13 August, 2006

Athletics: Second Place? That's Losing.

Athletics (track and field) is not a sport about which Donutball normally gets agitated.

However, Britain's sorry performance in this week's European Championships in Sweden has got up our goat.

This was Britain's worst performance at the European Championships since 1978. It's part of a depressing pattern over the last five or six years which has seen disappointing results at several major events. The Athens Olympics, with Kelly Holmes double gold effort, now seems watershed. The (not so great) old guard has given way to the unfocussed, medicore new guard.

At Gothenburg this week, Britain took one paltry gold. Belgium, for goodness sake, took home three golds. Britain's total of 11 medals - with 5 each of silver and bronze - was joint second. But, the unofficial table is counted on golds, so that makes GB 10th.

Leave out the Russians, who have the population, talent and experience, Britain should be one of the top nations. GB should be top five.

What made matters worse today was the team dissension after that solitary gold which came in the 4x100 men's relay - effectively a consolation prize. Sprinter Darren Campbell left the track in a huff, not joining his teammates in celebration, choosing instead to give a cryptic interview about "certain accusations". Campbell left the air clouded. What accusations?

We can only assume that he was referring to how the British team has been slammed in the press for the poor performance. Or, perhaps there is lingering disquiet with the inclusion of disgraced relay team member Dwain Chambers. Chambers, you will recall, failed a drug test back in 2003 and served a lengthy ban before returning to the track earlier this year.

It's fairly widely known that the team is full of huge egos and split beteween several training and coahing camps. The days of Britain taking a team of individuals is long gone. With some exceptions, it's now a bunch of egos wearing the same vest.

This is not a blanket criticism of the athletes. There have been some excellent performances by the likes of Mo Farah, second in the 5000m, Rhys Williams's bronze in the 400m hurdles and Nathan Douglas's second in the triple jump behind the irrepressible Cristian Olsson. But, too many athletes came off the track seemingly baffled by their mediocre performances. Too many seemed content with mediocrity.

Now we get splits amongst former athletes, like the irritating Paula Radcliffe, about the involvement of other former athletes in training Britain's current crop.

Expectations, of course, have been built up by the BBC and other media. For the BBC, deviod of live sport thanks to Sky and other competitors, has hyped up these championships and the British hopes for medals.

The BBC has suffered from its own surfeit of egos in the commentary box and on the "comfy sofa" of the studio. Why they need the likes of British "leg ends" Steve Cram, Colin Jackson, Jonathan Edwards and Radcliffe on hand when BBC's American import Michael Johnson is the only one willing to level constructive criticism of team management and coaching.

Michael Johnson would never settle for second. Neither should the British athletes.


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