Bad news on London Marathon morning. Britain's most successful Olympic marathon man of the past 24 years has ruled himself out of the running for this year's 26.2-mile race in Beijing. Jon Brown, fourth in the marathon in Sydney in 2000 and in Athens in 2004, has been suffering from groin and hip problems and is struggling to get back into training. "I don't expect to be racing again until late summer," he said. "I will not be running in Beijing."
That is sad news for the marathon and for Brown. Now 37, the pride of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club will not get the chance to go one better than he did in Sydney, where he finished a tantalising seven seconds short of a bronze medal after 2 hours 11 minutes and 17 seconds of running, and in Athens, where he crossed the line in the ancient Panathinaiko Stadium 15 seconds behind the third-placed runner, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil. After 17 years of international competition as a distance runner, Brown's body is in no shape to carry him through the four years of another Olympiad. "If I can resolve my injury problems, then I will continue until next year's World Championships," he said.
Sadly, if Brown manages to make a grand finale on the global stage next summer in Berlin, he will not do so in the British colours he has borne with distinction since he came fourth in the 5,000m at the World Student Games in his home town, Sheffield, in 1991.
Born in Bridgend, raised in South Yorkshire and educated in the United States at Iowa State University, Brown has lived in Canada with his German wife, Martina,for the past 12 years. He has held dual citizenship since 2005 and in November last year he announced a switch in inter-national allegiance to Canada. The decision followed his omission from Lottery funding for a second time; he was also cut from the list when he was out injured the year before the 2004 Olympic Games.
It was not so much one personal kick in the teeth too many that persuaded Brown to pin his international colours to the Maple Leaf mast, more a disenchantment with the level of support given to distance runners by UK Athletics, the domestic governing body of the sport.
"After 2004 I had lost any feeling of allegiance to UK Athletics," he said, speaking from the home he has made in Victoria, British Columbia, with Martina and their two children, Dylan, 10, and Rosa, seven. "In Athens I was shocked at how unprofessionally many of their employees operated, compared to voluntary staff at previous Olympics, and how indifferent they were to most of the athletes on the Great Britain team.
"With the appointment of a new performance director [Dave Collins, in March 2005] I thought things might improve, but the opposite happened. After Athens they stopped communicating with me virtually completely.
"Not once did I have any direct communication with Dave Collins, and Alan Storey [UK Athletics' senior performance manager for endurance events] would get in touch once or twice a year. I didn't object to UKA dropping me from Lottery funding, as by early 2007 I no longer wanted to compete for UKA anyway. I couldn't stand the thought of any performance I achieved benefiting the careers of these people any more."
His stark words will make bleak reading for British athletics on the morning of another London Marathon in which his homeland's dearth of male distance-running talent seems certain to be underlined. The last British marathon man to win the race was Eamonn Martin in 1993, and no Briton has finished in the top three in the men's section since Paul Evans came third in 1996. Brown was fourth in the 1999 race and sixth in 2005 in a personal best 2hr 9min 31sec.
In the Olympic event, only one British marathon runner has bettered his combination of two fourth-placed finishes; Sam Ferris was fifth in 1924 and second in 1932. Brown has also held the British 10,000m record (27min 18.14sec) since 1998.
He is particularly damning in his assessment of Collins, who was appointed as UKA performance director despite having no background as a competitor or event coach in the sport, and whose absence from the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh a fortnight ago drew critical comment in an Athletics Weekly editorial last week. "I just can't take this guy seriously," Brown said. "The sooner UKA get rid of him and hire someone who has a passion and commitment to athletics the better, that will give the athletes added motivation to perform better.
"It was always important for me to know the management supported me 110 per cent in competition. Having that kind of support lifts athletes to perform better. Some of my best memories as a Great Britain athlete were running in the European and World Cross Country Championships with management people like Dave Clarke, Bob Ashwood and Bud Baldaro behind me, knowing these guys would bend over backwards to support their team; and they were all voluntary management, too.
"[UKA] never bothered to inform me of their [Lottery funding] decision – I had to read about it in the media. It is stupid that the whole purpose of Lottery funding is for Olympic success, then athletes are judged on their performance in non-Olympic years. No athlete can complain if they failed to deliver the goods at the Olympics and then got cut, but to be dropped before you get to the event is stupid.
"I couldn't believe they dropped Mike East after what he did in the last Olympics [fifth in the 1500m]. Max Jones, the previous performance director, didn't understand the endurance events too well but at least he appreciated his flaws. Dave Collins does not understand any of the athletics events, or indeed any technical aspect of the sport. I don't believe you have the right to demand results from people if you cannot appreciate what it is they're doing in the first place."
In response to Brown's criticism, a UK Athletics spokesman said: "[We are] committed to developing talent, supporting athletes and creating champions primarily based in the UK. It is not about rewarding mediocrity. Dave Collins and his specialist endurance team are doing an excellent job, proved by exceptional team and individual performances at the European Cross Country Championships and the ongoing success of athletes like Paula Radcliffe, Jo Pavey and Mo Farah."
Still, as another London Marathon day dawns, the fact is that Britain's stock in the men's marathon is falling at an alarming rate. Back in 1984 the tally of Britons running inside 2hr 20min for the 26.2-mile distance stood at 75. Last year the tally was down to five. There is only one sub-2hr 10min marathon man from Britain still competing at international level. And Jon Brown's body is getting ready to don the vest of Canada.
Life and Times
Born: 27 February 1971.
Record: Won UK 5,000m title in 1993 ahead of Steve Cram. Won European cross country title in 1996. Fourth in Olympic marathons in 2000 and 2004. Set British 10,000m record in Brussels in 1998.
Personal life: Lives in Victoria, Canada, with wife Martina, son Dylan, 10, and daughter Rosa, seven. Transferred international eligibility from Britain to Canada in 2007.
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