Athletics: Jones aims to equal Sydney medal haul

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The Independent Online

Max Jones, who will retire as Performance Director of UK Athletics after the Olympics, is expecting his athletes at least to match the total of six medals they won in Sydney when they compete in Athens three months from now.

Max Jones, who will retire as Performance Director of UK Athletics after the Olympics, is expecting his athletes at least to match the total of six medals they won in Sydney when they compete in Athens three months from now.

He believes there are the same number of athletes, around 12, who are in the "possible" medal category, but considers there are less "probables" than there were four years ago.

"Going into the Sydney Games there were four athletes whom I thought were 90 per cent sure of medals - Denise Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson and Steve Backley. Only Colin didn't medal. This time I've got Paula Radcliffe, and maybe Kelly Holmes. I don't know," he said.

"Obviously I'd much rather be in the situation I was in four years ago, but I haven't got that cushion this time. I've got 12 people who might medal, so it's going to be more of a roller-coaster ride."

The question of who will take Jones's place at the head of the roller-coaster when he gets off after his seven-year ride remains open as UK Athletics ponder upon last week's call in Sir Andrew Foster's report to "secure the services of the best available person in the world" to take the sport forward.

"It was amusing to say that they were advertising to get the best person," said Jones, who is supervising arrangements at the Athens preparation camp in Cyprus. "You don't advertise to get the second-best person anyway.

"I think UK Athletics sees it as a two-person job. I don't say I do two jobs now - I do two half-jobs. One part is getting the most out of the stars you've got now, and the other part is ensuring that in four or eight years' time you've got another 50 stars. Can that be done by one person? I doubt it.

"We believe at UKA that there's a need to appoint someone who's in charge of the whole picture, from cradle to grave so to speak, and there's a person who is homed in on the current élite athletes.

"Looking back, I've spent too much time in the boardroom and the office and not enough time talking to coaches. In future, the person involved should have almost a daily or at least a weekly contact with the top people so they can influence them."

While British swimming has thrived under the harsh new regime of the Australian head coach, Bill Sweetenham, Jones believes that athletics is too complex a sport to be dealt with in the same way, although he accepts that whoever comes in will need to take a new approach.

"We probably do need a change of direction," he said. "But there's not an obvious candidate on the horizon. Athletics is a fairly close community, and we probably know everybody internationally."

Asked if he thought Charles van Commenee, the Dutchman currently in charge of combined events and jumps for UKA, had a chance of one of the top jobs, he responded: "There are two or three, including Charles, who should be interviewed for the post. People talk about Bill Sweetenham, but if you know Charles he's as direct and as hard as they come. He demands a lot from the athletes and he gets the job done."

Others who may be in the frame include Trevor Bidder, the former UKA coach now working in Australia, and the UKA throws coach, John Trower.

Van Commenee, working out here with Denise Lewis and Kelly Sotherton, said he had not had time to read Foster's report because he was concentrating on preparing his athletes - pointing up Jones's comments about the difficulty of combining roles.

The Dutchman, who made it clear that he saw himself as a coach rather than a politician, would not be drawn on whether he had an eye on the top job, but replied: "I enjoy working with UK Athletics and I have no plans to move. Put it that way."

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