GB athletes must toughen up, says Van Commenee

Charles van Commenee has never been one to call a spade anything as fanciful as even a shovel. Few folk remember that the man from Amsterdam guided Kelly Sotherton from 57th in the world rankings to the third step on the Olympic rostrum but not many have forgotten that he accused Sotherton of "running like a wimp" in the final event of the heptathlon at the 2004 Games in Athens, the 800m.

Equally few are likely to forget the his frank reflection on the inaugural European Team Championships, which ended in Leiria, Portugal, on Sunday evening.

In the aftermath of the British squad's third-placed finish, Van Commenee, four months into his job as the head coach of UK Athletics, described the overall performance as "acceptable" – while labelling the standard in the throws and women's jumps as "appalling."

In proceeding to give his reasons for not risking less-than-fully-fit athletes eight weeks ahead of the World Championships in Berlin, though, he gave a classic observation that is sure to become etched on the CV of the man known in the corridors of UK Athletics as CVC.

"Athletics is a very injury-prone sport and it's a fine line between having a niggle, being fit, taking risks and getting injured," Van Commenee said. "As athletes and coaches you get tired of talking about these things. [People in] your sport come across as a collection of pussies. But it's the nature of the sport.

"You want athletes who are resilient, who are solid, and we're not solid enough. In this particular competition I didn't want to take risks because there are bigger fish to catch this summer,"

Certainly, Van Commenee could not be accused of pussyfooting. While applauding the step up in class taken by Dai Greene, winner of the 400m hurdles, and by several other emerging talents over the two days of the competition in Portugal, he lamented the fact that only four British athletes happen to be ranked in the world top 10 in championship events this year: Jessica Ennis (first, heptathlon), Mara Yamauchi (second, marathon), Phillips Idowu (fifth, triple jump) and the burgeoning Greene (seventh). "We need more," Van Commenee said.