Tearful Sotherton reinvents herself to prove there is plenty still to come

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The Independent Online

It is a long way from the English Institute of Sport indoor arena here in the Steel City to the Olympic Stadium in the east end of London – some 181 miles in distance and a million more in the metaphorical sense. Still, as she approached the finish line in the tiny, filled-to-capacity 2,500-seat South Yorkshire venue yesterday, Kelly Sotherton could see the grand, fought-over 80,000-seater centrepiece of the 2012 Games in her sights.

The former heptathlete also had tears in her eyes after completing the first step of her reinvention as a 400m specialist, and her first step towards those home Games, with a victory on the final day of the Aviva Indoor UK Trials and Championships.

"I feel quite emotional because a year ago I was told my career could be over," Sotherton said, explaining a temporary breakdown at trackside. "When I prolapsed the disc in my back it was career-threatening. I had to make a decision whether to end my career or try something new."

A decade of training for the rigours of the heptathlon had taken its toll on the Birchfield Harrier – too much for her to attempt to make a third Olympics as a multi-eventer. After considering taking "the Rebecca Romero route", following in the tyre-marks of the 2004 Olympic rowing silver medalist who struck gold as a track cyclist in Beijing, Sotherton chose to turn to the 400m.

With two years of injuries behind her, yesterday's final was her first major test as the 34-year-old new girl of the quarter-mile. She passed it with flying colours, winning by 0.12 sec from Kelly Massey of Sale Harriers in 53.46sec, with World Indoor Championship 800m silver medalist Jenny Meadows down in fifth in 54.47sec.

It was Sotherton's 17th national championship medal but her first national title in a track event. "Not bad for 34," she said. "They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I would have liked to have run faster but I'm still learning the race. And I have to remember I'm blowing cobwebs and dust."

It was at the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 that Sotherton last competed at international level but she will be back in a Great Britain vest at the European Indoor Championships in Paris next month, as a member of the 4 x 400m relay team at least.

It is the relay rather than the individual 400m that the 2004 Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist has targeted for her final Olympic fling next year. "Realistically, I'm not going to get an individual medal," she said. "It's given me the motivation for the next two years, till I retire."

At 17, Jodie Williams is a long way from retirement. In fact, the Hertfordshire schoolgirl who won the world junior 100m title last summer only started her career in the senior ranks on Saturday. She did so in style, winning the 60m in 7.24sec, and will make her first appearance for the senior Great Britain team in Paris.

She will not, however, be a member of the GB squad at the main event of the year. Her parents, Richard and Christine, and her coach, Mike McFarlane, have decided not to expose her to pressure of a global senior championship a year ahead of the London Olympics – even though UK Athletics head coach Charles Van Commenee wanted her to compete at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August.

"I've spoken to the coach and the father," Van Commenee said. "I've tried to change their minds but I've failed to convince them. I am not in the position to hijack her, put a chain around her neck, put her in a plane, put a gun in her back and say, 'Now you're going in the blocks'. I can't do that."

The Dutchman said "the door is still open" for Williams with regard to selection for the Olympic relay squad but added a thinly veiled threat. "I also want the team to be prepared," Van Commenee added: "so when it comes to final selection I'll select the best team and that's not necessarily always the fastest.

"You need team players. It's a team event, so I select the best team. Who that may be is impossible to say 18 months out. But the door is certainly not closed."

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