gain promotion back into the Super League."

Mark-Lewis Francis has a chance to make amends for last year when he contests the 100m in the men's competition. Lewis-Francis was the pre-race favourite for the sprint but he was disqualified for a false start, and the subsequent loss of eight points proved costly as Britain finished fourth overall, with Germany claiming the title. Darren Campbell has been named as team captain and the men's triumphant Olympic sprint squad could be reunited for the first time since Athens as Marlon Devonish and Jason Gardener have both been named, along with Lewis-Francis and Campbell.

l Tim Montgomery, the world 100m record holder, may have to wait until late next month to hear whether he will be banned for life for his involvement in the Balco doping scandal. Montgomery is challenging the ban recommended by the US Anti-Doping Agency in a hearing of the Court of Arbitration for Sport which is being held behind closed doors in San Francisco. Montgomery still plans to run in the US Championships from 23-26 June.

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