Nerurkar forced out of London Marathon

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BRITAIN LOST one of its principal hopes for April's London Marathon yesterday when Richard Nerurkar withdrew on medical advice.

Nerurkar, who finished fifth in the event two years ago, said: "I've struggled to find my best form in training and competition and following a series of medical tests I've had over the past three weeks I have been advised to take an extended period of quiet training.

"I am obviously very disappointed to have to withdraw. My priority now will be to return to top form and win a place in the marathon at the Sydney Olympics."

But there was some good news for the organisers when Portugal's Domingos Castro was confirmed as a runner. Castro, who has a personal best of 2hr 7min 51sec, set when he won the Rotterdam Marathon in 1997, last ran the London event in 1996 when he was sixth.

Dave Bedford, the event's international race director, expressed his delight at Castro's decision to compete in what many believe to be the greatest marathon field ever assembled. "The strength in depth will guarantee another highly competitive event, which is something people have come to expect from London," he said.

The veteran sprinter Merlene Ottey has warned her younger competitors that she is not ready to retire. Irritated by suggestions that she is on the verge of retirement, the 38-year-old Jamaican said that she is already "looking forward to next year".

That could mean going to Sydney for another attempt on Olympic gold - one of the few achievements that has eluded her. The Sydney Games would come just a few weeks before her 40th birthday. "I'm hoping to go to the Olympics if I'm running well," Ottey said.

Mozambique's Maria Mutola will look to rediscover her record-breaking form of three years ago when she runs in the 1,000 metres at the Stockholm Grand Prix meeting tonight. Mutola, the three-times world indoor champion, will attempt to break her own world record time of 2min 31.23sec, set at the same Stockholm track in 1996.

Mutola missed out on a new 800m mark in Lievin, France, at the weekend finishing half a second outside her own record. But she will look to get back in top form in Stockholm, in the final big test ahead of the World Indoor Championships in Japan in March.

The American Gail Devers, who ran 6.98 in the 60m at the Lievin event, could also go close to world record form. Strong performances in the men's events are expected from the Cuban trio of the high jumper Javier Sotomayor, Ivan Pedroso in the long jump and the world indoor 60m hurdles champion, Anier Garcia.