IT IS not immediately obvious how or why a middle-distance runner might be inspired by a high jumper - the events and the training programmes for them have so little in common. Yesterday, though, Maria Mutola, holder of nine world 800 metre titles, explained that she hoped to learn from the example of Kajsa Bergqvist, the Swede who jumped higher than any other woman last year.
Both athletes will compete in the Norwich Union International at the Kelvin Hall tomorrow - Mutola for a Commonwealth Select, Bergqvist for Sweden. At 33, the Mozambican is four years the Scandinavian's senior, and is so experienced she should have little to learn from anyone in track and field.
When it comes to fighting back from injury, however - which Mutola is now striving to do following two years battling against hamstring damage - there is no better example than the Swede. When she sustained achilles damage in mid-2004 she was told to expect to be out for two years, but instead she was back within ten months.
Speaking alongside Bergqvist at the Glasgow venue yesterday, Mutola said she had contemplated retirement, but decided to soldier on thanks to the encouragement of friends and family and the example set by athletes such as the Swede. "I kind of felt a couple of times maybe it's best to give up and do something else, but I got a lot of support from family and friends who kept telling me to keep going. Sometimes when you come back from injury you come back stronger. "This is an example here. She was injured for two years and came back very strong and won the World Championship. So I have to think in a positive way and come back very strong. Try to do everything right and start from zero again."
Besides her three world outdoor championships and six indoor crowns, Mutola also has an Olympic gold medal to her name from the Sydney Games of 2000. Her first outing at the Olympics was as a 15-year-old at Seoul in 1988, and her goal now is to keep on running up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
"At the moment I am just taking it year by year, and this year my aim is to win another world indoor championship and to win a third Commonwealth Games title," she explained. "But my goal is to take it up to the next Olympics."
Having become world champion in Helsinki last year, Bergqvist has two principal goals: to break the world record, and to enjoy herself. "Now I have the world title I'm a little bit more relaxed," she said. "I've been thinking about the world [indoor] record of 2.07m every training session" - her personal best is just four centimetres short of that - "but now I'm looking not to results but to have fun."
The long-jumpers Chris Tomlinson and Jade Johnson have both been forced to miss tomorrow's meeting because of minor injuries. Johnson will be replaced in the Great Britain team by Kelly Sotherton, whose place in the Commonwealth Select has gone to Scotland's Gillian Cooke. Nathan Morgan will jump for Britain instead of Tomlinson.