Barber forced to abandon race for gold

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The Independent Online

It was the most blatant waste of a gold-medal winning opportunity, but coach Bob Kersee says he is the man to blame for Eunice Barber's heptathlon collapse.

The French athlete failed to register one valid shot put from three attempts in the third heptathlon discipline last night, and subsequently withdrew from the competition with her title hopes ended.

She had led convincingly after the 100 metre hurdles and high-jump, and with injured Briton Denise Lewis withdrawing from the competition hours before its start, there seemed to be no one capable of denying her gold.

Collapsing in tears when the reality of her failure hit home, Barber received little sympathy in the French press who had pinpointed the Sierra Leone-born woman as the country's best gold medal hope.

But coach Kersee – who re-modelled Barber's shot technique – says he should bear the brunt of the criticism and should have prepared his athlete better. "I don't understand," he told L'Equipe. "Eunice has the talent to reach 7,000 points and she could break the European record. But she has to concentrate.

"The heptathlon is seven tests – when one is finished, you have to immediately concentrate on the next. The error is mine. She committed a technical fault on her first attempt. I should have told her to make sure on her second."

The American Sheila Burrell finished an impressive winner of the fourth discipline, running the 200m in 22.92secs. The Belarussian Natalya Sazanovich leads the standings on 3,923 points, 88 clear of second-placed Russian Yelena Prokhorova.

Meanwhile, when Lewis steps back on to the track at next month's Goodwill Games in Brisbane, she will have a definite point to prove after her withdrawal from the event on Friday evening with a stomach complaint. There was an uneasy atmosphere in the British camp as a war of words erupted between performance director Max Jones and her Dutch coach Charles van Commenee.

Jones suggested that Lewis had spent too much time partying after winning Olympic gold but the coach hit back by saying such claims were rubbish, and that Lewis was a born competitor who would be going for gold had it not been for the stomach trouble.

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