Dutch coach drives Britain on

Van Commenee cites Michelangelo as his model as records fall and medal prospects rise

Sitting in the upstairs room of a hostelry near the central London courts, Charles van Commenee has been talking about how folk thought he was putting a noose around his neck when, on becoming head coach of UK Athletics two years ago, he said he was aiming for eight medals at the 2012 Olympic Games. That tally was last achieved by a British track and field team in Seoul in 1988.

He mentions Michelangelo. He has already spoken of Holly Bleasdale, Jenny Meadows and Colin Jackson. Perhaps this Michelangelo chap is a rising Italian shot putter.

"He said once that the danger is not aiming too high and falling short but in putting your ambitions too low and hitting the target all the time," Van Commenee says. "You should never put your targets too low because that's not an incentive to do better."

One year and two weeks out from the days of reckoning in the London Olympic Stadium, Britain's athletes are raising the bar. At the end of 2010 four British athletes occupied top-six placings in the world rankings: Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Phillips Idowu (triple jump), Dai Greene (400 metres hurdles) and Perri Shakes-Drayton (400m hurdles). Midway through this pre-Olympic summer, the number has doubled: Ennis, Idowu, Greene, Bleasdale, Mo Farah, Lawrence Okoye, Chris Tomlinson and Goldie Sayers. With relays to factor in, plus the medal potential of others, the prospect of British track and field hitting Van Commenee's 2012 target are starting to look promising.

Not since 1980, when Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Daley Thompson and Allan Wells struck gold in Moscow, has there been a more prolific summer. There have been six national records in the 2011 outdoor season, half set by 19-year-olds: Bleasdale in the pole vault, Okoye in the discus and Sophie Hitchon in the hammer. The chances are there will be at least four more before the summer ends and the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham a week ago attracted a sell-out crowd to the Alexander Stadium.

There was Greene fending off the world's best in the 400m hurdles, Farah burning a 54-second last lap in the 5,000m, Bleasdale finishing second in the pole vault and the 5ft 1in "pocket rocket" Jenny Meadows blasting to victory in the 800m.

As Van Commenee is swift to point out, there are a host of coaches responsible for the upturn in fortunes. Still, the Amsterdammer's influence can be seen in the kind of mentality demonstrated by Greene, Farah and Co in Birmingham.

"I'm not pretentious enough to think I can change the nature of the British people," Van Commenee says. "When I find it difficult to say something about people who Twitter, what can I say about the whole nation? It's very difficult."

Still, having suggested a decade ago that the Dutch football team were hopeless at penalty shoot-outs because they were "too arrogant" to practise – long before he suggested Twitter was for "clowns" – Van Commenee could be excused for believing that the British psyche is naturally downbeat.

"I think in general people are negative in this country," he says. "Certainly if you compare them with north America. So a little bit of optimism to get rid of cynicism is helpful in sport. Because if you don't believe that you can do it, then it's not going to happen. Of course, I can't change everybody. But I think, overall, there's more optimism among athletes and among the sport now. And success breeds success, obviously. When other athletes see Jenny Meadows winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin [in 2009], then suddenly everybody thinks, 'Well she can do it. Now I have a chance as well.'

"That had a big effect on others. Because people, athletes, know that Jessica Ennis can win. But nobody thought that Jenny Meadows could win a medal. I remember clearly that night there was a buzz in the camp.

"And obviously it's happening more and more. If Holly Bleasdale can go to 4.70m in the pole vault, I'm sure there will be other girls thinking, 'OK, 4.50m is nothing.' It is important the momentum increases and does not stop in 2012. Our sport is under threat. Global interest in athletics is decreasing. It is important we have the new generation creating interest."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Powertrain Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried