Coe: New mindset gives British team chance to rule the world

Van Commenee credited with improvement that could lead to seven medals at Daegu championships
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The Independent Online

Four days away from the start of a vital pre-Olympic-year World Championships in South Korea, Sebastian Coe sat in a Daegu hotel yesterday reflecting on a sea change in attitude among the British athletes who will be carrying home hopes into the London Olympic arena 11 months from now.

"The most depressing thing about seven or eight years ago was watching the way some of our athletes walked into a stadium like they were walking into the Coliseum waiting for the lions to be released," Lord Coe said, speaking during a break in the pre-congress meeting of the council members of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

"Their body language was hunched. They weren't walking out there thinking: 'This is a stadium that I want to dominate'. They looked like they just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. You now look at the body language out there and it's so different.

"And what is also good is that they look despondent when they don't do well. There isn't any of this, 'Oh itdoesn't matter because I've got time on my side' – even when you're hearing it from 27-year-olds. For me, the tone and style of the team is very important, and other federations have started to take notice."

There is undoubtedly a spring in the step of a British team who will set out in the Daegu Stadium from Saturday with a more than realistic chance of achieving their target of seven medals and with genuine hopes of gold-medal challenges from Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Mo Farah (10,000m and 5,000m), Phillips Idowu (triple jump) and Dai Greene (400m hurdles).

According to Coe, who won Olympic gold at 1500m in Moscow in 1980 and in Los Angeles in 1984 but never got to compete in the World Championships (he missed the 1983 and 1987 championships because of injury), the appointment of Charles van Commenee as head coach of UK Athletics after the 2008 Olympic Games has played a pivotal role in the transformation of the Great British track and field mindset.

Asked how the GB class of 2011 compared with the one presided over by UKA performance director Dave Collins at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Coe replied: "Chalk and cheese. Absolutely chalk and cheese. It's a very different mindset now. You can just tell. I always thought that, before Charles could tackle some of the technical deficiencies, he had to change the culture, and I think he's done that.

"I went to the European Junior Championships in Tallinn last month. I spent three days there just sitting with the team and it occurred to me that this is really the first generation that has been able to get rid of the albatross of the so-called 'Golden Era'.

"Up until three or four years ago, there was always a sort of remnant of the previous era. There was an odd period, which I noticed at the Athens Olympics. I remember having a conversation with the swimmers and someone said: 'Your guys are really arrogant but they're punching below their weight'.

"I don't want to sound like a Penguin Psychology paperback, but I just sensed that it was an odd transition where our athletes were trying to live up to what they thought had gone on.

"Part of the old guard were still there, who were a bit past their sell-by date, but they were still swaggering around. A young group was coming through but I think the new guys took their lead from the old guard."

And what of the emerging young Brits of 2011? "Now I just sense that there is a clean feed of talent," Coe, who is standing for re-election as an IAAF vice-president, said. "They are coming through without being bothered by history. You've got athletes like Jodie Williams coming through. She knows who I am, because I sit and watch track and field, but if she's ever seen any of my races it's probably because someone has shown her on YouTube.

"I like the modesty of some of the younger guys. I thought the interview that James Shane gave at the trials was almost reminiscent of the excitement and naivety that we used to have in the late '70s and early '80s."