Forgotten man East forced to go it alone


Last updated at 20:33 24 January 2008

There was no letter of regret, not even a

formal notification. Britain's fastest 1500 metres runner of the past decade learned his

country's athletics hierarchy no longer regarded him as one of the elite from its website.

" I was furious, absolutely furious," said Michael East, the 2002 Commonwealth 1500m champion and the only British man to reach a track final at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"I'd been on the world class

potential plan from its start. I was the first on it to win a medal when I won the Commonwealth title. Then I was raised to the elite level and now,

suddenly, chopped. No notification, just out."

East runs tomorrow at the indoor Norwich Union International

in Glasgow, where he will be thrown in at the deep end six days after his 30th birthday against world No 1 Bernard Lagat. It will be his first race in a British vest for 29 months.

An ironic selection. Three months ago he was discarded from the

Lottery support programme. Now he is good enough to wear his country's colours against the best in the world.

No more ironic than the timing of his fall from grace. For three years, money had been lavished on East's treatment and rehabilitation by UK Athletics and the British Olympic Association's medical insurance scheme.

Nothing was too much trouble as he

struggled to overcome a knee injury suffered soon after he finished sixth in the Olympic 1500m final — the

best British performance in the

event since the era of Coe, Cram and Ovett.

Last February, he had an operation to insert a supportive rubber band into his right knee to cure his

problem but as soon as the

eight-month rehabilitation by UKA's

physiotherapy and conditioning team

finished, he was chopped.

One day he could get treatment within 24 hours from the best sports medics or book a flight for warm weather training without worrying about the money. The next, he joined the queues at the NHS outpatients and has to seek a loan for the trip abroad.

The timing could not have been worse. His wife Claire, on whose teacher's salary he had relied to pay the bulk of household bills, had quit to have their second child, due next month.

"Fortunately, my contract with Nike, which I signed after my Olympic

performance, runs to the end of this year and my agent has said she won't take any commission from indoor races she fixes for me, but it's still pretty tough.

"It's not just money. Almost the hardest thing about losing Lottery support is losing the guys who were helping me through rehab. One day, I could ring them up and get to see them in 24 hours. The next, I couldn't. It is almost like you can't ring your mates."

If he decides to borrow money to go warm weather training in May, his coach Mark Rowland cannot be with him because he works with UKA and must be with their elite athletes.

So East is learning to cope alone, training in his garage, equipped with weights, and running on the South Downs.

"Always being alone makes you hard as nails. That's the hope, anyway. I have this romantic notion — no coach or physio is out there with you on the track at the Olympics, so get used to it now," he said.

"If there is any credit to be taken, it's for me and a very small team. UKA didn't have the foresight to believe in me and that's fine. But if I get to

Beijing and win a medal, they can't take the credit."