Shrinking squad is selection blunder

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Britain's 28-strong team for the forthcoming European Indoor Championships became 26-strong within two hours of its announcement yesterday as first Melanie Neef and then Tony Jarrett withdrew.

It was a PR gaffe which, while not in the Gerald Ratner category, said little for the state of communications between athletes and administrators.

Why either should have been named was hard to understand, given that both had missed last weekend's international against France because of injury.

Neef, apparently, had told the selectors that her appearance at 400 metres would be dependent upon a physiotherapy session yesterday morning to alleviate a groin strain. She clearly did not feel it was worth taking a risk on a Stockholm track which is notoriously tight. "I don't want to damage my Olympic chances," she said. "I've been able to run pain-free, but it flares up afterwards."

Jarrett, who aggravated a back injury two weeks ago, had not planned to go to Stockholm if he was unfit to race against France. He rang the British Athletic Federation to withdraw his name soon after Neef.

Britain have two defending champions in the team for Stockholm (8-10 March) in Du'aine Ladejo at 400m and the high jumper Dalton Grant.

Other leading medal contenders include Jason Gardener, the fastest man in Europe over 60m this year with his 6.55sec against Russia last month, and the triple jumper Ashia Hansen, who has been in the form of her life, setting a Commonwealth and national record this month.

As expected, John Regis and Darren Braithwaite - a silver medallist at last year's world indoors - have decided not to compete, as has Steve Smith, the national high jump record holder. Colin Jackson, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell are also missing, although the event was never on their schedules.

The European junior 400m champion, Mark Hylton, who aggravated a groin strain on Saturday, will take a fitness test later this week. Kent Ulyatt has been included as cover.

The championships represent an excellent opportunity for Marlon Devonish, the European junior 200m champion, who is chosen over that distance, and Guy Bullock, a former European junior 400m champion, who has recovered his form this season after lengthy injury problems.

Squad, Sporting Digest, page 27