Commenee vows to 'treat Chambers like any other athlete'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was difficult to say which was the most striking performance of all in South Yorkshire's Steel City as British athletics launched into a new era at the weekend.

On the track, in the European Trials and UK Championships at the English Institute of Sport's indoor arena in Sheffield, Dwain Chambers hit the top of the world rankings with a lifetime best in the men's 60m, running 6.51sec in the semi-final and final, despite suffering from a flu bug. The Belgrave Harrier will travel to Turin for the European Indoor Championships at the start of next month as the hottest of favourites.

Off the track, Charles van Commenee emerged from the blocks in similarly decisive fashion, hitting the ground in top gear as the new head coach of UK Athletics, grasping the nettle of Chambers' problematic situation and setting his sights on a medal target of "something over six" for the 2012 Olympics – a significant raising of the bar from the tally of four that Britain's athletes won in Beijing last summer.

Chambers (right) will not be one of the medal hopefuls in London, because of the British Olympic Association by-law barring past doping offenders from selection. Van Commenee, though, intends to embrace the 30-year-old's maturing talents, which will be available to the British team in Turin next month and at the World Championships in Berlin in August. "I will treat Dwain the same as any other athlete of that calibre," the Dutchman said. "I know there are restrictions funding- and competition-wise. But, for me, he is a human being – he served his sentence, and he will be part of the squad. We all wish, including Dwain himself, that he had not done what he did. He is paying a high price for it. But there is a new reality now and we have to close that chapter. It is a dark cloud that has been hanging over the sport for too long.

''I am saying something about it now and I will do so again soon, about how we deal with it in light of the relay, but then it should be over. We move on."

With the development of the 4 x 100m relay squad geared towards 2012, it seems likely that Chambers will not be part of it – even if his form in Sheffield on Saturday was more impressive than that in Kingston, Jamaica, of Usain Bolt, who emerged from his winter hibernation with a leisurely 46.35sec clocking for 400m. It is typical of Van Commenee that he has chosen to address the complexities of Chambers' situation with such head-on pragmatism – and that he has set his sights high for 2012.

Mo Farah – in highly impressive form yesterday as a clear winner of the 1500m, clocking 3min 40.57sec – is one of the emerging younger guns upon whom Van Commenee will be pinning his hopes in three years time. Donna Fraser is unlikely to still be competing then but the 36-year-old completed a brilliant double yesterday, winning the 200m in 23.48sec and the 400m in 52.83sec.