What's in store for '94: Athletics

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The Independent Online
Something of a rest period for many athletes - notably Americans - after the exertions of Olympic Games and World Championships in successive seasons. For others - notably Britons - the year teems with invitations, and obligations, to compete. We do it to our footballers; now we are doing it to our athletes.

The central demands occur in August, where only four days separate the European Championships in Helsinki from the Commonwealth Games in Victoria. These quadrennial events have usually managed to arrange themselves more conveniently in past years. 1990, for instance, saw the Commonwealths in Auckland in January, and the Europeans in Split eight months later.

That made it possible for middle and long-distance runners - such as Peter Elliott or Eamonn Martin, two Commonwealth gold medallists at 1,500 metres and 10,000m respectively - to contemplate contesting both championships. It is less of a proposition now, and hard decisions are having to be made. The general perception is that the Europeans are the superior event, and athletes such as Rob Denmark (5,000m) and Richard Nerurkar (marathon) are already laying plans for Finland.

Others are likely to run different events if both championships are entered - Sally Gunnell, for example, intends to run the 100m hurdles if she goes to Victoria, an event at which she became Commonwealth champion in 1986. The Europeans would see the world and Olympic 400m hurdles champion revert to her main event.

For sprinters, the possibilities are less restricted. Linford Christie plans to defend both his European and Commonwealth 100m titles, although his avowal that he is not counting out competing in the 1996 Olympics has reduced the potential dramatic impact of such an achievement.

So much for the main events. A combination of circumstances has left Britain's leading competitors facing demands on patriotic fervour at either end of a season that also has its normal quota of grand prix dates - two of the most important, at Zurich and Brussels, fall in between the European and Commonwealth Championships.

The European Cup, now an annual event, takes place in Birmingham on 25-26 June, and another one-athlete-per-team event, the World Cup, is scheduled for Crystal Palace on 8-10 September. Letting down the home shows will not be looked on lightly.

British athletes will, however, have one less commitment to worry about following the demise of the old UK championships. Now the AAA Championships will act as the early-season British selection meeting, on 11-12 June at a new venue.