Paula Radcliffe, whose busy schedule this year will see her compete at the Commonwealth Games, European Championships and an autumn marathon in Chicago, saw one commitment disappear yesterday as a virus infection kept her out of the European Cup team which will compete in Anneçy, France, this weekend.
The 28-year-old Bedford runner, who has already won the World Cross-Country Championship and London Marathon this year, may have decided that the European Cup is an event too far. Yesterday's release from UK Athletics detailing the men's and women's team pointed out that Radcliffe was suffering from a virus which required a week of easy training.
Despite missing Radcliffe and the 400 metres talents of the injured runners Katharine Merry and Mark Richardson, the British team for this weekend is, in the view of UK Athletics Performance Director Max Jones, the strongest since 1996, when the men won the event with 15 points to spare.
The stakes in this year's European Cup have been raised by the prospect of a World Cup place for the two leading teams, who will have a shot at $2.4m (£1.7m) in prize-money when the quadrennial event takes place in Madrid in September.
Jones has been able to pick a number of athletes who are in peak form, having prepared themselves for last weekend's English Commonwealth Games trials. "That is a real positive for us," he said. "Normally, the European Cup is the first big event people do in the season."
In Richardson's absence, the 400m trials winner Daniel Caines, who set a personal best time of 45.30sec in the City of Manchester Stadium, looks capable of earning maximum points in southern France.
Caines is likely to be joined by a healthy number of other British winners from a team including Dwain Chambers, who heads the European list at 100m, the in-form Marlon Devonish, world and Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards, 110m hurdles world record holder Colin Jackson, and Olympic javelin silver medallist Steve Backley.
Jones warned that Poland's men, who won the trophy for the first time in Bremen last year, had strength across all events. "The women are set to give their strongest showing for years, and we hope to press Germany for second," he said. "In the men's competition Poland start as favourites, but we will be disappointed if we don't qualify for the World Cup."
Jones admitted the selectors had taken calculated risks in picking two men who missed the weekend's trials with injury – pole vaulter Nick Buckfield, and 1500m runner John Mayock, who runs the 3,000m in Anneçy if he recovers sufficiently from blistered feet.
Jones sees the biggest possible lift for the men in the selection of Carl Myerscough in shot and discus following his recent return to the sport after serving a two-year doping ban.
"In Bremen we were last in the shot and second-last in the discus. Carl has been troubled with a pulled chest muscle, but he could get us six points in the shot and four or five in the discus. That could be the key to our success," he said.
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