Van Commenee: 'I quit Team GB to show there can be no excuses'

Head coach resigned to make point that missing targets matters, writes Simon Turnbull
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The Independent Online

Outside the Booking Office bar and restaurant on the upper level at London's St Pancras Station, a familiar face walks by looking a little lost. As the author of the deftly plotted Jim Stringer, Steam Detective novels, Andrew Martin can be confidently expected to work out exactly where he is going.

Inside the Booking Office, Charles van Commenee has already arrived. The head coach who guided Britain's track and field athletics team – Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Co – to the London Olympics has no idea where his professional life will lead after his contract with UK Athletics expires next month.

"I pack my belongings into a friend's van and catch the last ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland on 23 December," says the Dutchman. "Beyond that, I have no idea what I might end up doing. I have a completely open mind.

"I have no strategy job-wise. I'm going to spend a few weeks in Amsterdam, just to relax a bit. Then I'm going to travel a bit. I'm going to South America for a month or so."

"Whereabouts in South America?" one naturally asks. At the end of London 2012, when Van Commenee was considering pleas for him to stay on at UK Athletics, there was talk that he was being lined up to lead Brazil's track team at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

"In Rio to start with," he says, laughing, "because a good friend of mine lives there. From there, I'm going to do other trips – to Chile and to Buenos Aires. Then I'll see."

If the chance presented itself, would the 54-year-old not be interested in guiding the home athletics team for a second successive Games? "It's so unlikely," he says, "because of the language. I could only do that job properly if I could have meaningful conversations and I can only do that in Dutch and English."

Ironically, the main reason that Van Commenee is getting ready to pack his bags is precisely because he has succeeded in altering that pussyfooting mindset – and indeed the public perception – of Britain's runners, jumpers and throwers. At the centre of his attack on the lax attitudes that went before was his instilling of a no-excuse culture that ultimately extended to his own door.

While UK Sport set Britain's athletes a medal target of between five and eight for London 2012, Van Commenee set the bar at eight and said he would walk away if it was not achieved. Despite being urged to reconsider after his team finished with six, he stuck to his guns.

Four of those were golds, so CVC achieved what his most celebrated track and field compatriot FBK – Fanny Blankers-Koen – famously accomplished at a London Olympics. "That's true," he says, laughing again. "Success can be measured in many different ways. And I would say that if you look at all the factors from every angle it was a success. But the thing is I have been very clear, throughout these four years, about what targets mean and the difference between a target and an expectation, and a prediction and an ambition.

"I could easily have answered all the time: 'If it doesn't happen, we will look into the reasons why we didn't hit the target. Then we will make changes and adjustments.' Which is fair. That's what happens 99 out of 100 times.

"But I wanted to make a clear statement about these things because it helped – and still helps – the new culture of no excuses and sanctions. In other words, accountability is important, and I wanted to put my credibility and my destiny on the line, saying, 'Guys, this is a serious business. We need to change here. And I will lead'."