Athletics: Britons queue up for places on the fast track to Osaka

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The Independent Online

The highway to the World Championships runs through Manchester this weekend, although for many the World Trials, which get under way today, will resemble a roadblock.

The UK Athletics' performance director, Dave Collins, has reiterated the stringent new policy intended to ensure that only the demonstrably competitive get the nod for the event in Osaka, Japanwhere the stated target is 14 finalists and three medals. So finishing here in the first two places and holding an A qualifying mark will no longer be sufficient.

That reminder will resonate strongly in the ears of some of Britain's best- known athletes who are struggling with form or injury. The European indoor champion, Jason Gardener, has made little progress in the 100 metres this summer and, along with his fellow Olympic gold medallist Mark Lewis-Francis, faces the prospect of being usurped in the team by three of the four sprinters who have been showing better form.

The contenders are Marlon Devonish, 31, who set a personal best of 10.06sec earlier this month, Tyrone Edgar, who has followed him closely home in their last two races, and the perennial rivals Simeon Williamson and Craig Pickering, first and second respectively in the recent European Under-23 Championships.

Another athlete of renown, the former world junior 100 and 200m champion Christian Malcolm, could also complicate the issue in an event he had all but won last year before feeling an injury yards from the line. Malcolm has barely been able to train in recent months but, if he has been able to accrue any track time, his talent could create another problem for the selectors before he switches his attention to the 200m.

What promised to be one of the most competitive events of the weekend, the men's long jump, was weakened by the withdrawal of the European silver medallist Greg Rutherford this week after he injured a hamstring making his comeback from ankle injury with a 7.95m effort in Tallinn, Estonia. The 20-year-old is likely to miss at least three weeks' training and has an outside chance of being named in the team, which will be announced on 6 August.

The long jump will still have a significant edge, however, given the presence of the British record-holder Chris Tomlinson, his longtime rival Nathan Morgan, and Jonathan Moore.

A more serious hamstring injury than that incurred by Rutherford has already ended the season of Nathan Douglas, leaving the triple jump wide open for the man who beat him to the European indoor title in March, Phillips Idowu.

Tim Benjamin will also be missing from the lists when the men's 400m heats get under way this evening, as he is still recovering from an ankle injury which he incurred in a freak accident at his training track in Cardiff when he stepped into a hole.

Tonight's women's 400m heats will offer the European indoor champion Nicola Sanders an opportunity to build on the form she displayed in winning her comeback race at Sheffield two weeks ago. But one of Britain's other leading young female athletes, Becky Lyne, looks like having far more of a struggle in the 800m after finishing second last in her race at Sheffield, which also marked a comeback after long-standing injury.

Some of the most encouraging action of the weekend is likely in the women's high jump and 100m hurdles, where the heptathletes Jessica Ennis and Commonwealth champion Kelly Sotherton will renew personal rivalry.