New performance director Neil Black has task of replacing Van Commenee
CHARLES van Commenee may have been renowned as the hardman of British sport but the outgoing UK Athletics head coach insists he was too soft ahead of the London Olympics.
The 54-year-old Dutchman is quitting after the failure to reach his own target of eight British Olympic medals in track and field. And UK Athletics announced yesterday that its current head of sports science, Neil Black, will be the sport’s new Performance Director.
His first job will be to find and appoint Van Commenee’s successor.
Van Commenee was adamant he could not have stayed on, despite securing six athletics medals, as this was two short of his own target. When asked afterwards if he had any regrets, he suggested that he had not been tough enough.
He said: “I think I compromised too much. I am the soft factor here and for that reason we could have done better.
“I put some pressure on but I think we lost some medals because of coaching. We should have compromised less in that area [and] with certain behaviours from individual athletes.”
Van Commenee would not cite individual cases but he had a public fall-out with Phillips Idowu over the triple jumper’s use of Twitter and the athlete, one of Britain’s top medal prospects, failed to qualify for the Olympic final after going out of contact with his coach before the games.
Van Commenee did, however, say that he felt proud of what had been achieved but that the time had come to move on.
“I don’t get emotional very easilly, but on Super Saturday [when three golds were won] I was very affected,” he added.
“But I am most proud of the culture that we have set together, a high-performance culture that has enabled us to develop. We got rid of the cynicism and negativism around our sport. That makes me really proud.
“One of the pillars under that culture is accountability and accountability comes with targets.
“Targets are a serious issue, it is a daily business. I was trying to imagine how it would look for me and the programme and would I have stayed? For me, these conversations would have been incredibly difficult because every time I would talk about it, it would be: what does it actually mean, what are the consequences?
“I am gutted that we didn’t hit eight medals. So I have no choice. For the programme it’s the best thing that someone else takes over.”
Van Commenee voiced his approval for Black’s appointment, saying that he would be “my first recruit” in any athletics organisation.
UK Athletics chief executive Niels de Vos described van Commenee as the “rocket fuel” that had been needed to spark life back into a sport that was in the doldrums but that this could be the time for new blood.
He said: “I talked about Charles being rocket fuel, but rocket fuel burns people as well as propelling the organisation forward and sometimes the person who started the process may not be the best person to do phase two.”
Black, meanwhile, comes with his own reputation for toughness – former heptathlete Kelly Sotherton described him as “harder than a conker soaked in vinegar” – and he confirmed that Canadian Kevin Tyler, who has been UK Athletics’ strategic head of coaching and development since 2008, will be a “strong contender” to take over from van Commenee whilst aknowledging that there are a number of other candidates including at least one woman.
Black will become the first performance director for the organisation since Dave Collins left in 2008.
“It is an honour to be given the chance to lead the Olympic and Paralympic task force and be asked to lead colleagues with whom I have worked hand in glove for the last four years,” he said.
“The performance team has worked hard to change the structures and cultures of our sport and I look forward to working in partnership with colleagues to build on the success of the last four years as we continue our journey to 2017.”
De Vos added: “Neil Black assuming the role of performance director is the culmination of succession planning we began when Charles first signed up as Olympic head coach on a four-year deal in Beijing.
“Moving him from head physiotherapist into a general leadership role four years ago was very much done with this outcome in mind.
“He has been the ‘glue’ in the Olympic task force system I created, ensuring the right people, places and performance culture was in place to support the head coaches of the Olympic and Paralympic teams.”
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