Injuries send Team GB limping to Berlin
Head coach rails at 'fragile' Britons as squad for world championships is announced
It was never likely to be a stroll in the park for Britain's runners, jumpers and throwers at the world championships, which open in Berlin two weeks on Saturday. With just one of their number occupying a top-three slot in the world rankings (Jessica Ennis, who heads the global order in the heptathlon), there has not exactly been a pile of great expectation building on the shoulders of the team.
Injuries have already taken a toll – accounting for Mara Yamauchi, ranked second in the marathon in 2009; Tasha Danvers, the Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medallist; and Kelly Sotherton, a bronze medal-winner in the heptathlon at the last world championships, in Osaka two years ago. And there could be further casualties, with question marks over the health and fitness of Paula Radcliffe and Christine Ohuruogu, the two British athletes who have won global major outdoor championship titles since the Athens Olympics in 2004.
"It's like when I was walking in Hyde Park the other week," Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, mused yesterday after announcing the 60-strong team that, as had been expected, includes Dwain Chambers, who will contest the 200m as well as the 100m. "It was a beautiful sunny day, then suddenly the hail stones came out of the sky, and five minutes later there is a storm. The injuries are coming from all over the place. I hardly dare pick up the phone any more when it rings. I would not really be surprised if one or two more athletes had to pull out... This has to change, of course."
In the long-term, with the 2012 Olympics in mind, Van Commenee intends to tackle what he considers to be the root of a problem that, in his opinion, leads to the public perception of Britain's injury-prone athletes as being a bunch of "pussies and wankers". "We do have too many fragile athletes," the straight-talking Dutchman said. "I need to sit down with the coaches and medical people after the season, but my current view on it is that the athletes are conditioned poorly over the years from a young age.
"It possibly has to do with a lack of knowledge of how to do that, or other reasons we have to go into. We are not very successful in bringing through very gifted athletes to the senior elite level and it has a lot to do with them being vulnerable. It is not easy to discuss these things with coaches because I have found they are very defensive when you talk about these things. They feel attacked."
It is quite possible that Van Commenee himself may be attacked in some quarters if the under-strength British team struggle to meet the ambitious target he set yesterday of matching the five medals won in Osaka – although, having been in his post for all of five months, the Amsterdammer could hardly be held responsible for the long-term condition of the athletes he has found in his charge.
"I am reluctant to talk about these things but I do understand the public perception and it bothers me," he said. "But I won't use that [as any excuse] at the end of the championships. I hate it when athletes talk about niggles and pains and lack of preparation. I will ask them not to do it because it makes the sport look poor. It [injury] comes with the sport and it affects all countries."
Over the years, it has affected Radcliffe more than most. The marathon world record holder has not raced since last November and has been suffering from illness in recent weeks while building up her training mileage after missing the London Marathon in April because of a foot injury. "Paula is selected but the decision to compete is hers," Van Commenee said.
Ohuruogu, the reigning world and Olympic 400m champion, is struggling with a hamstring injury. Van Commenee said she was "very likely to compete" but added hastily that: "We shall have to wait and see."
British squad: For World Championships
100m: D Chambers, T Edgar, S Williamson
200m: Chambers, M Devonish, T Sandeman
400m: M Bingham, M Rooney, R Tobin
800m: M Rimmer
1500m: A Baddeley, T Lancashire
5000m: M Farah
110m hurdles: G Frankis, A Turner
400m hurdles: D Greene, R Williams
4x100m relay: H Akines-Aryeetey, Devonish, Edgar, R Fifton, C Pickering, Williamson
4x400m relay: Bingham, C Clarke, N Levine, Rooney, Tobin, C Williams
High Jump: G Mason
Pole Vault: L Cutts, S Lewis
Long Jump: G Rutherford, C Tomlinson
Triple Jump: L Achike, N Douglas, P Idowu
Shot: C Myerscough
Javelin: M Luckwell
200m: E Freeman
400m: C Ohuruogu, N Sanders
800m: J Meadows, M Okoro, J Simpson
1500m: L Dobriskey, C Thomas, S Twell
3000m steeplechase: H Clitheroe
Marathon: P Radcliffe
20k Race Walk: J Jackson
110m hurdles: S Claxton, J Ennis
400m hurdles: E Child, P Shakes- Drayton
Pole Vault: K Dennison
Javelin: G Sayers
Hammer: Z Derham
Heptathlon: Ennis; L Hazel
4x100m: E Ania, M Douglas, J Kwakye, J Maduaka, A Onuora, L Turner
4x400m: V Barr, L McConnell, Ohuruogu, Okoro, Sanders, Shakes- Drayton
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