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."

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: rSabotage, a major meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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

Network Security Engineer, CCNP

£200 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Network Security Engineer, CCNP Lon...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teacher required with Early Years...

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?