Neil Black has defended British Athletics in the wake of the fallout from the relay row that threatened to leave a sour taste despite a successful championships that ended with the team fourth in the medal table.
After three of the four sprinters in the men’s 4x100m team hit out at their coaches on Saturday night for switching the team around at the last minute and hinted at wider cultural problems, the performance director said the issue had been put to bed following two team meetings.
Black, who replaced Charles van Commenee after the London Olympics, said: “We chose a team and a tactic that was most likely to win a medal. We were actually looking for second, not for bronze. We were a whisker away from it. These are the risks that you have to take. We’re completely comfortable with it, we had conversations internally, we dealt with it internally.”
He denied accusations from Richard Kilty and James Ellington, who appeared to blame the decision to draft in CJ Ujah for the anchor leg for the confusion that led to disqualification, that coaches had refused to listen to the athletes. “It’s important not to dwell on the reactions in the heat of the moment. These are young guys, high on emotion of severe disappointment because they wanted to win a medal,” he said. “We’re looking forward. These guys will be just as determined to win medals in the future.”
Darren Campbell, who won gold in the 4x100m relay at the Athens Games in 2004, raised the temperature on the debate by saying that some of the team should lose their funding. “I think there comes a point where people are being supported to go out there and perform and just like the middle-distance runners and all the other athletes – if they’re not performing and they’re not delivering, then maybe it’s time to take away some of the funding,” he said.
Adam Gemili, who will expect to be in the 4x100m team at next year’s Rio Olympics if fit, said the outburst should be put down to the bitter disappointment of defeat. “People are very emotional after they compete and sometimes emotions come across how they shouldn’t do. But I’m proud of those guys. We need to continue that into next year,” said the sprinter. “There are a lot of emotions flying about. Sometimes when you’ve just had an unfortunate incident happen, sometimes you say things that you don’t mean.”
Both Black and Gemili said Ujah was strong enough to deal with the disappointment of apparently being singled out by his team-mates, Kilty bemoaning his selection ahead of Harry Aikines-Aryeetey: “If Harry had been there, we would have got the job done,” Kilty said.
After both 4x400m teams won bronze, and the 4x100m women set a national record in finishing fourth, Black said all the relay squads would be aiming for medals in Rio in a year’s time. “It’s absolutely brilliant to finish with that. We expect to win medals in the relays and that’s what happened in the last two and that’s our standard. With a British record in the women’s sprint replay, three out of four we did what we expected to do, in future we will aim for four out of four.”
Black refused to set a medal target before the Olympics, declaring he did not want to be “shat on” if they failed, but it is understood that UK Sport set a guide of six to eight medals for these world championships on the road to Rio2016. Third place in both 4x400m relays on the final night of competition put the British team in the middle of that range with four golds, one silver and two bronze medals.
“We’ve done as well as could be expected. We could have done even better – that’s our aim, to convert every medal chance into an actual result,” said Black. “We’re not far away from that but we’ve got to keep persisting with a view to doing that.”
Although all the British golds came from athletes who won exactly the same medals in London – Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and a double for Mo Farah – Black said there were plenty of signs of progress and paid particular tribute to Shara Proctor for her long jump silver.
“Of course we massively celebrate what we’ve got. But we’ve got Sophie Hitchon [who finished fourth in the hammer], who was in London, Shara finally medalling in the way she deserves after five major championships. There are loads of other people who you have seen and felt have the potential to be successful at that level.”
The British team’s medal-table finish represented the best world championships performance since Stuttgart in 1993, when the team won 10 medals, including three golds in the era of Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010