Charles Van Commenee denies making 'fat' jibe at Jessica Ennis

UK Athletics head coach 'guarantees' he did not make comment, while virus sidelines Greene

Stadio Olimpico

Charles van Commenee last night denied that he was the UK Athletics official who allegedly told Jessica Ennis's coach, Toni Minichiello, that the European heptathlon champion was "fat".

In an interview published last week, Minichiello said "a high ranking person" in the national governing body had made the assertion about the 8st 13lb multi-eventer from Sheffield who last weekend broke Denise Lewis's 12-year-old British heptathlon record at Götzis in Austria.

Van Commenee has a history of plain-speaking and is head coach of UK Athletics but, speaking before the Golden Gala Diamond League meeting in Rome last night, the Dutchman maintained he was not the guilty man.

"I can imagine that people think there can be only one person who can fire those 'silver bullets', as they were described, and that fits my profile," Van Commenee said. "But I can guarantee you that that is not the case. I have never called Jessica Ennis 'fat', simply because there is no reason for it.

"I spoke to Jessica yesterday about this situation. She is totally all right with it. As we know, she performed outstandingly [last weekend]. For her there is no issue, for me there is no issue. I think it's more a storm in a tea cup.

"I was surprised to read it because it hadn't been brought to my attention before. I find it strange. I understand the concern that has been revealed almost across the nation, because there are some young people who may read things into that which may jeopardise their health."

Asked whether he would endeavour to find the culprit, Van Commenee replied: "Well, I will speak with Toni obviously, as we always do. I've been in Amsterdam for the last few days. I'm now here in Rome. He's been in Austria. Sure we'll have a meeting and we'll decide what created this, obviously. I can only say that I was taken by surprise."

Van Commenee added that use the word "fat" would be "inappropriate" and agreed that sporting officials had "a duty of care" to young female athletes. "That's why we have a whole team of experts around the athletes, similar to Formula One," he said.

"You have 200 people working on a car, to get it driving. We have a dozen people around every athlete, including psychologists, expert nutritionists, medical team and they all work together to make the athlete function better. And if there are psychological issues in combination with nutritional issues, then they are addressed in that team."

When the action got going here in the Italian capital last night, sadly there was no showdown between Bershawn "Batman" Jackson and Dai "The Riddler" Greene to delight the Roman crowd. The 400m hurdlers with the comic book sobriquets had come to face at the pre-meeting press conference, burying the hatchet after their recent verbal needle. Overnight, however, Greene's superpowers failed him.

The Welshman, who last summer won the world title, fell victim to a virus. "So disappointed to say this but I'm no longer racing tonight," he announced on Twitter. "Woke up not well. Been in bed all day as feel so bad. Really gutted. My apologies to the meet organisers and people expecting to see me race. Such a horrible decision to make but have to be sensible. Hoping to recover quick to get back to training for the Olympics."

The women's one lap hurdles also went ahead without the leading Briton in the event. Perri Shakes-Drayton withdraw from the field suffering from "a light hamstring strain". It was described as a "precautionary" measure, the European bronze medallist not wishing to take any risks in Olympic year.

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