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Great Britain's athletes on verge of golden era – Charles van Commenee


Britain's runners, jumpers and throwers flew into London yesterday on a back-to-the-future mission. The declared ambition of the home track-and-field team, when the action gets away in the showpiece Olympic Stadium on Friday, is to launch a new golden era and to take the public profile of British athletics back to the heady days of the 1970s and 1980s.

The target for head coach Charles van Commenee and his team is eight medals, including at least one gold. With Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Dai Greene, Christine Ohuruogu and several other members of the squad bang in form, there is genuine hope of not only matching a tally that was last achieved in Seoul 1988 – on that occasion, without a gold – but also of hitting double figures for the first time since the boycotted Los Angeles Games of 1984, when Seb Coe, Daley Thompson and company finished with a record haul of 16 medals.

Asked whether the GB class of 2012 might be on the brink of a golden era, Van Commenee replied: "I think so. We have a very strong team. Four years ago in Beijing we won only four medals and look at what we have now…

"No medals have been won yet but we have had a great journey and enough to write about and look forward to. We have some exciting athletes.

"Four years ago, when I started as head coach at UK Athletics, if I could position myself here, just a few days before the Games, knowing what sort of athletes we have in contention now, I would have signed up for that straight away."

Asked whether there was a chance to restore the profile that British athletics enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was routinely on the back pages of newspapers and on television news broadcasts, Van Commenee replied: "It's a fantastic opportunity to do that. I really feel privileged to be given that opportunity to lead that British team into this exciting moment.

"It's important that the impact the result will have will last for a long time. We have come from quite far behind. This is an important sport in Britain. We have been off the radar for a long time and now we're back at a home Games.

"If these athletes do not make the nation proud then I think it does not look great for the future because it does not look much better than this.

"If you don't get excited at the Olympic Games with a good number of medals to celebrate then you have to start thinking about how will you ever get excited… maybe go to Monte Gordo for two weeks."

Things have not gone entirely swimmingly for the British team in the immediate build-up to the Games. Paula Radcliffe has withdrawn from the marathon and the question of Phillips Idowu's fitness for the triple jump has been an interminable saga.

Still, Van Commenee maintained: "I think we're in a very good position. I always knew we would not have all the medal contenders fit and 100% on the start line. That's statistically impossible. We have about 15 athletes in the medal zone. Our success won't be dependent on one athlete.

"Very recently we've had some excellent performances by athletes who have come into the medal zone: Perri Shakes-Drayton, and Christine Ohuruogu back to where she used to be.

"I'm sure somebody will trip over somewhere or get injured but we will still have a realistic chance."