Van Commenee accuses his British athletes of 'underperforming'

A year out from the London Olympics, the message from the man in charge of the British team in the showpiece sport of the Games is typically frank. "We're not ready for the Games now," Charles van Commenee, the head coach of the British athletics team, said yesterday. "We've still got athletes who are underperforming at the moment. We need those 12 months to turn that around."

It is a characteristically forthright assessment of the state of the host nation's running, jumping and throwing talent by the arch-pragmatist Dutchman who was hired in February 2009 to put British athletes on the podium in the main Olympic arena in 2012. It comes just as British track and field is enjoying a timely pre-Olympic year boom.

British athletes top the world rankings in three events: Mo Farah in the 5,000m and 10,000m and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. A further two British athletes, triple jumper Phillips Idowu and 400m hurdler Dai Greene, are also genuine gold-medal hopes for the biennial World Championships, which take place in Daegu, South Korea, at the end of next month.

In all, there are Britons in the top six in the world rankings in 10 events. At the end of 2010, they were in the top six in just four. Then there has been the spate of British records this season: eight thus far. It is likely to be the most prolific summer of British record breaking since 1980, the year Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Daley Thompson all struck Olympic gold in Moscow.

And yet Van Commenee remains a far from satisfied man as he works towards his long-term target of eight medals, one of them gold, in 2012. The last British Olympic team to achieve that tally were the class of 1988 and they failed to glean a gold between them in Seoul, despite the presence of such all-time greats as Thompson, Colin Jackson, Steve Cram and Linford Christie.

To have a realistic chance of hitting that target, Van Commenee reckons he needs at least 15 athletes capable of challenging for medals. So has he got those 15 a year out? "If everybody were fit, then yes, but you will never have a situation where everybody is fit," Van Commenee said. "We need a few more. We're not ready to do the Games now. We need those 12 months.

"We're not perfect. We've still got athletes underperforming at the moment. We need those 12 months to turn that around. Let's say if [400m runners] Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney run the times they've been running this summer again next year, then that's trouble.

"That should not happen. They should have run faster by now, and if we analyse correctly they should be better 12 months from now. We need that time. I knew when I started this job two and a half years ago that we would not have one day too many."

Certainly, the British athletics team could not have one gold-medal contender too many. In 2010, only Ennis topped the world rankings. "It's very important to have winners, because success breeds success," Van Commenee said. "If we have athletes who break personal bests but don't win anything, that's not good. We need winners, and Jessica is one of the very few. Having a winner is one thing. Having two or three is exceptional."

Having athletes of medal-winning potential who can cope with the pressure of a home Olympics will be another vital ingredient come 27 July next year. "The vast majority of the athletes are looking forward to it," Van Commenee said. "There may be a few who see it as a threat but that's a very few. We have to help them turn that around and embrace it.

"One of the things in the psyche of an athlete is to turn negatives into positives. I remember when I used to coach Denise Lewis she always feared the 800m and after a couple of years she was actually looking forward to it. The theme was to embrace the 800m."

After embracing the 800m – the final event of the heptathlon in Sydney in 2000 – Lewis had what her coach is craving again for 2012: British Olympic gold.

Best of British: where in the world?

Ranked first:

Mo Farah, 5,000m

Mo Farah, 10,000m

Jessica Ennis, Heptathlon



Ranked fourth:

Phillips Idowu, Triple jump

Lawrence Okoye, Discus

Holly Bleasdale, Pole vault



Ranked fifth:

Chris Tomlinson, Long jump

Tiffany Ofili-Porter, 100m hurdles



Ranked sixth:

Dai Greene, 400m hurdles

Goldie Sayers, Javelin

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Store Manager & Store Supervisor

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Case Liaison Officer / Administrator

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist based in Rochest...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific