Neil Black has high hopes for the Rio Olympics after a host of younger British athletes proved they were “going global” and have genuine medal potential next summer.
The British Athletics performance director named the hammer throwers Sophie Hitchen and Nick Miller and the middle-distance runners Shelayna Oskan-Clarke and Laura Muir among those “ready to make the step up” in Rio and at the London 2017 world championships.
Two relay bronze medals on the final night of the world championships meant the GB team finished with seven, meeting UK Sport’s unofficial target of six to eight, with four golds, one silver and two bronze.
That represented Britain’s best athletics performance in a global championships since 1908 and in terms of golds equalled the four secured at London 2012 by exactly the same athletes – Mo Farah with two, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford – in the same events.
Black said there was more to come from the younger athletes who had shown in Beijing they were ready to make the step up. “I stand here thinking we are going global. We said we were doing it and this is what we’re beginning to show. I think the results of this championship demonstrate that,” he said.
Black said Zharnel Hughes, the Anguilla-born sprinter who trains with Usain Bolt and finished fifth in the men’s 200m, and Dina Asher-Smith, who broke the British record and also finished fifth in the women’s 200m, had proved they would be able to perform in Rio.
“Unbelievable. Young kids at the world championships who took it all in their stride, who were comfortable and relaxed, but appropriate, focused, just got on with the business. I was really impressed with people like that,” Black said.
He also said Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who called her week in Beijing “the worst of my life”, would be stronger for the experience. The 22-year-old fouled three times in the long jump in the heptathlon to throw away a medal chance and then failed to make the cut in the final of the individual event.
“Kat performed brilliantly in Prague [at the European indoor championships], you kind of think therefore she’s learned and she knows what this is all about,” Black said. “But there is nothing like a world championships, there is nothing like an Olympic Games, and the pressure that comes with that and the multiple different aspects of it.”
Black believes Johnson-Thompson will have “learned massively” from her Beijing heartbreak. “She’ll be stronger and more experienced for it. She’s already been through a replanning process and a learning process with Mike [Holmes] her coach,” Black said. “She’s going to come out all guns blazing.”
There will be added pressure on all three Super Saturday gold medallists to repeat the feat in Rio and for others to step up to the mark because of the ambitious overall target set by UK Sport of winning more medals across more sports than in London.
British Athletics is also desperate for new stars to emerge before the next world championships, which will take place in the Olympic Stadium in London in two years’ time.
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