Rusty East's Olympic hopes take a beating

It happens to be quite some way from Edinburgh to Beijing. For Mike East, the journey of 4,946 miles began with a small step on the comeback trail here in the Scottish capital yesterday.

There was no glint of golden Olympic promise in his stride as he picked his way over the rutted, icy ground in the 4.4km men's race in the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country meeting.

In fact, there were signs of rust as Britain's leading middle-distance man trailed home in 27th place, 65 seconds down on the winner, Andy Baddeley, a World Championship 1500m finalist in Osaka last summer.

"I just couldn't get going," East lamented. "It's disappointing being a tail-end Charlie. I'm in so much better shape than that."

If nothing else, it underlined the ground that the Portsmouth athlete needs to make up in Olympic year. It was no surprise that he was some way short of his best, having a good deal of lost time for which to make up.

East ran for Britain in the 2005 World Championships and in the European Championships the following year, but has not been fully free from injury since the summer of 2004, when he was the only male British finalist in a track event in the Athens Olympics, finishing sixth in the 1500m. Back then, having burst on to the international scene in 2002 with a bronze medal run at the European Indoor Champion-ships in Vienna and a brilliantly executed victory at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, he was establishing himself as a force at global level.

Now, though, at the start of another Olympic year, a week ahead of his 30th birthday, he is having to make a name for himself all over again. That was underlined on Wednesday when East discovered he was not on the list of 43 athletes invited to compete in the men's 1500m at the Norwich Union World Indoor Trials in Sheffield on 9 and 19 February. The former Commonwealth champion was informed he would have to pay to enter. "I suppose I am the forgotten man," he mused, his mirth at the suggested label being tinged with more than a measure of frustration.

Having battled through three years of injury and two knee operations to get himself in a position to become a possible contender again in Olympic year, East has been dropped from Lottery funding by UK Athletics. Other members of the athletics fraternity might be in more dire straits just now – Marion Jones, who began a six-month jail sentence on Friday; Oscar Pistorius, whose carbon-fibre blades are to be formally declared as rule-breaking performance- enhancing aids tomorrow morning; and the runners who have been preparing for the Olympics amid the turbulence in Kenya, some of whom made it to Edinburgh yesterday.

Still, with his wife, Claire, five weeks away from giving birth to their second child, and on maternity leave from her teaching job, East's omission from the national governing body's support listhas not been the most timelyof developments.

"I'm still in the process of appealing against the decision," he said. "I've been off for such a long period I'm relearning my trade again now, but I know what I'm capable of doing."

Despite yesterday's disappointment, East hopes to show his true capability when he gets on to firm ground on the indoor circuit. Not that conditions at Holyrood yesterday stopped Steph Twell from continuing her impressive emergence. The 18-year-old from Aldershot finished fourth in the women's 6.7km race. Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele won the main men's race, held over 9.3km.

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