Former Olympian Liz Yelling has defended Britain's athletes after IAAF president Lord Coe accused them of shirking major competitions.

Coe's scathing assessment came after Britain won only one silver and two bronze medals at the World Indoor Championships earlier this month.

It was only the second time since 1997 the British team have returned from the championships without a single gold and Coe said he felt some athletes were "hiding" from the demands of elite competition.

Established names like Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Katarina Johnson-Thompson have all been nursing injuries but several younger athletes were left at home to continue their own carefully crafted schedules ahead of this summer's Olympics.

Yelling, who retired three years ago after running the marathon at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, believes Coe needs to understand the bigger picture.

"The trouble is, as an athlete you do have to pick what events you focus on," Yelling told Press Association Sport.

"If you peak now, you'll find it hard to peak again and qualify for the Olympics. A lot of athletes will be doing their base training now and preparing for trials.

"With athletes as well, it's a mental game. They don't want to be exhausted too early. We're judged over a season a lot of the time and if you have a series of bad performances it doesn't always look good for selection.

"The pressure is on for the athletes this year so they want to get it right."

Coe, a two-time 1500m Olympic champion, also criticised the depth of quality in British distance running, claiming that beyond Mo Farah, "performances are slower than 40 years ago".

Farah won both the 5,000m and 10,000m finals at last year's World Championships in Beijing, but no other male or female British athlete finished in the top 10 of either event.

Yelling believes there are still talented marathon runners coming through but admits she "doesn't think any British names will emerge in this year's Olympics" and feels it is part of a wider problem.

"In Seb Coe's era there used to be a lot more depth in distance running," Yelling said.

"That's partly a change in the culture, there's much more pull on young people's time now and better access into lots of different sports.

"In those days running was very accessible, it was very cheap and easy, now there are so many opportunities for young people and they don't necessarily choose running.

"It's also a hard sport. Maybe we're not as tough as we used to be. You have to be mentally tough to do such a physically challenging sport and maybe we have a different mindset these days."

Yelling won a marathon bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games but, having retired, she now does five runs a week, devoting more time to her twin sons, who are two, and her six-year-old daughter.

The 41-year-old is also training for a 22-mile 'Man vs Horse' event in June, a 37-year-old challenge which will see 400 runners go up against 60 riders on horse-back in Wales.

"I'm really excited to be part of the Whole Earth team," Yelling added. "Helping them with their training and preparation, and then running it with them, will be a fantastic experience."