World champ races against time

World 400-meters hurdles champion Jana Pittman flew to Italy yesterday in a last-ditch bid to recover from a knee injury in time for the Athens Olympics. Pittman, Australia’s best hope for an athletics gold medal until she tore the cartilage in her knee at a meeting in Zurich last week, was due to undergo rehabilitation in an Italian clinic before deciding whether to come to Athens. The leading Australian athlete’s predicament improves the medal hopes of local runner Fani Halkia, a relative newcomer who recently registered a time of 53.99 seconds, one of the year’s best in the world. Pittman has 12 days to recover before her event starts on August 21. Pittman’s coach Phil King said she has been given a 60 percent chance of running after successful arthroscopic surgery over the weekend in London on an injury sustained while warming up for a race in Zurich on Friday. «We’re back in the mix,» King said late on Sunday. «It was nowhere near as bad as first interpreted. The surgeon quoted there was a 60 percent chance of running in Athens. It certainly is better than the 1 percent chance we had yesterday,» he added. «She’ll have treatment in Italy and hopes to come over to Athens sometime in the next 10 days, but it’s difficult to predict and we’re just assessing the situation a day at a time,» Australian Olympic Committee official Lynne Bates told a news conference. Pittman injured herself while warming up, landing awkwardly after clearing a hurdle. She had successful arthroscopic surgery in London at the weekend. Even if she does recover in time, the 21-year-old will be hard pushed to emulate her recent form, conceding she will have to change her stride pattern to compensate for the injury. News of Pittman’s accident dominated weekend television and radio broadcasts in Australia, where she is regarded as the heir-apparent to Cathy Freeman, who won Australia’s only athletics gold at the Sydney Olympics four years ago in the 400 meters. (Reuters, AP, Kathimerini)

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