Heartbreak as Merry is forced to pull out

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Katharine Merry, one of Britain's brightest hopes to gain a gold medal at the World Championships starting next Friday, announced yesterday that she had made the "heart-breaking" decision to pull out because of an Achilles tendon injury.

Meanwhile, Britain's Commonwealth and European 400m champion, Iwan Thomas, is hoping for 11th-hour inclusion in the British team after attaining the world qualifying time, albeit a day after the official deadline.

Merry, who leads this year's 400m world rankings with a time of 49.59sec, was widely regarded as one of the favourites to take the title in Edmonton in the absence of Australia's Olympic champion, Cathy Freeman. The 24-year-old Dunchurch athlete's form of late had been affected by the chest infection which caused her to miss the World Trials in Birmingham earlier this month. But after her victory in last Sunday's Norwich Union Grand Prix at Crystal Palace she appeared to be making good her recovery just in time.

In a statement yesterday, however, Merry indicated that there had been an underlying problem. "Having suffered a lot of pain after my 400m victory at Crystal Palace on Sunday I had an MRI scan yesterday which indicated a degeneration in my Achilles," she said.

"As a result I have been warned that if I had run three rounds in Edmonton I would have run the risk of rupturing the Achilles. As a result of this advice, and having trained only twice in five weeks due to illness, I have taken the heartbreaking decision to withdraw from the championships. Despite my recent illness I felt that I could win at the World Championships and bring back a gold medal for Britain. My plan now is to seek further advice and a course of treatment that will get me back on the track as soon as possible."

Merry's announcement came after consultation with her coaches, Linford Christie and Nigel Walker. Christie said that Merry was "very down" about her injury, which may require six months' rest to disappear. "She had an MRI scan on Monday and it showed up wear and tear," Christie said.

"In Katharine's case they said it [the Achilles tendon] can regenerate itself if she totally rests it for about six months, which, in an athlete's career, is a very long time. She had been out for five weeks with a virus and, before she ran at Crystal Palace, she said 'My Achilles feels a little bit sore.' She had treatment and went out and ran.

"Katharine hasn't taken the news very well. She has accepted the fact that she won't be there but she is very down. She's trained so hard this year and the results were showing that. There is no doubt in my mind that she was on her way to gold."

While Merry tries to look beyond this year, Thomas ­ who appeared to have missed out on an individual World Championship place despite finishing second in the trials because he did not have the required mark of 45.72sec ­ has now given himself an unexpected window of opportunity. The 27-year-old Welshman ran 45.70sec at Watford on Wednesday night in a race he set up, in his own words, just to prove something to himself.

By coincidence on the same day the world indoor champion, Daniel Caines, announced that he would be unable to compete in Edmonton because of a shin injury, leaving the third 400m place open.

Max Jones, the UK Athletics performance director, said he would do everything possible to persuade the International Amateur Athletic Federation to allow Thomas to run as a late entry. Sandro Giovanelli, the competitors' director of the IAAF, said yesterday: "The cut-off date for achieving the standard was midnight Tuesday. But I will try and find out whether it is possible to include Thomas. I hope we can succeed and get him into the race."

Thomas, whose career has been undermined by injury over the past three years, organised the race in order to travel knowing he had the time run. "It hurt having gone so close to getting the qualifier on a couple of occasions in the last few weeks.

"I always knew I could do it. So I rang the British Milers Club organisers and asked if they could put on a race. They told me if I could get another seven runners they would. I've got my training partners to thank for travelling up to Watford."