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Elias vows to hit back and silence critics.

Byline: By GARY BAKER Western Mail

Matt elias has rounded on the critics who think he is all washed up as an athlete. The straight-talking Welsh 2005 AAA champion has had to have fluid drained and pain-killing injections after suffering knee viral arthritis, caused by a bug he picked up at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in March.

However, he insists there is 'plenty left in the tank' and claimed his critics 'will be the ones eating their words' as he aims to bounce back with a vengeance, including a shot at the 2012 London Olympics.

The 27-year-old almost collapsed after running 53.01secs for the 400m hurdles in defence of his AAA Championships title in Manchester on Saturday, a meeting which also doubled as qualifiers for next month's European Championships in Gothenburg.

That could only give him second place in his slow heat and left him outside the qualifiers for yesterday's final rounds.

Yet it was the first competitive action Elias has had for 12 weeks - and he only went over hurdles for the first time since the Commonwealths last Wednesday.

So, having suffered a terrible year with injuries, people, including officials from the sport's governing body, UK Athletics, have been writing his athletics epitaph. But, said the defiant star, he is not a spent force yet.

Elias ran in Melbourne despite his problems and the insistence of Welsh Athletics performance director Phil Banning's advice to pull out.

And he blasted, 'I was disappointed in the Commonwealths that some people said I was putting it on. For people to say that and to make those judgements shows that they don't know me as a person.

'I'm not one of those people to give in or quit. It was an effort to get out of bed in the Commonwealths let alone run. Phil Banning was telling me on the start line not to run.

'People there, not the Western Mail, were writing that I was finished as an athlete and that hurts. Even people from UK Athletics asked me when I arrived here if this was my last hurrah. That's not on! There is plenty left in the tank yet.'

Elias would not wish his torment on his worst enemy but, even though he was completely out of shape on Saturday, he had to give the AAAs his best shot.

He added, 'Sometimes I'm too stupid for my own good, but I was not going to give up my title easily. Now I'll have to try and salvage something from the season. I don't know what I've done in this life or in a previous life to have this bad run. It's taken so much out of me.'

Elias may have had a terrible run, but he won't quit. Asked if he will carry on, he resoundingly said 'of course,' but he will be talking with his trainers and mentors, including former Olympic sprint gold medallist Linford Christie, about the course of action for the rest of the summer.

He added, 'I don't want to make any rash decisions that I will chase a position for the Europeans. I could rush back and hurt myself. I have to think long term, but the injuries I've had in the last few years are beyond a joke. I think it's about time something went right for me.

'I will have to sit down with the people around me and work it out. It's hard to put into words what I feel about the things that have been said about me. It hurts and it gets you down. For a weaker person, it could be soul-destroying because I have never been so committed.'

And Elias claimed that, rather than spending vast sums of cash on trying to breed teenagers into London Olympians, the sport ought to help the twenty-somethings.

He added, 'Look at Linford who won an Olympic gold in his thirties and Kelly Holmes came back from a lot of injuries to win two Olympic golds. To say we have to blow money into the 15 and 16-year-olds for 2012 is ridiculous to me. We have to put it into the 21 and 22-year-olds. In 2012, I will only be 33 myself!

'I still feel I have a lot more to give. People can say what they like about me, I will just use it as motivation. If you want to write me off, then do it, but you will be the ones eating your words. I could go from things like this to breaking the world record. I wish people would show some respect.' So just getting onto the Manchester track on Saturday was a step on the ladder for the hurdler, and he added, 'I have to thank Dr Rhys Dillon at the Sports Council for Wales for the help. Also Jeremy Moody, of Elite Cymru, and all the UK Athletics medical staff. They have all been fantastic.'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 17, 2006
Words:817
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