UK Athletics Head Coach visits Belfast
Sport Northern Ireland was please to welcome UK Athletics Head Coach Charles Van Commenee to Belfast on September 29th where he outlined his hopes for British success in next year's Olympics in London.
The 53-year-old Dutchman was here to lead an athletics seminar at the invitation of Athletics NI and supported by Sport Northern Ireland.
Van Commenee's name will become very familiar to the sporting public in the run up to London 2012. He has been tasked with the unenviable job of delivering success as measured by way of medals gained by British athletes in the Olympics. Few jobs could equate to such a high profile pressurised post with success or failure measured by the narrowest of margins.
Since his appointment some three years ago the former coach of gold medal heptathlete Denise Lewis has acquired a reputation as a hard task master. For example, he is intolerant of underperforming athletes who frequently deflect the blame for their own lack of success. He also has little sympathy for injury excuses which he considers to be the result of poor training practices and shoddy preparation.
No-one will criticise Van Commenee for this "hard school" approach provided Britain produces the goods in London next August. This crudely translates into securing eight medals for the GB team which will be one more than the recent seven medal haul in the World Championships in Korea.
Van Commenee knows he will be judged solely on the medal count rather than the more accurate in depth analysis relating to the number of GB athletes who make the top eight in their finals.
The Korean seven medals count met expectations and was the best GB World result since 1999. However the Dutchman is aware that it included a gold in the 400 metres hurdles for Dai Greene and a silver in the 1500 metres for Hannah England, which were simply not expected.
This counteracted the negative effect of poor performances by others. Of course this is simply another example of medal predictions being fraught with uncertainty.
Van Commenee said: "We are in a great position for next year where we want eight medals. It is my job to find another medal. Some athletes in Korea underperformed especially in the jumps and Men's 400 relay. There's work to be done and I know where to identify the ones who didn't perform. We need time to next year and it will be used.”
Blunt talk indeed which sends a clear message to several athletes who were well short of their PB's.
Charles was asked about his views on whether local athletes such as sprinter Jason Smyth and middle distance star Ciara Mageean who currently have Olympic "B "standards should be selected for London. (The current Irish Olympic stance is that only athletes with an "A" standard will be selected).
He replied that he was firmly of the view that athletes with "B" standards should be at least considered for selection as is the case in the UK. He felt such athletes needed the experience of exposure at the highest level at an early stage.
On the issue of whether local athletes should opt for the UK or Ireland he said that each athlete should do what he or she considered was best for them. The UK package of support services including medical back up was one of the best in the world. However Charles accepted that it is a lot more difficult for a NI athlete to reach the required standard for a GB team.
Van Commenee also welcomed the progress made towards detecting drugs in athletics. He said that the taking of blood samples for all 2,000 athletes in Korea was the way forward and provided clear profiles for future detection purposes.