Inside Lines: Day a rugby club took the doctor's advice

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The Independent Online

After all the fuss about his history as head of the drug-fuelled East German athletics machine, it remains to be seen how the coaching methods of Dr Ekkart Arbeit will affect Denise Lewis, the British golden girl of the Sydney Olympics. She will be hoping to fare a little better than the last sporting competitors from these shores with whom Dr Arbeit attempted to work his conditioning magic. Back in October 1996, he spent 10 days coaching West Hartlepool rugby union club, at the invitation of the club's fitness adviser at the time, Frank Dick, who is now Lewis's main coach. "West" won just three of their 22 matches that season in the First Division of the Courage League. They finished second bottom to Orrell. Still, it was an improvement. The previous season they lost all 18 of their games and finished bottom. Mark Ring was West Hartlepool's director of rugby when Dr Arbeit's help was enlisted. "There were a few eyebrows raised, because of all the rumours about drugs in the old East German regime," the former Wales centre reflected. "But I endorsed the time we spent with Dr Arbeit, because he came on Frank Dick's recommendation and I trust Frank implicitly. The message he put across to us was, 'It's nothing to do with drugs, really. It's the way the little muscles are coached'. Instead of hitting the big weights, he was trying to get us to train the smaller muscles first. We did a lot of gymnastic work and a lot of bounding." In reality, West Hartlepool lacked the playing resources to come on in leaps and bounds. They now languish in the nether regions of the national leagues, in Division North Two East. Ring, however, has made big strides. Last month he guided Caerphilly to the final of the European Parker Pen Shield.

Oh Carolina the new lament for Lewis

If it has been difficult for Denise Lewis coping with the reaction to her appointment of Dr Ekkart Arbeit as her throws coach, life is unlikely to get any easier for her when she returns to competition in Estonia next month. The heptathlon in the European Cup Combined Events meeting in Tallinn on 5 and 6 July will be the Wolverhampton woman's first since the Sydney Olympics three years ago. The entry list is expected to include Carolina Kluft, the effervescent young Swede who has emerged as the new queen of the multi-events scene. Last weekend she won the annual heptathlon in Gotzis, Austria, with 6,602 points. Lewis won in Sydney with 6,584 points. At 20, 10 years the junior of Britain's Olympic champion, Kluft already holds the European title and the world indoor pentathlon crown. Her penchant for playing to the gallery has made her a star in her homeland. Last Tuesday she was named as the 2003 recipient of the Victoria Scholar Award, the highest honour in Swedish sport. "Carolina has shown, in a very un-Swedish way, that you can have fun even when there is so much at stake," the judging panel said.

Speed runs through the Pappas genes

Unlike Carolina Kluft, Tom Pappas could not quite live up to his new-found reputation in Gotzis last week. The 26-year-old American won the heptathlon at the world indoor championships in March, beating world champion Tomas Dvorak, world record holder Roman Sebrle and Olympic champion Erki Nool. He set a decathlon personal best in Gotzis, but finished runner-up. "I had a bad second day and I was way too slow in the 1500m," Pappas said, lamenting what has never been a family problem. His father, Nick, was in the American team that set a land-speed record of 461mph with their Turbinator vehicle in Utah, in 2001. Not bad for someone who has suffered from polio since the age of one.

Entries for the annual track-and-field county and district championships hit a record low last month, with an average of just 2.6 athletes contesting each event. Bill Gentleman, one-time coach of Yvonne Murray, found himself winning the Scottish East Districts hammer title at the 32nd attempt - at the age of 63.

The statistics have put a dampener on British athletics, but there will be a ray of sunshine on Tyneside tonight with the 23rd running of the Nike Blaydon Race. Blaydon Harriers have attracted a record entry of 3,975 runners for the event, which follows the 5.7-mile route described in the Geordie anthem Blaydon Races. The field includes seven-times winner Mike McLeod. Now 51, McLeod will struggle to keep up with his 18-year-old son, Ryan. As a coach, McLeod Snr has already guided McLeod Jnr to international level.

At the Los Angeles Olympics 19 years ago, Mike McLeod was joined in the Great Britain team by an athlete who gained British citizenship in a record 13 days. In contrast to Zola Budd, Yamile Aldama has already been waiting 19 months to become a British citizen, and a British athlete.

The Cuban triple-jumper moved to London in September 2001 with her Scottish husband and their infant son. Last weekend she moved to the top of the world outdoor rankings with a 14.98m jump in Floro, Norway. The world leader, however, will not be at the world championships in August, nor at the Olympics in Athens. Aldama has been told that she must serve a three-year residency before qualifying for citizenship. "In certain cases they will fast-track you, but at the moment they're unwilling to do that," her coach, Frank Attoh, said.

Alan Hubbard is on holiday

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