Like any proud, hopeful native of the Netherlands, Charles van Commenee was decked out in orange yesterday. While the Amsterdammer, a lifelong Ajax fan, was keeping his fingers crossed for Robin van Persie and the rest of the Oranje on World Cup semi-final duty in Cape Town last night, the head coach of UK Athletics was hopeful that the immediate future of the British track and field team would be relatively bright – if not quite as dazzling as it might have been.
Announcing the 72-strong Great Britain team for the European Championships, which run from 27 July to 1 August in Barcelona, Van Commenee – wearing a team polo shirt from his days as performance director for the Dutch National Olympic Committee – revealed a target of between 10 and 15 medals. "That is the target we have from UK Sport," he said, "and I would be embarrassed if we did not make it."
If the World Championships in Berlin last August had incorporated a European competition, Van Commenee's charges would have won 11 gold medals alone. That raised hopes of eclipsing the record haul of gold by a British team from an actual European Championships: nine, which was achieved in Split in 1990, and repeated in Budapest in 1998. However, on performances this summer, only four Britons currently stand at the top of the European rankings: Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Dwain Chambers (100m), Dai Greene (400m hurdles) and Mo Farah (10,000m). The team which heads to the Catalan capital will also be minus a host of potential medallists for a reasons ranging from injury to pregnancy. The list includes Christine Ohuruogu, Mara Yamauchi, Paula Radcliffe, Goldie Sayers and Kelly Sotherton.
"Some months ago I expressed an ambition to have the best possible result of all time which is 18 medals," Van Commenee added, alluding to the haul of silver and bronze, as well as gold, from Split two decades ago. "Since then we've had quite a few casualties so that ambition is maybe even more ambitious now. Nevertheless, I think we have a very competitive team with some obvious names in the mix for medals.
"We have quite a number in medal contention that are not necessarily the biggest favourites for the gold. They can still win, but they have some rivals to beat first."