Sotherton rueful over Kluft switch

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The Independent Online

Carolina Kluft yesterday confirmed that she would not defend her heptathlon title in Beijing this summer, a decision which opens up exciting Olympic possibilities for Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis, the British athletes who finished third and fourth respectively behind her at last summer's World Championships.

The 25-year-old Swede is undefeated in the heptathlon since 2001, and her score of 7,032 points in winning her third world title in Osaka last summer was second only to Jackie Joyner-Kersee's 1988 world record.

But having raised doubts about her intentions last year, she has now made clear that she will be concentrating on the triple jump and long jump, explaining: "My motivation is not enough for the heptathlon. It takes 1,000 per cent commitment and for the past two years I have not had the same hunger."

The initial reaction from Sotherton, who took bronze behind Kluft's gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was one of disappointment. "Although it leaves it wide open, it takes away my chance to finally beat her," said the 31-year-old Commonwealth champion. "I understand it adds to the pressure on me but my aim was to go out and win gold anyway so my goals and preparations won't be changing in any way. Carolina's a sensational champion and I believe there will be a chance for us to meet again in the future."

Ennis, the 22-year-old psychology graduate who is pushing hard to take over from Sotherton on the domestic front, was a little more upbeat. "I'm totally surprised as I had it in my head she would be there in Beijing," Ennis said. "It's a good move for her to go into another event, but it's great news for everyone else in the heptathlon as well. It will be exciting to see how this might mix things up."

The British pair's main rivals are likely to include Belgium's Tia Hellebaut, who narrowly beat Sotherton to the world indoor title earlier this month, Russia's Tatyana Chernova and Anna Bogdanova and the Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska and Natalya Dobrinksa.

Kluft was sanguine about a course she has been hinting at taking. "You have to follow your heart," she said. "In 10 years I would have more regrets about not daring to follow the philosophy I believe in, than missing a medal."

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