Tough taskmaster Van Commenee keeps GB on track for London target

Golden girl Helen Clitheroe told to prove herself outdoors as head coach refuses to rest on laurels in effort to hit eight-medal mark at next year's Olympics
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The Independent Online

For the post-competition banquet, the organisers of the European Indoor Championships transported the athletes away from the centre of Paris to Disneyland on Sunday night. Whether any members of the British team sneaked off to take a ride on Space Mountain is not entirely certain, but for Helen Clitheroe, their Captain Marvel in the French capital, there was a reality check waiting yesterday. It came in the form of a reminder that the British team rollercoaster is pointed beyond the relatively minor peak of a continental indoor affair towards the Mount Olympus that is looming on home ground on 27 July next year.

Clitheroe might have achieved the performance of her life with her thrilling 3,000m win on Sunday, but the 37-year-old Preston Harrier will have to prove herself at global level in the outdoor season if she is to receive the financial backing of the sport's domestic governing body. Asked whether the GB team captain had put herself back into contention for Lottery funding, Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, replied : "Not based on this performance.

"If she gets results outdoors that indicate she is capable of a top-eight finish in the Olympics, then yes," the Dutchman added. "European level does not count. The Lottery world-class plan is based on global performance."

Clitheroe is fully aware of that. The former lifeguard knows she will have to deliver a top-eight performance, or something pretty close to it, at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August if she is to make the Lottery list. But then, she will need to reach that level in any case if she is to meet the high selection standards and achieve her dream of competing in a home Olympics next year. In the meantime, the pride of Preston can reflect on the satisfaction of finally having made the European Indoor Championships podium after two fourth-placed finishes.

In the 1500m in Madrid in 2005 Clitheroe was blatantly barged out of the bronze medal position by Hind Dehiba of France, who had the gall to stick out her tongue at the Briton on the line, and who was subsequently unmasked as a drugs cheat.

As for Van Commenee, it is his job to project the performance of the British team in Paris – eight medals, two of them gold (Mo Farah having supplied the one to match Clitheroe's from the men's 3,000m) – towards the holy grail of London 2012. He was, after all, appointed in the wake of the 2008 Beijing Olympics with the sole aim of getting home athletes on the podium in the showcase Olympic sports next year. His target is eight medals, a figure unmatched by a British Olympic track and field team since Seoul in 1988.

"We had a terrific result for the team we brought here," Van Commenee reflected. "We doubled the medal tally from two years ago, another sign that we are heading in the right direction. We have a lot of positives to take home with us." Not least of them was the sparkling form shown by Jodie Williams. The 17-year-old reached the 60m final and came within 0.01sec of a medal. "Nobody could have predicted that," Van Commenee said. "She's the sort of athlete every country is waiting for."

Even Britain will have to wait for the Hertfordshire schoolgirl to become fully available to their senior team. Her priority in 2011 is the European Junior Championships in Tallinn in July. Williams will not be in the British team at the World Championships the following month. Her most immediate concern is a return to school today and a looming maths exam.

So what did Van Commenee learn from Paris, with 2012 and medals in mind? That Mo Farah is the best distance runner in Europe? Nothing new there. That Jenny Meadows has the guts to go all out for 800m gold, even though she finished with a "minor" medal again this time? Maybe. But then the Wigan Harrier has been steadily gaining such assurance for two years now.

The major discovery was that in Tiffany Ofili Britain have acquired an American-raised athlete of global medal potential – thanks to a London-born mother and a UK passport. Only one woman has run the 60m hurdles quicker indoors this year than the 7.80sec that both Ofili, as runner-up, and the German winner Carolin Nytra clocked in Friday's final – and Kellie Wells of the US achieved her 7.79sec with the assistance of high altitude in Albuquerque. "It was an awesome performance from Tiffany," Van Commenee purred.

Not quite as awesome, though, as the 17.92m world indoor triple-jump record set by Teddy Tamgho in his home town. If Phillips Idowu is to win Olympic gold on his own manor in east London, he might have to venture beyond 18m to trump the young Parisian.

The road to Stratford


* 28-29 May: Hypo Multi Events Meeting, Gotzis, Austria. Pencilled in as Jessica Ennis' one complete heptathlon before she defends her world title.

* 18-19 June: European Team Championships, Stockholm. The next competition for Team GB.

* 10 July: Aviva British Grand Prix, Birmingham. The first of two IAAF Diamond League meetings in Britain this summer.

* 29-31 July: Aviva UK Trials and Championships, Birmingham. Trials meeting for the following month's World Championships.

* 5-6 August: Aviva London Grand Prix. The main Diamond League meeting on home soil. Yet to be announced whether Usain Bolt will be one of the global stars coming out to play.

* 27 August-4 September: World Championships, Daegu, South Korea. The main event of pre-Olympic year.


* 9-11 March: World Indoor Championships, Istanbul. The last competition for the British team before the London Games.

* 22-24 June: Aviva Olympic Trials and UK Championships. Venue to be decided.

* 27 July-12 August: London Olympics.