Peter Eriksson takes reins of UK Athletics and pledges softer approach


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The Independent Online

Now for something completely different … UK Athletics has an Olympic head coach who considers Twitter a useful form of communication, rather than the refuge of "clowns and attention seekers", and enjoys a happy relationship with Phillips Idowu.

In appointing the Sweden-born Canadian Peter Eriksson, the mastermind of Britain's Paralympics success, to replace Charles van Commenee yesterday, the domestic governing body of track and field swapped a blunt, often abrasively hard taskmaster for a more conciliatory operator.

Asked how his working method compared with that of Van Commenee, the Dutchman who decided not to seek a renewal of his contract in the wake of an Olympic campaign that fell two gongs short of his personal eight-medal target, Eriksson replied: "It's kind of not the same. I work more in the same style as Neil."

Neil Black was appointed to the new role of performance director by UK Athletics last month and will work towards the 2016 Rio Olympics in tandem with Eriksson, who – according to chief executive Niels de Vos – moves from Paralympic head coach as a direct replacement for Van Commenee as Olympic head coach.

"If you compare me with Charles, we have the same outcome in mind," Eriksson added. "We want to perform better. We want to have more medals. That would be the same side of things. Not the same side would be: I have a Twitter account and he doesn't. I don't write on it all the time, but I read it because I think it's interesting."

The appointment of the avuncular Eriksson, a 59-year-old one-time speed skating international, opened an instant line of communication to Idowu, whose relationship with Van Commenee suffered a terminal breakdown after the Dutchman accused the triple jumper of announcing his withdrawal from the British squad for last year's European Team Championships on Twitter – famously adding his opinion that the social networking site was for "clowns and attention seekers".

Idowu used his Twitter account today to applaud the appointment of the incoming head coach – and to have a subtle dig at the outgoing one. "Happy 4 Peter Erikkson," he tweeted. "Met him in Italy a few yrs ago & he was actually coaching (not just a title)."

Informed that Idowu had welcomed him, Eriksson said: "Oh, that's nice of him. At the training camp in Italy I had many meals with him and I find him a really nice guy. We talk a lot about our children, so we have a common interest. We get along great." Idowu cut his links with UK Athletics in the build-up to London 2012 as he battled to overcome injury before the Games.

It was suggested to Black that he and Eriksson would be more conciliatory towards the leading athletes. "I think that possibly the difference that might be apparent is that our style is probably a little bit more, 'Let's sit down and listen and at least appear that there's more time spent getting an understanding, a feeling, before making a decision'," Black replied.

"I think at times it appeared as though Charles didn't do that or wasn't interested in that, although I have to say, having worked so closely with him and had private conversations about the traumas and the challenges, I think he did more of that than people thought he did."

So can Idowu, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Co expect a shift from tough love to soft love? "Soft love?" Eriksson pondered. "I don't know about that…

"Look, if you hire coaches to do a job, let them do the job. You have to listen to what their needs are as well to enable them to do the job. But is it going to be soft love? No, if they [the athletes] don't live up to the standard, then it's going to be tough love."

Eriksson described himself as "more of a quiet personality" than Van Commenee. "I don't know if it's a hard act to follow," Eriksson said. "I think he did a great job. Four gold medals at the Olympics was excellent.

"I think we have a golden generation going forward to the 2016 Olympics, and to the 2017 World Championships in London."

Peter Eriksson: factfile

* Born Stockholm (19 November 1952). Moved to Canada in 1987 and is now a Canadian citizen.

* Competed for Sweden as a speed skater, finishing 10th at the 1977 World Sprint Championships.

* Entered coaching on an apprenticeship with the Swedish track and field federation, who took him to the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow.

* As a coach has worked at five Olympic Games, seven Paralympic Games, six athletics World Championships and three Commonwealth Games. Appointed head Paralympic coach by UK Athletics in 2009.