Olympians: Time for Olympic athletes to jump out of wheelie bin

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The Independent Online

Watching some of Britain's prospective Olympians train in the 80F heat of Cyprus this week I witnessed activity which was, frankly, dismaying.

Watching some of Britain's prospective Olympians train in the 80F heat of Cyprus this week I witnessed activity which was, frankly, dismaying.

One athlete was proceeding over a series of hurdles at what was no more than walking pace, pumping his arms and lifting his legs in exaggerated fashion. Didn't he realise that when it came to the heat of the action in Athens he wouldn't have time to stroll around?

Another so-called international performer was at least putting in a bit of effort as he sprinted down the straight, but even someone of the meanest intelligence could have told him he would have gone much faster had he not been been dragging a weight along the track. Talk about making life hard for yourself.

Deciding to get closer to the action in order to offer these misguided individuals the benefit of some much-needed common sense, I encountered something which caused me further deep misgiving - a large green plastic wheelie bin.

Athletes were apparently being encouraged to step into this bin, which was filled with ice and water, immediately after their exertions. The idea seemed to be to offer them a temporary coolbox which would help ease hot and swollen limbs.

Mark Lewis-Francis, one of our leading hopes for an Olympic sprint medal, showed a modicum of sense by choosing only to immerse his legs up to the knee. But Christ Tomlinson - sorry, there I go again, I'll come back to that - but Chris Tomlinson took the full plunge for the requisite five minutes, albeit that he kept his flowing blond locks dry.

With all due respect, what are our coaches thinking of? There may be some fleeting comfort in this ludicrous business, but does no one realise the potentially crippling mental price it involves? What are we saying to our brightest and best, on a daily basis? We are telling them: Get in the bin. We are telling them, yes, deep down we are telling them: You are rubbish.

It can't be allowed to go on.

The power of subliminal suggestion should never be underestimated. I found myself sitting next to Tomlinson's coach, Peter Stanley, a couple of months ago while flying to Budapest for the World Indoor Championships, and in chatting about his boy's prospects that weekend I mentioned that whenever I typed his name it always came out as "Christ" rather than "Chris". I said it might be a subconscious acknowledgement of the long jumper's long, centrally parted hair.

Stanley replied with a grim smile that young Tomlinson, whose performances had been lukewarm up to that point, needed to do the something good in Budapest otherwise he personally was going to crucify him.

I thought that a bit harsh. Fortunately, Tomlinson performed with sufficient honour to avoid the unhappy necessity. But for how much longer will his form endure now that he is undergoing regular demoralisation of the most insidious kind?

Obviously, I will be passing my views on to the relevant authorities. With the Olympics just a couple of months away, something needs to be done urgently.

While I'm at it, I'll be mentioning a couple of other topics requiring urgent attention. Firstly, I have noticed that many athletes race up and down or jump about before their event even begins. Message to athletes: You are wasting precious energy! Keep it for the competition.

Secondly, I constantly see competitors tying themselves up in knots as they prepare for events, doing the splits, bending this, pulling that, you name it...

Message to athletes: Stop! You'll do yourself a mischief!

As I say, all I can do is tell people. I can't force them to see sense. But if any of this helps our Olympic cause, even in the smallest degree, my efforts will not have been in vain.