Back in the good old days of British athletics – oh, all of two weeks ago – Charles van Commenee revealed that he had introduced "fun evenings" of quizzes and games at the team training camp. "It's not like you're going to work in the coalmines of Azerbaijan," the head coach of UK Athletics reasoned.
A fortnight on from Super Saturday in Barcelona, when Dai Greene, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah struck European Championship gold in the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, it felt like Van Commenee's charges were heaving picks at a coal face in the Caucasus.
At Crystal Palace it was Sorry Saturday at the Aviva Grand Prix meeting, after a Friday the 13th opening when none of the athletes who won a record total haul of 19 Euro medals (six of them gold) managed a home victory.
There was a win for an England A team anchored by Mark Lewis-Francis in the 4 x 100m relay, but that was an event scheduled primarily as practice for the Commonwealth Games, against nothing like world-class opposition.
So, yet again, there was not one home winner in any of the international events, making it a complete domestic blank at the annual showpiece British meeting. Last year there were four (Michael Bingham at 400m, Farah 5,000m, Nicola Sanders 400m, Jemma Simpson 800m) but in 2009 the London Grand Prix came before the focal point of the season, the Berlin World Championships. This time, coming post Barcelona, there was always a danger it would turn into something of a nightmare for the best of British.
So it proved. Over the two days, Farah was the highest-place Briton, as runner-up in the 3,000m on Friday night. There had been third places then for Greene (400m hurdles) and Lisa Dobriskey (1500m) and yesterday came four more, courtesy of three Britons who failed to make the podium in Barcelona – Eilidh Child (400m hurdles), Simpson (800m) and Kate Dennison (pole vault) – plus Chris Tomlinson, the Teessider who matched his bronze in the Barcelona long jump.
The one British gold medal winner in action on day two, Andy Turner, finished eighth and last in the 110m hurdles. His time of 13.54sec was a quarter-second down on his Barcelona effort and the newly crowned European champion was not even the first Briton in the race. William Sharman was fourth in 13.39sec, a season's best.
The winner, in a meeting record of 13.06sec, was David Oliver, the man from Orlando who has yet to be beaten in the 110m hurdles in 2010. As was the case on Friday night, when Tyson Gay blitzed the 100m in 9.78sec, the stars of the show yesterday were from the land of the Stars and Stripes.
Still, it was not just the Britons who struggled to reproduce their European Championship form. There were few more emphatic winners in Barcelona than Natalya Antyukh, who smashed the championship record in the 400m hurdles with 52.92sec. Yesterday the Russian was fifth in 55.89sec.
Ahead of Antyukh, Child ran a strong race for her bronze behind the Jamaican Kaliese Spencer and Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic. In doing so, the Perth schoolteacher broke her own Scottish record, clocking 55.16sec, which helped ease the disappointment of finishing last in the European final. "I'm really chuffed with a personal best today," the 23-year-old said. "After Barcelona I was really disappointed, because I knew I was in shape to run a PB there. I wanted to come out and show it here. There's definitely more to come."
There would appear to be a good deal more to come from Perri Shakes-Drayton, the young east Londoner who took 400m hurdles bronze in the Catalan capital. The 21-year-old tested her speed in the flat 400m yesterday and ran a personal best, 51.48sec, in a race won by Allyson Felix, the American who on Friday had prevailed at 200m, the distance at which she is world champion. "I'm very pleased," Shakes-Drayton said. "That's what I came here to do, a PB."
Simpson was half a second short of a PB in the 800m but the Cornishwoman – fifth in the European final – produced a highly respectable 1min 59.26sec for her third. Jenny Meadows, the bronze winner in Barcelona, was fifth in 1:59.40 and Dobriskey eighth in a lifetime best of 2:00.14, less than 24 hours after placing third at her specialist distance, 1500m.
In actual terms, if not placings, it was the pole-vaulting Dennison who came closest to a British victory. The first five all cleared the same height, 4.46m, before Fabiana Murer of Brazil won on the count-back, having registered no failures at lower heights.Reuse content