Charles van Commenee: 'This golden generation can put Cram, Ovett and Coe in shade'

Class of 2011 have Midas touch and can reach medal target as World Championships start tomorrow

The last time a Great British track-and-field team travelled to South Korea for a global event – the Seoul Olympics in 1988 – they did so with Daley Thompson, Linford Christie, Colin Jackson, Steve Cram, Sally Gunnell, Liz McColgan, Fatima Whitbread and Tessa Sanderson in tow. Between them, they won eight medals – but all of them of the Crackerjack pencil, silver or bronze consolation variety.

Twenty-three years on, the British class of 2011 are poised to strike with a multi-Midas touch over the nine-day course of the World Championships in Daegu, which open with the women's marathon at 1am tomorrow, British time. In fact, Charles van Commenee, the difficult-to-please, arch-pragmatist of a Dutchman in charge of the GB team, did not dismiss the suggestion put to him yesterday that British athletics might just have a new golden generation to rival the golden era of the late-1970s to mid-1980s, when Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Thompson and Cram were in their world-beating, world record-breaking pomp.

"It's a possibility," Van Commenee pondered. "It's certainly not impossible. We're not too far off, and I'll be a happy man if we achieve it."

The fact is that Van Commenee's squad head into the World Championships with three gold medal favourites: Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Mo Farah in the 10,000m and Phillips Idowu in the triple jump. They also have possible golden shots from Farah in the 5,000m and Dai Greene in the 400m hurdles.

The star-studded British teams who contested the two World Championships that were held in the 1980s, after the event was inaugurated originally on a quadrennial basis, only managed three golds between them, and four years apart – Thompson (decathlon) and Cram (1500m) prevailing in Helsinki in 1983 and Whitbread (javelin) in Rome in 1987.

Only once before has a British team won more than two gold medals at a single World Championships. That was in Stuttgart in 1993, when Christie (100m), Jackson (110m hurdles) and Gunnell (400m hurdles) all hit the bullseye as part of a GB squad that gathered a record haul of 10 medals.

Van Commenee has set his team an overall target of seven medals – an increase of one on the tally achieved in Berlin two years ago – and there is a good chance that three of them could be gold. There is a possibility that more than three of them could be gold, which would be a record for a British team in the 28-year history of the World Championships.

"The target is seven medals, including one gold," Van Commenee said. "If we achieve that, I'll be a proud and happy man, and the day after we return we will start trying to improve on that. We've had a good year so far. We've had lots of athletes being competitive in the Diamond League. We've had an outstanding result in the European Under-23s. We've had a number of national records. And our injury rate is much better than it used to be.

"So there are a lot of indications that we are heading in the right direction. Of course, we want to see confirmation of the trend here. We have a timetable that is interesting for us. Our last day of the championships is a big day, with realistically four medal shots. Internally, it is our duty to keep that in mind and not to draw any conclusions too early."

The first British medal is likely to come shortly before 2pm on Sunday, day two, with Farah gunning for Kenenisa Bekele's 10,000m title on the back of a 10-race unbeaten streak. Ennis contests the seven events of the heptathlon on Monday and Tuesday. The men's 400m hurdles final, in which Greene ought to be one of several evenly-matched contenders, is on Thursday. The final day, Sunday week, could feature a flourish of medals from Idowu in the triple jump, Farah in the 5,000m, Jenny Meadows in the 800m and the men's 4x100m relay.

Other possible medal challengers throughout the nine days include Chris Tomlinson and Greg Rutherford in the long jump, Tiffany Porter in the 100m hurdles, Perri Shakes-Drayton in the women's 400m hurdles and Goldie Sayers in the javelin. The hope for Van Commenee is that he will have sufficient athletes on the podium to suggest he is on course to achieve his long-term target for the 2012 Games.

That is a haul of eight medals, the biggest since Christie, Jackson and company achieved that figure in Seoul in 1988 – but with at least one gold.

"I've always seen the golden era as a benchmark," Van Commenee said. "I started this job thinking 'Let's do better than them'. When I was a young coach I looked up to British athletes and British coaches. I went to England many times to learn. I observed them at championships and when I was appointed as head coach of UK Athletics, the only reason that motivated me to do it was because I felt honoured.

"It meant a lot to me because of the performances of the generation of Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Daley Thompson and the others. So I've always seen it as a great challenge. If we are able to match them, I will feel very proud."

If Ennis, Farah and Idowu are able to do Britain proud on the World Championships stage, it will bode well for the host nation in the principal Olympic sport at London 2012. "Athletics is an important sport in Britain," Van Commenee said. "When we are in London, at the end of the Games, people will consider it a success or failure based on medals won or lost. They will not say 'But we had a great transport system' or 'the stadiums looked quite nice and therefore it was a success'.

"Winning is important, and winning in athletics at the Olympic Games is more important than in other sports."

Golden boys (and girls)

The class of '93

GB's record haul of golds (three) and overall medals (10) from the World Championships in Stuttgart in 1993:

Golds (3):

Linford Christie, 100m.

Colin Jackson, 110m hurdles.

Sally Gunnell, 400m hurdles.

Silvers (3):

John Regis, 200m.

Tony Jarrett, 110m hurdles.

Men's 4 x 100m relay (Jackson, Jarrett, Regis, Christie).

Bronzes (4):

Jonathan Edwards, triple jump.

Steve Smith, high jump.

Mick Hill, javelin.

Women's 4 x 400m relay (Linda Keough, Phylis Smith, Tracy Goddard, Gunnell).

GB World Championships medals

1983 7 (2 gold)

1987 8 (1)

1991 7 (2)

1993 10 (3)

1995 5 (1)

1997 6 (1)

1999 7 (1)

2001 2 (1)

2003 3 (0)

2005 3 (1)

2007 5 (1)

2009 6 (2)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own