Athletics: Campbell relies on prayer after scan reveals injury

The sprinter Darren Campbell's Olympic prospects have been undermined on the eve of today's 100-metres heats by a hamstring problem.

Campbell, who took silver behind Greece's Konstantinos Kederis in final of the 200 metres at the Sydney Olympic, woke up in Athens yesterday morning with what he thought was cramp, but after undergoing a scan it emerged that he had a slight muscle tear.

"I'm told it should be OK," said the 30-year-old Manchester-born athlete. "I'll know more in the coming hours. But I will be saying a few prayers tonight."

The unfortunate turn of events for Campbell comes just 24 hours after it emerged that the 200-metres specialist Christian Malcolm was kept in hospital for five days last week at the British training base in Cyprus after suffering kidney failure.

Malcolm, like Campbell, is still intending to compete here, but neither athlete will now be proceeding in an ideal state of mind.

It is particularly galling for Campbell given the recent doping scandal which led to Kederis, whose victory four years ago came as a complete surprise given his previous achievements, withdrawing from the Games.

Kederis' withdrawal removed at least one of the Briton's rivals in an event where he maintains he has realistic ambitions of earning a medal to go alongside the one he won in 2000.

Campbell's colleague in the short sprint, Jason Gardener, has also failed to stay in one piece this season. After winning the world indoor 60m title in Budapest five months ago, the Bath athlete required a double hernia operation which has severely hampered his preparations for Athens.

Although Gardener won the Olympic trials in Manchester he has struggled to reach the levels of sharpness required to make an Olympic challenge. The picture is beginning to look increasingly bleak for British sprinting, which only two years ago seemed about to deliver a succession of championship medals.

Meanwhile Britain's heptathletes Denise Lewis, the defending champion, and Kelly Sotherton, got off to an encouraging start in their two opening events of the day, after which the younger woman was equal second in the overall standings behind Sweden's world champion Carolina Kluft.

Sotherton had a relatively disappointing run of 13.44sec in the first discipline, the 100m hurdles, but made up for it in the high jump by clearing a big personal best of 1.85m and running away from the landing mat like a mad thing.

Lewis, whose appearance here after continual injury problems was described by UK Athletics' multi-events coach Charles Van Commenee as "a miracle", gave notice that she still has the attitude of a champion as she won her opening heat of the 100m hurdles in a season's best of 13.40sec. But failure to clear 1.76m meant she slipped to 14th in the standings after two events.

The sense of anticipation was at its greatest before the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where the 100m appeared to be an essentially domestic dispute between Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis. Neither man finished with anything - Lewis-Francis was out of the rest of the season with a pulled hamstring, and cramp forced Chambers to slow to a virtual halt in a final won by Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis.

Although Chambers won the European title two weeks later, he is now serving a two-year ban following his positive test for the designer steroid THG last summer.

Lewis-Francis, meanwhile, has been at a loss to know where the kind of form which once persuaded 1996 Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey to predict he would win the gold medal here has gone.

So far, touch wood, there appears no shadow over the man who won the 200m trials, Chris Lambert. But overall, it is an underwhelming state of affairs for a sector of British athletics that so recently appeared teeming with possibilities.

There had been hopes that the sprint relay squad would be able to take a medal - but that achievement now appears more likely from either the men's or women's 400m relay squad.

Phillips Idowu, one of the relatively select group of British medal "possibles" identified recently by UK Athletics' Performance Director Max Jones, safely negotiated the qualifying round of the triple jump here with his first effort.

The 25-year-old Londoner registered 17.33m to finish second in his group behind Sweden's world champion Christian Olsson, who required one jump to reach 17.68m, and fourth overall behind Cuba's Yoandri Betanzos, who did a personal best of 17.53m, and Marian Oprea of Romania, who reached 17.44m.

"That was a great start to the campaign," Idowu said. "I felt very confident and relaxed. Hopefully I'll feel that way in Sunday's final. I want to do myself justice. I have a clear picture in my mind of what I can do and I want to produce that. Hopefully I can emulate what Jonathan Edwards did four years ago."

Idowu, who finished sixth in Sydney as Edwards won the gold most people had predicted he would pick up four years earlier in Atlanta, has clearly run into form at the best time.

After an inconsistent start to the season, the man who is coached by former British international John Herbert has begun to put things together, and his victory at the London Grand Prix at the end of last month was a serious boost to his morale.

His chances of getting a medal were helped by the disappearance yesterday of rival Leevan Sands of the Bahamas, who could only manage an effort of 16.35m.

Britain's Nathan Douglas, who set a huge personal best of 16.95m in the Olympic trials to earn an unexpected call to compete in Athens, missed reaching the final by just four centimetres, and one place, after recording a best of 16.84m.

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