Gunnell and McColgan's final ambition

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Britain's two foremost women athletes of recent years, Sally Gunnell and Liz McColgan, will set about realising what is likely to be their final Olympic ambition this weekend, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Gunnell, who turns 30 on Monday, starts her defence of the 400 metres hurdles title today convinced that she has recovered sufficient fitness after a heel injury in Lausanne earlier this month.

That setback, just as she was recovering form and confidence after more than a year's absence with an injury to her other heel, put her participation at the Games in serious jeopardy.

But a bone scan at the clinic of Dr Roland Biedert, high in the Swiss Alps near Magglingen, established that there was no intrinsic damage to her bone and that she would not require a further operation after those she had recovered from last year.

Had the diagnosis been different, Gunnell would have retired. "I would not have been able to face another operation," she said.

Instead she is back where no one expected her to be after she had subsided to the Lausanne track halfway through what was intended to be her big comeback race against the Americans who had run under her world record the previous summer, Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey.

Although she has not raced since that meeting on 3 July the British women's team captain maintains she can beat them both.

"I think I've surprised myself with the times I've done in training," Gunnell said. "After Lausanne I wondered how I was going to get myself together in time. I'm still not 100 per cent, there'll still be some pain, but once you go out and race you have to put it to the back of your mind. "I want to be greedy. I want a gold medal and I want a world record.''

Meanwhile Liz McColgan believes she has prepared as well as she possibly could have done for the marathon which starts at 7.05am here tomorrow.

The 32-year-old Scotswoman, who regained momentum in her career by winning this year's London marathon, came into Atlanta on Wednesday after spending two months at her training venue of Gainesville, Florida.

She has trained regularly at 7.0am in 75 degrees of heat and 75 per cent humidity. "I'm well used to the conditions," she said.

Those hot and humid conditions, she believes, will favour the strong rather than the swift. "I have the greatest respect for Utta Pippig. She is a marvellous marathon runner. But I don't think this race is going to be won by the fastest kind of runners. It will be like Barcelona.''