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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 14:09 GMT
GB hopes hit by injury
Great Britain's build-up to the European Cup has been dominated by a succession of injury-induced withdrawals which severely hampers their chances of repeating the dramatic victory at Gateshead of 11 years ago.
Ashia Hansen became the latest high profile withdrawal to follow the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Iwan Thomas, Steve Backley, Colin Jackson, Diane Mohdahl and Paula Radcliffe and it is likely to leave the women's team contesting a relegation battle.
Similarly the men's hopes of pushing Germany and Russia for the cup have been severely weakened, although relegation is not a realistic concern.
"It will substantially reduce our chances of success. It's a big disappointment that we are not able to field full strength teams. But there are always withdrawals," said Max Jones, the performance director for UK Athletics.
"Our chances of winning now will depend on the final teams of the other competing nations."
Radcliffe, who would have captained the women's team had she been fit, struck a more optimistic note. "I still think it's a promising team," she said.
The last time the event was staged in the north-east, Britain secured a memorable victory. Then coach Frank Dick hailed it as "the greatest single achievement ever in British athletics."
That was the first time either East Germany or the Soviet Union had failed to win the competition and Britain, with men's wins in 1997 and 1998, are the only other country to have won the competition.
Much the same pattern is expected this weekend - Russia and Germany are the favourites in both categories.
Britain's strength, as ever, lies on the track.
Jason Gardener is on-form having recently beaten Maurice Greene and will be the favourite to win the 100m. No European has run faster than Gardener this year.
The highly-rated Chris Rawlinson, 400m hurdles, and the European indoor champion Christian Malcolm, 200m, are also each capable of securing maximum points for Britain, as is Jamie Baulch in the 400m.
Germany are sending a formidable looking team to defend the title they won in Paris last year, despite being without former Olympic 5000m champion Dieter Baumann.
Nils Schumann returns to defend his 800m crown, while Falk Balzer will be favourite to win the 100m hurdles.
The outstanding Vyacheslav Shabunin in the 1500m leads the Russian challenge on the track.
Germany are also strong in the field events - reigning Olympic discus champion Lars Reidel, Detlef Bock in the shot and pole vaulter Tim Lobinger will all start as favourites.
Other names to look out for include Kostas Gatsioudis of Greece in the javelin - no-one has thrown further this year - and the Russain pair Sergey Klyugin (high jump) and Vitaly Shkyrlatov (long jump).
Britain's main hope lies with their new captain Katharine Merry in the 400m. The on-form Merry will once again be up against Marie-Jose Perec, who she beat in Nice last week, in what may prove the best event of the two day meet.
Russia's Svetlana Pospelova and Grit Breuer of Germany are also taking part and any one of the four is capable of winning.
"I think it will be the race of the day - indeed of the weekend," said Radcliffe, who Merry repaced as team captain.
Britain need Merry to earn maximum points as they face a stiff challenge to maintain their place in the elite.
The Russians are expected to retain the title, with France and Germany the main pretenders.
But the brightest star on show may well prove to be the Romanian world 5000m champion Gabriela Szabo. Last year she shared the Golden League jackpot and this year she is the world's fastest over 1500m. She is competing in the 3000m in Gateshead.
13 Jul 00 | Athletics
Hansen pulls out
13 Jul 00 | Athletics
Europe here we come
13 Jul 00 | Athletics
Thomas joins cup sick list
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