Kluft geared up for battle

CAROLINA KLUFT has played down reports she is suffering from a knee injury ahead of what promises to be the best heptathlon competition in history.

Kluft is favourite to retain her world title when the championships get underway in Helsinki tomorrow.

The 22-year-old faces stiff competition from the likes of France’s Eunice Barber and Britain’s Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton however, and was reported to have injured her left knee at Sweden’s pre-championship training camp.

But the Olympic champion insisted she was in perfect shape as she bids to retain the title she won in Paris two years ago with a personal best of 7,001 points.

“I feel really great right now,” Kluft said. “I’ve had really good preparation and it’s all been going really well.

“I think I will be able to beat my own personal best but the world record (held by Jackie Joyner-Kersee since 1988 with 7,291) is too good.

“I will try to concentrate on my own performance and be inspired by good results from the other girls. If I can score over 7,000 points I will be satisfied even if I am beaten. I will have to go home and try harder.”

Barber will be the biggest threat to Kluft’s domination of the sport after making a successful comeback from injury with 6,889 points in Arles in June to lead the world rankings this year.

The 30-year-old, who won the world title in 1999, said: “I’m ready to score 7,000 points. If Carolina wants to beat me she needs to score more points than me.

“Before Arles I was very nervous because my last competition was the world championships in Paris two years ago. Then followed two years of injuries and disappointments.

“But I am back. I have found again the competitive spirit. I won in Arles in 1999 when I won the world title in Seville and I hope to repeat that feat in Helsinki.”

Kluft acknowledges Barber and Sotherton will be her main rivals for the medals on Saturday and Sunday, and remembers how close she came to blowing the title in 2003 after two no-jumps in the long jump.

“When we start the first event (100m hurdles) everyone is on zero points and anything can happen,” added Kluft, speaking at the launch of seven specially-commissioned images by celebrity photographer Jason Bell, which will be auctioned by Reebok to raise money for her new children’s foundation.

“It doesn’t matter if you have won medals before or have the most points this year. Anything can happen as we saw in Paris when I only had one chance left to make a good jump.

“Kelly will definitely have the opportunity to do a great competition because she is a great athlete and can improve in many events.

“That Eunice is doing good is great for the event because normally we don’t get big crowds watching but now they will be focused on the competition.”

The first four disciplines of the heptathlon will be staged on Saturday and Sotherton will need a strong display to remain in the hunt for medals, especially with her weakest event - the javelin - to come on Sunday.

The 28-year-old, who improved her personal best from Athens by 123 points to 6,547 in Gotzis in May, faces tough competition from rising star Hyleas Fountain of America, Margaret Simpson of Ghana and Olympic silver medallist Austra Skujyte from Lithuania.

Meanwhile athletes have been warned there will be nowhere to hide if they are using illegal drugs at the World Championship as organisers prepare to put the most “aggressive” of detection strategies into practice.

The number of tests to be carried out in Helsinki this month will be more than double that implemented in Paris two years ago, rising from 405 to above 850.

Lamine Diack, president of the IAAF, revealed that athletes will be blood-tested and undergo checks for human growth hormones.

In Paris, eight performers, including double sprint champion Kelli White, were disqualified for drug offences, and athletics chiefs are vowing to catch out those looking to benefit from any form of cheating.

Diack said: “The IAAF is determined to ensure that these championships highlight our continuous, aggressive commitment to the war on doping.

“In Paris, at the last edition of the World Championships, 405 doping tests were carried out. In Helsinki, in co-operation with the Finnish Anti-Doping Agency (FINADA), we plan to have the most ambitious and comprehensive system of testing ever activated at a World Championships.

“We have planned more than 850 tests, both before and during the competition - easily the largest testing programme ever conducted at an IAAF World Championships. Virtually one in every two athletes will be tested during the Championships.”

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