Athletics: Moorcroft gets real - and looks to 2012

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The Independent Online

Recovering from hepatitis and a stress fracture of the foot, he watched the action from the BBC television studios in west London, working as the resident expert alongside Desmond Lynam and David Icke and struggling to get to grips with the name of the Czechoslovak hulk who powered to victory in the women's 400m and 800m.

"Kratochvilova," he reflected, with perfect pronunciation, 22 years on. "Yeah, I went all over the place with that one. It was a funny thing really... Watching Eamonn [Martin] win the 5,000m, I was sitting there thinking, 'God, I would have fancied myself in that race'. But if I hadn't missed those championships I wouldn't have worked for the Beeb and wouldn't have done all the other bits and pieces I've done since. So, out of adversity, come other opportunities."

It is in apparent adversity that Moorcroft heads out to Helsinki, with a Great Britain team unburdened by any great expectations other than a good deal of deferred success. Only three members of the 52-strong team occupy top-three places in the world rankings - Paula Radcliffe (No 1 in the marathon), Kelly Sotherton (No 3 in the heptathlon) and Nathan Douglas (No 3 in the triple jump) - and none of them can be said to be cast-iron certainties for a place on the medal podium.

A repeat of the golden glow from Athens last year, when Kelly Holmes (in the 800m and 1500m) and the men's 4 x 100m relay team found a Midas touch, and when Sotherton took bronze in the heptathlon, would be too much to expect. A more likely scenario would be a reprise of the 1976 Olympics, when Brendan Foster won a solitary bronze, in the 10,000m.

"People said before the Olympics last year that we could come away with nothing, but I never thought that would be the case," Moorcroft recalled. "I genuinely thought there were at least four medal shots, but I would have put Paula [Radcliffe, in the marathon] and Phillips Idowu [in the triple jump] within that, so things don't always work out to plan.

"I think, going out to Helsinki, we're not as strong in depth. We're relying on far fewer people who could win medals, so therefore I think we've got to be realistic about our expectations.

"That's not to say you're not determined, you're not committed, and that there isn't optimism around certain individuals. But I think it's got to be tempered with a huge dose of realism, which I don't think is a bad thing, because this is the beginning of a new era, with Dave [Collins, in his first year as the performance director of UK Athletics] and Zara [Hyde-Peters, the recently appointed director of athlete development with UKA] and very much with the 2012 Olympic decision.

"We've got to make the best out of what we've got, but move many more people to a higher level sooner, so they can be ready for 2008 and then 2012."

Strength in depth is certainly lacking, with Holmes on the injured list, together with Idowu, Dean Macey, Ashia Hansen, Jade Johnson, Jo Fenn and Abi Oyepitan, and with Jon Brown and Hayley Tullett unfit, and Steve Backley, Denise Lewis and Katharine Merry all retired.

"It's true that we've had a lot of people injured and a lot retired," Moorcroft said, "but I think we're moving into an era of no excuses generally. The great nations, like the United States and Russia, are able to move people forward quickly and that's something we've got to do, so that we've always got the conveyor belt ready to produce.

"I think we've got to be prepared for criticism [should medals fail to materialise in Helsinki] but we've also got to be very determined to make it right. For me, 2012 now gives a really new purpose and a new focus that everybody within the sport has got to embrace. So, if there's flak to fly, so be it. But I'm more bothered about, 'Do we believe that the potential is there to produce the goods in Beijing and beyond?' And I believe it is."

A healthy haul of gold medals from recent age-group championships - six at the European Juniors, three at the European Under-23s, two at the World Youths - would suggest that the production line happens to be in fine working order.

"Getting one, two and three in the 100m at the European Juniors; that's fantastic," Moorcroft said. "But it only really becomes relevant to us, I think, when we see those kids in 2012 in the final in London. There's that clarity of purpose now, which I think the sport didn't have before."

There's also the purpose of Moorcroft's old 5,000m world record, 13min 00.41sec, still waiting to be broken as a British record after 23 years. "Yeah, that's not good," the chief executive acknowledged. "I'd like it to go. And I think, in Chris Thompson and Mo Farrah, we've got very able young athletes with the ability to break it."