As well as venturing on to the front foot to attack the absent Phillips Idowu yesterday, Charles van Commenee was also on the back foot, mounting a staunch defence of two of the new girls – and one of the recently new – who will be flying the British flag at the European Team Championships at the 1912 Olympic Stadium here in the Swedish capital.
This afternoon, Shana Cox, a 400m runner from Long Island, makes her debut as a member of the Great Britain track and field team. Though born and raised in the United States, the 26-year-old has British parents and a British passport.
Tomorrow afternoon, Shara Proctor, a long jumper from Anguilla, makes her British debut. Though born and raised on the Caribbean isle, the 22-year-old has a British passport because her homeland happens to be a British overseas territory. She is making use of it because Anguilla has no Olympic affiliation.
Also in action tomorrow is Tiffany Ofili-Porter, who made her British debut at the European Indoor Championships in Paris in March, winning a silver medal in the 60m hurdles and breaking Jessica Ennis's British record. Though born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the 23-year-old has a British mother and British passport and switched her international allegiance from the United States last autumn.
All of which led to the headline in one newspaper earlier this week: "Plastic Brits are using Team GB to fulfil their own Olympic dreams." The newspaper added: "Team GB's cheating is more a convenient manipulation of the rules, coming together with our colonial past, to create the option of securing the best of America's cast-offs plus the odd Caribbean ringer."
It was an intriguing observation, coming from the very same newspaper, The Daily Mail, which spirited Zola Budd from South Africa in 1984 and helped to make her the most plastic of Brits ever to don the red, white and blue vest in an Olympic arena – circumventing the apartheid boycott into the bargain. Asked for his reaction to being accused of manufacturing "Plastic Brits", Van Commenee, the Dutchman who works as head coach of UK Athletics, replied with a question: "Since when do we have superior Brits and inferior Brits?
He added: "My favourite television channel is the History Channel. I watch it every day, and it's usually about the Second World War. We should have learned something. It's dubious territory when you separate superior from inferior, isn't it? We are dealing here with athletes who are British.
"If anybody can give me a definition of a superior Brit or an inferior Brit, I'm happy to listen to it. But I find it very dubious. These girls are very happy to compete for the team. They could have easily said it didn't fit into their plans, but they decided to come here, along with other European champions that we have in the team.
"They made that effort because they enjoy this and they want to contribute to British success."
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