GB Team on track to meet medal target

Charles van Commenee said this week his athletes are behind schedule but signs are his target of eight gongs could be hit
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The Independent Online

According to Charles van Commenee, as quoted in these pages yesterday, Britain's track and field athletes are "not read y" to face the rest of the world in the home pressure cooker of the London Olympic Stadium. The "one year to go" message from the head coach of the GB athletics team was that some of his runners, jumpers and throwers were "still underperforming" and that they would need every one of the 365 days ahead of them to be properly equipped for the first Olympic Games on these shores since 1948.

But what if the Games were to fall this week? How close might Van Commenee's charges get to the Dutchman's target of eight medals, at least one of them gold? The answer is pretty damned close, if a combination of the world ranking lists and the form book are anything to go by – close enough, certainly, to suggest that the host nation is on course for achieving something between the "highly satisfactory" and the "special" in the principal sport of the Olympics 12 months from now.

Golden hopes

With Jessica Ennis at the top of the world rankings and unbeaten in the heptathlon since 2007, Mo Farah at the top of the world rankings in both the 5,000m and 10,000m in 2011 and Phillips Idowu the proven major championship performer in the triple jump, an event shorn of the dangerous but injured Frenchman Teddy Tamgho, the form book and the rankings would point towards half of Van Commenee's eight-medal target being achieved with golds.

That would secure Britain's biggest Olympic track and field gold haul since 1980. That, however, would be based on current form and fitness. With 2012 in mind, there would be caveats about projecting such golden hopes 12 months ahead of the London Games.

In Ennis' case, she has been the clear world No 1 in her event for three summers. She won the world title in 2009, the European title last year and was too strong for her rivals at the Hypo Meeting at Gotzis in Austria in May, despite being short of peak form and fitness following an ankle injury. The 25-year-old Sheffield woman remains Britain's big hope for track and field gold in 2012 but in Tatyana Chernova, Nataliya Dobrynska and Hyleas Fountain she has three rivals who made the Olympic podium in Beijing in 2008. It would be a surprise if at least one of them did not emerge from the pack as a serious challenger.

At present, though, the biggest threat to Ennis would appear to be injury. A triple stress fracture of the foot in Gotzis in 2008 ruled her out of the last Olympics.

Farah has emerged as the class act on the global distance running stage this summer, clocking the fastest times at 5,000m and 10,000m. Like Ennis, he will head to the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, at the end of next month as a gold medal hope – in his case, in two events. The major X-factor in Farah's case, looking ahead to 2012, is Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele. The reigning world and Olympic champion at 5,000m and 10,000m has been out with a knee injury since early last year but will defend his 10,000m title in Daegu.

Idowu defends his triple jump title in South Korea with a supreme record of rising to the big occasion and without his main rival present. Tamgho broke an ankle two weeks ago but, having jumped beyond 17.90m four times this year, the 22-year-old Parisian should be a major threat to the 32-year-old Londoner in 2012.

Prediction Four golds.

Silver hopes

In Van Commenee's estimation, Dai Greene could finish anywhere between first and fifth in the Olympic 400m hurdles final. On form this season, anywhere between first and third would appear more accurate. The Swansea Harrier has not finished outside the top three in his seven races this summer. He won against world class opposition in Lausanne and Birmingham, and against the best of the continent at the European Team Championships in Stockholm. In Monaco last Friday he faced all his main global rivals and came third, despite suffering from a virus.

It would be no surprise if Greene were to get gold in Daegu next month or in London next year. For the sake of not getting too swept away by 2012 fever, let us budget for one of his American rivals – say Kerron Clement, inconsistent but quick enough to have broken Michael Johnson's world indoor record in the flat 400m – getting the better of the Welshman.

Prediction One silver.

Bronze hopes

There are a clutch of British athletes hovering between fourth and 10th on the world ranking lists who could step up into a medal position at the World Championships next month, and remain there for 2012. Of those, the most promising and the most consistent is Holly Bleasdale, the 19-year-old Blackburn Harrier who raised the British pole vault record to 4.70m in Mannheim four weeks ago.

It would not be unreasonable or simply optimistically Micawberish to expect at least one medal success on the relays front. The difficulty is in pinpointing exactly from where it might come. The men's 4x100m squad are ranked third in the world behind the USA and Jamaica but the 4x400m quartet could be a better bet for a medal at the World Championships – provided both Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney regain form. The women's 4x400m squad face formidable opposition in the USA, Jamaica and Russia but they have medal promise for 2012, with Shana Cox to be added to the mix and with Christine Ohuruogu starting to crank back into gear after injury.

Prediction Two bronzes.

Fringe contenders

If the scenarios outlined above all played out, it would give Britain seven global track and field medals. There are other athletes, however, who are capable of adding to that tally, particularly with those 12 months in which to recover from injury and rise to the challenge of a home Olympics. In that bracket would be Ohuruogu (400m), Lawrence Okoye (discus), Perri Shakes-Drayton (400m hurdles), Jenny Meadows (800m), Lisa Dobriskey (1500m), Goldie Sayers (javelin), Chris Tomlinson (long jump), Greg Rutherford (long jump), Tiffany Ofili-Porter (100m hurdles) and Paula Radcliffe (marathon).

The impact of a home Games should not be underestimated. Neither should the capacity for fringe contenders and even rank outsiders to raise their game to podium level in Olympic year. Germaine Mason (with a high jump silver) and Tasha Danvers (400m hurdles bronze) both managed to do so in Beijing last time round. Charlene Thomas, in the 1,500m, might be a dark horse worth tracking, and backing, in 2012.

Away from the track: Britain's medal contenders in the rest of the Games

Boxing

Luke Campbell became the first Briton to win a European championships gold for nearly half a century two years ago, and the 23-year-old bantamweight is Britain's best male hope.

Cycling

They have flown the flag like no other sport in recent Games – in Beijing they won four times as many medals as any other country in the velodrome. Mark Cavendish could claim Team GB's first gold of the Games in the road race, while in the velodrome world champion Emma Pooley looks the best of a number of solid bets. Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins will all have strong claims for gold.

Diving

Tom Daley had his first taste of the diving pool yesterday but he faces a battle to overtake the dominant Chinese. He finished outside the medals in the recent world championships but statistics complied by UK Sport show that subjective sports bring a slight advantage for home competitors and a podium place is well within Daley's considerable capabilities.

Gymnastics

Britain has greater depth than ever before. Daniel Keatings and Louis Smith should feature at the business end of the men's all-round and pommel events, while Beth Tweddle will be desperate to turn three world titles into one Olympic medal.

Rowing

After three silver medals, Katherine Grainger is expected to go one better with Anna Watkins in the double sculls as part of another rich return for David Tanner's squad. Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter in the lightweight double sculls are another pairing with golden potential, while the women's quadruple sculls and the men's lightweight fours are also contenders.

Sailing

Expect plenty of wave ruling in Weymouth from another sport in which Britain led the way in China. Some high-class sailors will not even make the British team – including world champion Giles Scott – as entry is restricted to one per event per nation. Ben Ainslie, Jacques Rogge's favourite sportsman, is keeping Scott out as he sails for a fourth Olympic gold.

Robin Scott-Elliot

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