Gardener bites bullet

Rick Broadbent, Athletics Correspondent
Anybody who thinks that British athletes live in a mollycoddled world of overpaid underachievement should listen to a man who knows what it is like to win Olympic gold but has had enough woes to consult a doctor known for injecting whale blood into his patients. “I’m pretty much in pain all the time,” Jason Gardener said.

The Bath Bullet takes part in the Norwich Union World Trials tomorrow knowing that the end is near. He refused to contemplate failure but said that next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing were not in his plans and there is the prospect of a marketing job with Bath rugby club.

If he does not make it to the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, next month, it may be the final chapter for the 31-year-old. However, his legacy will extend beyond four European indoor 60 metres titles and his leg in the 4 x 100 metres at the 2004 Olympics to a role in bringing on the new generation. “I’ve had a lot of problems this year,” Gardener said. “My sciatica is a problem and I had to pull out of the European Cup with my Achilles. It hurts, but that’s sprinting at a global level for you.”

Gardener trains with Craig Pickering and has seen the upstart usurp him in the rankings. Marlon Devonish has been the best of the British sprinters this season, recording 10.06sec for 100 metres, but Pickering and Simeon Williamson are among eight men who have gone faster than Gardener. “I’ve helped Craig a lot,” Gardener said. “I hope I’ve done him some good. I still feel there is more to come from me and I don’t agree when people say you should take people to major championships for the experience.”

UK Athletics has set a target of 14 finalists for Osaka and it would take something special for Gardener to be one. The injuries that forced him to visit Dr Hans Müller-Wolfhart have continued to plague him. It means he goes into the trials with a season’s best of 10.28.

He is not alone in fighting to overcome injuries in Manchester. The news that Nathan Douglas will miss the World Championships is symptomatic of a lengthening injury list that also includes Greg Ruther-ford, a fellow jumper. One of those who will run through the pain barrier will be Lee McConnell, the Scottish 400 metres hurdler.

The Commonwealth Games bronze medal-winner has a mystery nerve problem that has dumbfounded the doctors and left her struggling for the qualifying time of 55.6sec. “It’s frustrating because I’d had such a good winter,” she said, speaking to promote her sponsor, Red Bull. “Then I went to Prague and my knees just buckled after the eighth hurdle. I got over nine and then they went again.”

UK Athletics has sensibly altered the qualification process for Japan, giving Dave Collins, the national performance director, and his team more discretion for their preliminary selection on Monday, which means that Britain should avoid the scenario at the United States world trials, where Sanya Richards, the world athlete of the year who was struggling with a virus, failed to qualify for the 400 metres.