No Brit gold in Osaka

Warner bearish over Osaka gold prospects
By Tom Knight

The chairman of UK Athletics said the sport is not expecting athletes to win gold medals at August’s World Championships in Osaka.

It is not exactly a statement bursting with optimism at the start of a summer season, but Ed Warner is not one for beating about the bush.

Warner is a realist and, after being in the job for barely five months, the businessman who loves nothing more than turning out for his local club, Fittleworth Flyers, has grasped more than a few essential truths about the task facing him and the sport.

He said: "We are not pitching gold medal prospects in Osaka. We are, though, pitching progress and people making finals.

“It’s too early to have a clear view of the medal target because the season is only just beginning, but the target will be a modest one. We have a realistic view of the age of the squad that is expected to travel to Japan and the development work that many of them need.”

Optimists might have expected Warner to beat the drum for a sport desperately seeking to reassert itself, especially after the successes achieved at the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham in March.

Not so. “It would be wrong to over-hype athletes’ prospects in Osaka on the back of the European Indoors and good performances by one or two during the summer,” he said.

"Osaka will be a stepping stone on the way to the Olympics in Beijing and London. The aim is to come back with, I hope, lots of finalists, saying, ‘That was good. The next step is Beijing and we want to do well there.’

“Saddling athletes with the wrong level of expectation would be wrong at this stage.”

On the face of it, Warner’s comments suggest that he could be criticised for a lack of ambition. But that is far from the case.

He came into the job claiming that the sport stood accused of sending too many bloated teams to championships.

As a result, Warner, Niels de Vos, the new chief executive who started work last week, and Dave Collins, the performance director, have decided that the team travelling to Osaka will be smaller and more focused than usual.

A new, harsher approach to selection should mean that athletes rated as final and podium prospects will be picked, along with up-and-coming youngsters who will benefit from the experience.

While recent world championships have hardly been rich pickings for British athletes, Warner, de Vos and Collins will demand that everyone in the team justifies their selection by performing at their limits in Osaka.

“There will be stretch targets for everyone in the team,” said Warner. “That is the way Dave Collins is working with athletes and their coaches.”

Do not expect to see runners, jumpers or throwers who are there for the ride. Expect, instead, to see evidence that UK Athletics’ resources have been targeted towards events with the best chances of medals. Warner said: ''If the talent is there, then so is the money."

The domestic season opens with the Loughborough International meeting on Sunday week and all eyes will be on those athletes who could spring surprises.

With the sport resigned to Paula Radcliffe missing Osaka, the stage is clear for the likes of Becky Lyne, Phillips Idowu or Greg Rutherford.

Leading the way, however, is Jessica Ennis, who equalled the British high jump record on the way to winning an international heptathlon event in Italy last weekend.

A reminder that the search for credibility is not confined to the sport in Britain comes tonight in Qatar, where the IAAF Super Grand Prix takes place in Doha.

Roll on the summer.