Forget the doomsayers. GB athletes can win 16 medals at Games, says stats man
Stan Greenberg is predicting great things – and he's usually right
Wednesday 13 June 2012
Stan Greenberg's updated weekly UK track-and-field performance lists arrived on Monday with a customary covering message. "Things are starting to look so good that I am really beginning to get scared – that I have severely underestimated our possible medal haul: 10 medals and a possible five to six more," it read.
For some time now, Greenberg has been telling the world that our runners, jumpers and throwers would hit double figures on the medal front at the London Olympics. Given the national tendency towards caution in these matters, some folk have not been listening all that attentively. After all, the medal target of eight set by Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, has long been seen by many as a bit of a stretch. At each of the last two Olympic Games, in Beijing in 2008 and in Athens in 2004, the British athletics team finished with a tally of four medals.
Not since the boycotted Los Angeles Games of 1984 has the track-and-field section of Team GB gathered a double-figure haul – in that case 16, one short of the all-time record from the 1908 Games in London. And yet Greenberg has been going against the grain in predicting better than widely expected British performances at every major championship since the Beijing Olympics. And he has proved just about spot-on in every instance.
That Greenberg knows his track-and-field onions is beyond doubt. The 80-year-old north Londoner is one of the world's leading authorities on the sport – a founder member of the International Society of Olympic Historians and the National Union of Track Statisticians. He is the author of the excellent Stan Greenberg's Olympic Almanack (the 2012 edition of which is published by SportsBooks at £12.99). From 1968 to 1994, he worked as the stat man with the BBC television athletics commentary dream team of David Coleman and Ron Pickering.
"Coming into June, looking at the UK lists now, they're remarkable," Greenberg says. "They're better than at any other time in history at this time of the year, and it's been the same since February. It's just all suddenly come together. I saw this coming. There were so many good youngsters coming up in the last couple of years I just had this feeling that something was going to go right – and, for once, it does seem to be going right.
"There are so many doomsayers about, downplaying any chances we've got at major championships. It's not cautious; it's negative. We always do it. We always downplay our people but why?
"At every major championship since the last Olympics, indoors and outdoors, I've made what some people have called 'lunatic predictions'. But nine times out of 10 – in fact, probably 10 times out of 10 – they've come right.
"I've been saying since the end of last year that we'll win 10 medals in London, with possibly four to six more. I honestly think we can do remarkably well. I'm quite happy to stand up and be shot at."
To allow some natural slack for injuries and fluctuating form, Greenberg spreads his 10 medal picks across 13 chances (see panel above). For his "four to six possibles", he names eight contenders: the rapidly emerging Robbie Grabarz in the high jump; Greg Rutherford in the long jump; the men's 4x100m relay team; Hannah England in the 1,500m; Perri Shakes-Drayton in the 400m hurdles; Shara Proctor in the long jump; Goldie Sayers in the javelin; and Paula Radcliffe in the marathon.
"There are several names over in each category, so I don't see it's outrageous at all," Greenberg said, with the clock ticking down to the Aviva 2012 Trials, which open in Birmingham on Friday week. "Obviously we'll have injuries – we're getting them now – but there are still all those chances. Of course, they're not all going to come off, but they're there. And there are other people around.
"I think there is a slight home advantage for our athletes. It's not just about the effect of the home crowd. What's far more important, I think, is that you've got the same food, the same water, the same weather, and not so much travelling. The fact is you're going to be much more relaxed on home territory.
"Also if you look at the figures... a perfect example to me is the men's discus. This boy [Lawrence] Okoye has got more consistent in his throwing and he's got a best of 68m. That's put him right up in the top four, and in the discus you only need one big throw. I think I'm right in saying that 70m has never been beaten in a major championship, so if he can come out with one decent throw he's got a medal. To me, it's that simple... And why shouldn't he?"
Stan's 10 from 13
1 Mo Farah 5,000m
2 Mo Farah 10,000m
3 Dai Greene 400m hurdles
4 Jack Green 400m hurdles
5 Phillips Idowu triple jump
6 Lawrence Okoye discus
7 Men's 4x400m relay
8 Christine Ohuruogu 400m
9 Tiffany Porter 100m hurdles
10 Holly Bleasdale pole vault
11 Yamile Aldama triple jump
12 Jessica Ennis heptathlon
13 Women's 4 x 400m relay
Olympic news you may have missed
One of the major threats to Phillips Idowu's hopes of a home gold in the triple jump has been ruled out of the Games because of injury. Teddy Tamgho, the 22-year-old Frenchman who holds the world indoor record for the event, announced on Facebook that an ankle problem would keep him out of London 2012. "End of the season for me," he said.
Tamgho, who had surgery on a bone growth last week, said he did not want to jeopardise his career by attempting to return too soon. The Parisian has endured a troubled 12 months. He missed last summer's World Championships in Daegu because of injury and in December he was banned for six months by the French athletics federation following an alleged altercation with a female team-mate.
Meanwhile, Patrick Makau, holder of the world record for the men's marathon, has been snubbed for a second time by the Kenyan selectors. In April, Makau was left out of his country's chosen trio for London and he was overlooked again yesterday following the withdrawal of the injured Moses Mosop.
Who's up? Anne Keothavong
Thanks to her semi-final appearance in the Aegon Trophy in Nottingham last week, the 28-year-old has overtaken Elena Baltacha as Britain's No 1 women's tennis player and is expected to claim a host nation wild card for the Olympic tournament at Wimbledon.
Who's down? Naide Gomes
The former world and European indoor long jump champion is out of the Olympic Games after rupturing an Achilles tendon at the weekend. Her Portuguese team-mate, sprinter Francis Obikwelu, is struggling to make the Games after suffering a groin tear.
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