Injury fear undermines Radcliffe's preparations

Paula Radcliffe, Britain's one genuine hope for athletics gold at these Games, arrived in the Olympic Village four days ahead of schedule yesterday amid fears that she required treatment for a calf injury.

Paula Radcliffe, Britain's one genuine hope for athletics gold at these Games, arrived in the Olympic Village four days ahead of schedule yesterday amid fears that she required treatment for a calf injury.

The 30-year-old Bedford athlete, who is due to race in the marathon on Sunday, was spotted by a German coach, Volker Wagner, on Sunday at the Munich clinic of Dr Hans Muller-Wolfhardt.

Radcliffe said when she arrived at Athens Airport everything had gone "really well'' in her recent training stints at Font Romeu in the Pyrenees and more recently southern Spain. She added: "All my preparation, particularly the quality work, has gone very successfully and is completed. Now it's just a case of doing some easy running and light strides.''

Sources in the Olympic Village maintained, however, that she had a problem with her calf which was denied yesterday by both her agent, Sian Masterton, and the UK Athletics performance director, Max Jones. "She certainly doesn't have a calf injury,'' Jones said.

Masterton added that Radcliffe had visited the Munich clinic a month ago to check on the hernia operation she underwent in March.

It is a deeply concerning turn of events for a British team that is facing an Olympics where the medal yield appears likely to be down on the previous tally of six, including two golds.

Radcliffe is the only serious athletics contender likely to stand on top of the podium here and, for a woman whose life is usually worked out to the last detail, such an obvious last-minute rearrangement bodes ill.

Radcliffe was given permission to prepare in her own fashion for the Games by UK Athletics rather than attending their pre-Olympic camp in Paphos, Cyprus. She had been willing to speak to the media in a telephone conference last week, but announced over the weekend that she did not want to take part in the media event that had been rescheduled for yesterday.

The Olympic legend Haile Gebrselassie was facing the possibility last night of missing the Games due to an Achilles injury. According to his manager, Jos Hermens, the chances of Gebrselassie defending his 10,000 metres title are "not looking brilliant". The Ethiopian, who at the age of 31 will leave track athletics behind and focus on the marathon after Athens, is chasing a third successive Olympic title at his specialist distance.

Reports in Ethiopia said that Gebrselassie had a problem with his knee, but the injury is more serious than was first believed. "It's an Achilles injury and it's not looking brilliant," said Hermens. "But we don't know whether he will miss the Games." The 10,000m final takes place on Friday night.

It was in London on 30 July that Gebrselassie sustained his injury, when setting a UK all-comers' record in the 5,000m. He has had treatment in Munich from Dr Muller-Wolfhardt and recommenced training in Addis Ababa. But it is understood his preparation has been affected by a recurrence of the injury.

The news is no better for Ethiopia's women. The 10,000m world champion, Berhane Adere, has been dropped from the squad because of a lingering injury - also to her Achilles. Adere will be replaced by Ejigayehu Dibaba, the African 10,000m champion and older sister of the world 5,000m gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba.

Adere has struggled with the injury since breaking the world indoor 5,000m record in Stuttgart on 31 January. Since Ejigayehu Dibaba does not want to compete in two events at the Olympics, she will be replaced in the 5,000 by Meserat Defar, the world indoor 3,000m champion.

Ethiopia's 10,000m women's team will be completed by the defending Olympic champion, Derartu Tulu, and the world silver medalist, Werknesh Kidane, - a reflection of the depth of athletics quality in the African country.

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