Dave Brailsford, who has overseen the outstanding British cycling display at these Games, confirmed yesterday that he would be staying put in his role as performance director until the 2012 London Olympics, even though he has had approaches to switch allegiance from several foreign teams. By contrast, Dave Collins, the performance director for an athletics team that failed to reach its medal target of five here, faces the prospect of losing his job.
Collins, who took over his role in December 2004, yesterday gave the appearance of a man resigned to leaving the post as he admitted that the team – which earned a gold, two silvers and a bronze – had not done as well as it could have done. But he insisted that the level of achievement would rise at the London 2012 Games.
"Four or five national governing bodies elsewhere in Europe want to come and have a look at what we're doing because they think we've had a really good Games," he said. "My perception is that we haven't done as well as we want to be or as we need to be doing.
"Four medals are clearly not going to be enough in London. I can't categorically promise, but I am very confident we will do better. I'll bet my job on it."
The signs are, however, that Collins may soon not have a job to bet on. At the moment he is a manager conspicuously lacking in a vote of confidence from his board, as he confirmed. "I have read the speculation about my future with interest," he said. "I haven't heard anything on the subject from either my chief executive or my chairman."
He added that the success that, for instance, sailing has enjoyed here was something that had been laid down 15 years earlier. "That's the length of time it takes to create what you might call a super-programme," he added. "I know with 2012 round the corner we haven't got long. That's why I'm frustrated that we have wasted time in the area of sports development, where we haven't done enough. This sport is a super-tanker, and I think we've turned it. I think we are sailing into better water but we've just to keep the effort going."
There is speculation in Olympic circles, however, that another candidate is being sought to supercharge the process which Collins, who has no extensive background in athletics, has begun. The name of Charles van Commenee, who coached Denise Lewis and Kelly Sotherton to Olympic gold and bronze medals respectively before taking over the Dutch team, has been mentioned more than once. Van Commenee is an immensely thorough and brutally demanding character – he reduced Sotherton to tears in Athens for falling 11 points short of a silver medal, calling her "a wimp" – and clearly he was seen as too great a risk when the post was last offered.
Yet British athletics needs Van Commenee, or someone like him, to force through the kind of changes which Collins has had to battle to make in the last three years. Without doubt, Collins has professionalised the sport and improved the general level of performance following the annus horribilis of 2005, when whole evenings went by at the World Championships without any Briton in a final, and when both teams were relegated from the European Cup super league.
"I'm very satisfied that I have made a difference," he said. "There's a lot more things that are right with the sport today than there were when I took over in 2005. We might have had two or three more medals here. The disqualification in the men's sprint relay was down to human error, but the women's sprint relay team were knocked out of their lane by the Jamaicans when they were up on Russia and they might possibly have won a gold."
For all Collins's speculation, there have been clear signs that UK Sport, which has put £26.5m of Lottery money into athletics over the past four years – more than any other sport has received – is dissatisfied with the level of return here. Liz Nicholl, UK Sport's director of elite sport, said here on Friday : "Athletics would themselves agree that they have not delivered in the way that our most successful sports have."
Not so for cycling, which will continue to enjoy the benefits of Brailsford, who has been the subject of poaching offers in the last fortnight. "With the London Games, it would be crazy to go," Brailsford said. "It's the greatest job in the world to take a British team into the London Games. The worst job would be to lead a foreign team in that Olympics. I do not think I could stomach that. The national pride would not allow me to do it, no matter what somebody paid me."