More medals, fewer rows – Peter Eriksson fires GB start gun
New team head coach promises changes from Van Commenee era prior to championship debut
Thursday 28 February 2013
The new GB head coach, Peter Eriksson, was sitting in the Gothia Towers hotel in Sweden's second city, pondering the question of his particular "management style" when Jenny Meadows interjected. "He pulled all our bags off the conveyor belt at the airport," the British team captain said. "Charles didn't do that."
Eriksson was also quick to point out another difference between himself and his predecessor, Charles van Commenee. "It's not part of me to piss people off," he said pointedly. "That's not what I do. I try to help as much as I can."
The last time the British track and field squad were in Sweden, for the European Team Championship two years ago, the baggage had more to do with the row between Commenee and Phillips Idowu, then the world triple jump champion, about the latter's withdrawal from the squad via Twitter – a spat that burgeoned all the way up to the London Olympics.
The European Indoor Championship, which opens in the impressive Scandinavium arena this morning, will be the first test for Eriksson as Van Commenee's successor. It will also be the first international championship challenge for Britain's athletes in this post home-Olympic world.
The 28-strong British squad does not include the golden trio of Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford, but contains sufficient quality to ensure that the Eriksson era gets off to a sparkling start on the medal front. There ought to be at least as many British golds as were won under Van Commenee at the last European indoors in Paris two years ago – two courtesy of Farah and Helen Clitheroe in the men's and women's 3,000m, plus one retrospectively for Meadows in the 800m following the disqualification of the Russian drug offender Yevgeniya Zinurova.
When the team for Gothenburg was announced at the start of last week, Eriksson set a rough medal target of bettering the haul from Paris, which at the time stood at eight overall. It is now nine, the disqualification of another Russian doper, Yuliya Rusanova, having raised Marilyn Okoro from fourth to third in the ever-shifting 800m result from two years ago.
"It's early in the year and setting medal targets is unpredictable," Eriksson said. "I think you have to look at things like: are we doing the best we can? Just the numbers doesn't mean that much to me.
"We have a young team. The average age is 22. And I think a lot of people will surprise here. With the times and results we've seen in this early part of the year, it's very promising."
Eriksson himself might have turned 60 in November, but he is very much a new boy in charge of the able-bodied GB track and field team, having switched to the Olympic side of the UK Athletics programme last autumn following a phenomenally successful time as head coach of Britain's Paralympians.
It should help that his first major assignment happens to be on old home ground for him. Eriksson is a Canadian citizen but he was born and raised in Stockholm and competed for Sweden as a speed skater. "I remember competing in Gothenburg in around 1978," he said. "I haven't actually been to the city since 1995, when one of my athletes, Jeff Adams, won one of the wheelchair races at the World Championships."
That was when Jonathan Edwards hopped, stepped and jumped to his landmark 18.29m triple jump world record in the Ullevi Stadium, across the road from the Scandinavium. It is unlikely that any of the British class of 2013 will be disturbing the world indoor record books over the next three days, but Eriksson can be expected to make his own mark.
Asked how his management style differed to that of the blunt, often confrontational Van Commenee, the avuncular figure replied: "I used to say the biggest difference is that I have a Twitter account. I actually posted a picture for the first time today.
"It's a new era and we are moving forward and trying to develop. I think you need to consult more and more and listen to people and get feedback from whatever we do in order to improve. I consult a lot of people and try to be available for everybody who wants to speak to me any time of the day.
"But if it comes down to tough decisions, then I can make tough decisions. There are certain points where you can't and you have to say 'no'. And no means no. I'm Swedish, and if you say no then there's no way back after that." Even if you have a bag that needs carrying, presumably.
Golden shots: GB hopefuls at European Indoor Championship
Nigel Levine; 400m
Coached by Linford Christie. Should be a strong contender.
Holly Bleasdale; Pole vault
Chorley's finest tops the European rankings and starts favourite.
Robbie Grabarz; High jump
Olympic bronze medallist aiming to complete Euro outdoor-indoor double.
Women's 4x400m relay
Olympic silver medallist Christine Ohuruogu is in a formidable quartet.
Perri Shakes-Drayton; 400m
The 400m hurdler is in great shape on the flat.
Asha Phillip; 60m
Former world youth champion is starting to fulfil her potential.
Men's 4x400m relay
Levine, Michael Bingham and Co could take some stopping.
Michael Rimmer; 800m
The in-form Merseysider tops the European rankings.
Jenny Meadows; 800m
Back in shape after injury but Yelena Kotulskaya of Russia starts favourite.
Shara Proctor; Long jump
Bronze at 2012 world indoors.
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