When I said before the Athens Olympics that I could not see our British men coming back with medals, Darren Campbell, the GB team captain, criticised me for speaking out and said I should wait and see. Well, now our main hopes are out and we can say with reasonable confidence that there are no medals coming from Darren's 200m event, or the relays. I can say I've waited, I've seen, and now I want to know why. We have won no medals; but we have collected a locker room full of injuries.
Some of our athletes have long-term problems like Dean Macey, Daniel Caines, Steve Backley; and Jason Gardener was unlucky with two hernia operations before the Games. However, many injuries erupted in the final run-up, in the Cyprus holding camp, or here in Athens. Darren himself picked up a hamstring problem, as did the 400m runner Tim Benjamin and 200m sprinter Chris Lambert, while Christian Malcolm was hospitalised with kidney problems. Nobody has died, but it is time for an inquest.
Every injury has its own particular circumstances, but sudden strains like hamstrings worry me. In my career I was plagued by bad knees, but I very rarely arrived at a major championships with pulls, because you can prepare for them. If you have done your training, hard work in cold, rainy October and November, eight weeks of circuit training, long endurance runs, you are preparing your body with the strength to compete the following summer.
When I began technical and speed training in the early months of the year, I'd still top up body strength with 500 push-ups and 1,000 sit-ups every day. That might look extreme, but we are professional athletes; the push-ups and sit-ups took me 40 minutes. My coach, Malcolm Arnold, used to call it "beach work", because it produced a finely defined six-pack and bulging biceps. "Have you done your beach work?" he'd ask, and the answer would be yes. If I didn't do the work then I wouldn't compete at my best in the championships. When it hurt, I used to think how much it would hurt to finish fourth.
I can't know if our guys have been doing the work, but the hamstring injuries suggest strongly that their bodies weren't well-enough prepared, then in the run-up they tried to squeeze extra speed out, and their bodies protested and went ping.
I'm not saying everything was better in the old days; it wasn't. We had no Lottery funding to give us money to live on, medical support and tremendous facilities. But we did produce winners. I trained for years with Linford Christie and I know the phenomenal work Linford put in for his 1992 gold.
No doubt UK Athletics could improve its service and medical care in various ways, but I see them trying. However, the governing body can't do 300m training runs or 1,000 sit-ups for you, so 95 per cent of the responsibility is on the individual athletes. When we former world champions say we think our athletes won't win, perhaps we know a thing or two. Maybe they should use our expertise a little more, not just get defensive.
The women have salvaged our pride here. Kelly Sotherton won a great bronze in the decathlon, and Kelly Holmes has taken the ultimate prize. Kelly's 34, so I guess she's one from our era. Our women have no arrogance, they work and train incredibly hard. I'm not so sure about the men. Michael East did tremendously to finish sixth in the great 1500m won by Hicham El Guerrouj. There were positives in Mark Lewis-Francis' and Jason Gardener's 100m performances and I feel Chris Rawlinson was terribly unlucky to hit the first hurdle so hard in his 400m semi-final.
For the rest, in general, we've seen too much talk and not a lot delivered. When they get back, I think the sport must have an inquiry. Campbell himself said that athletes have been spending their Lottery funding on DVDs and other flash stuff, and I'm sure in that way athletics only reflects wider youth culture. I suspect the reason we'll find at the root of the British men's under-performance will be basic: they have not been doing the work required to be the best.
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