Sprinter Lewis-Francis moves to end slump

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British sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis has changed his coach and moved to London in an attempt to halt the alarming downturn in his career.

The Olympic relay gold medallist is parting company with Steve Platt, who has guided him throughout his athletics career, and joined forces with Tony Lester, a senior performance coach with UK Athletics. Birmingham-born Lewis-Francis will also move his family - girlfriend Nicola and three-year-old son Romeo - and relocate to London to be close to his new training base at the Thames Valley Athletic Centre at Eton.

"I've been in Birmingham training on my own and it hasn't worked," said Lewis-Francis, 22. "Working with a group will push me harder."

Five years ago a glittering career beckoned after he set a world record time for a 17-year-old over 100m and became world junior champion. He was British Junior Male Athlete of the Year in both 2000 and 2001, the first man ever to win this honour twice. But since then he has failed to fulfil his potential.

He reached only the semi-finals of the 2003 world championships and last year's Olympic Games, although he was a member of Britain's gold-winning 4x100m relay team in Athens. Then in March, a sample he gave after winning a silver medal at the European indoor championships in Madrid was found to contain cannabis, for which he was disqualified and received a public warning. His downhill spiral continued at the recent world championships in Helsinki where he was eliminated after finishing fifth in the 100m quarter-finals, although consolation again came in the relay with a bronze medal.

His move to London was backed by Dave Collins, UK Athletics performance director, who said: "For a variety of reasons Mark has made the decision. This is a move in which we have been completely involved. We are very happy to see it. Mark is making a big decision for himself and his family. It's important that decision is right for everyone concerned."

Other athletes in the Lester stable include Tim Benjamin, who was fifth in the 400m in Helsinki, and 4x100m team-mate Marlon Devonish.

Following the announcement on Monday at his new ''home" track, Lewis-Francis went for an MRI scan in London on the hamstring injury that has troubled him most of the year. He blamed it for his disappointing showing in Helsinki. "It's important I get the problem sorted out before next year's Commonwealth Games," he added.

*Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is doubtful for England's two World Cup qualifiers next month because of the calf injury that will keep him out of Tuesday night's Champions League qualifying tie against CSKA Sofia.

Gerrard suffered the injury in Liverpool's 1-0 Premier League win over Sunderland on Saturday. The midfielder will probably also miss the European champions' Supercup final against UEFA Cup winners CSKA Moscow in Monaco on Friday, according to manager Rafael Benitez. "If he is not fit for Friday it would be dangerous for him to play for England," he added. England are away to Wales on September 3 and meet Northern Ireland in Belfast four days later.

Liverpool go into the final qualifying match at Anfield against Sofia holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg.

Meanwhile Aston Villa should complete the £6m signing of Liverpool striker Milan Baros on Tuesday after the two clubs agreed the fee. Provided the Czech international passes a medical examination, he will sign a four-year contract.

Portsmouth have signed defender Brian Priske on a three-year deal from Genk. The Denmark international, who played in last week's 4-1 win over England, has joined the Premiership club for an undisclosed fee.

Midfielder Jiri Jarosik has joined Birmingham City on loan from Chelsea, with a view to making the deal permanent at the end of the season. The 27-year-old Czech international made 20 appearances for Chelsea after transferring from CSKA Moscow in January.

He has been pushed down the Chelsea pecking order by the arrival of Michael Essien from Lyon and Shaun Wright-Phillips from Manchester City. He will be in the Birmingham squad for tonight's Premier League match at home to Middlesbrough.

Jarosik takes over the position at Birmingham vacated by former England and Tottenham midfielder Darren Anderton, who yesterday completed a free transfer to Championship club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

City's striker Clinton Morrison may join Crystal Palace rather than Norwich City. Birmingham have agreed a fee of £2m with both clubs, and the decision may now rest with the player.

*Tiger Woods has strengthened his grip at the top of golf's world rankings following his one-shot victory at the WGC-NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio. The 29-year-old American moved almost six points clear of second-placed VJ Singh of Fiji after a closing one-over-par 71 at Firestone Country Club earned him his fifth PGA Tour title of the year.

Woods also won the US Masters and British Open titles this year, and the Akron victory means Woods now has 60 wins from 220 tournament starts, a phenomenal record in golfing terms.

Phil Mickelson, winner of the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol a week ago, and South Africa's Ernie Els stayed third and fourth respectively in the rankings.

*England's rugby outside-half Jonny Wilkinson has been discharged from hospital in Japan after suffering an inflamed appendix and could make a swift return to action. Wilkinson fell ill during Newcastle Falcons' pre-season tour of Japan. Although his condition will require monitoring, the club has not ruled him out of Saturday's friendly against Glasgow

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