Van Commenee demands flying start from his British team

Head coach expects a medal as Mo Farah and Chris Thompson go in tonight's 10,000 metres, writes Simon Turnbull in Barcelona
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The Independent Online

"Barcelona! such a beautiful horizon..." Eighteen years on, the spine still tingles at the memory of the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe anthem ringing out over Montjuic Stadium as the track and field events of the Barcelona Olympics unfolded on the hill overlooking the Catalan capital. We are likely to hear an awful lot more of it as the drama of the 2010 European Championships is played out over the course of the next six days on the grand 1992 Olympic stage.

We may hear a good deal of the British national anthem, too – starting tonight, when Mo Farah and Chris Thompson line up for the 10,000m ranked one and two in Europe in 2010. "I expect at least a medal," Charles van Commenee, head coach of the British team, said of the opening track final. "They're both in excellent shape, so I'm confident they will do well."

Farah and Thompson are unlikely to fare any worse than Van Commenee himself did when he travelled to the 1992 Olympics as a personal coach. "I was kicked out of the Athletes' Village," he recalled yesterday, chuckling at the memory. "Let's say it politically: I was not always very polite with the chef de mission of the Dutch team. It got a bit out of hand. I was here during only the first day of the Games and then I watched the rest at home on television.

"I spoke about it at the team meeting we had at our preparation camp in Monte Gordo last week. The theme was 'To be Remembered for the Right Reasons'. First I spoke about the World Cup final, for which the Netherlands will be remembered as criminals rather than a nice playing squad. Then I spoke about my Spanish memories, about Barcelona in 1992. And then I gave the floor to Linford Christie."

Christie was one of two British athletes in whose honour the national anthem got an airing here in 1992. He struck Olympic gold in the 100m and Sally Gunnell did likewise in the 400m hurdles. Now a sprint coach, some of his charges were among the British team members in Monte Gordo when he stepped up to read the words to "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann and then a poem of his own composition.

"It was inspirational," Dwain Chambers said yesterday. "He got a standing ovation. It's a fantastic opportunity for us to go out and recreate history in the stadium where Linford won gold."

The question of how many of the British track and field class of 2010 might find a Midas touch here this week has become a subject of no little irritation to Van Commenee, having seen or heard reports that he has his sights set on eight or even ten gold medals. The Dutch pragmatist is no Paul the Octopus. He doesn't do predictions.

"Ask me after the competition how many I think we'll win," he said yesterday. "I don't think any number I give will make the athletes run faster or slower or jump better or throw less. It's not relevant."

The form book suggests that Van Commenee's charges are capable of gleaning somewhere between five and ten golds. The Independent's tentacles would point towards seven, two shy of the record haul that was gleaned in Split in 1990 and matched in Budapest eight years later. But fate can be fickle when it comes to the heat of major championship battle.

A glance at the athlete sitting next to Chambers at the top table yesterday offered a reminder of that. Dai Greene stands more than half a second clear at the top of the 400m hurdles rankings but the Swansea Harrier would not be the first highly fancied Welsh hurdler to flop in Montjuic. Colin Jackson came here in 1992 as favourite for the 110m hurdles – guided by Malcolm Arnold, the guru who now coaches Greene. He finished seventh in the final.

Greene is not counting the gold medal before it has hatched. "I've run good times this year," he said, "but I know they're not going to give me the gold medal just for turning up. I need to perform to the best of my ability."

The highlights


7.15pm: Dwain Chambers will open his campaign in the first round of the 100m.

8.05pm: Mo Farah and Chris Thompson compete in the 10,000m final.


8:45pm: If all goes to plan, Dwain Chambers and Christophe Lemaitre will meet in the 100m final.


6:40pm: Phillips Idowu will hope to soar in the triple jump final.

8:45pm: Laura Turner will aim to be in the 100m final.


8:25pm: 6ft 6in Martyn Rooney is expected to feature in the 400m final.

6:50pm: William Sharman, ranked 8th in Europe, may compete in the 110m.

8:10pm: Jenny Meadows and Jemma Simpson are heavily favoured for the 800m final.

9:00pm: After succeeding in the Gateshead Diamond League meeting, Andy Baddeley will have high hopes for the 1500m.

9:00am-8:00pm: Current world champion Jessica Ennis will start as favourite in the Heptathlon.


6:35pm: Michael Rimmer takes to the track for the 800m.

7:10pm: Dai Greene battles it out in the 400m hurdles. Sunday

6:45pm: Marlon Devonish, Mark Lewis-Francis, Christian Malcolm and James Dasaolu in the men's 4x100m relay final.

8:15pm: The 1500m final; can Lisa Dobriskey claim gold?

8:55pm: Martyn Rooney, Michael Bingham, Conrad Williams and Rob Tobin look a good bet for the 4x400m final.

All events shown on BBC2