London 2012 Olympics: Van Commenee is left ‘perplexed’ as absent Phillips Idowu splits with coach
QUIRKY at some times, a contrarian at others, Phillips Idowu has always been a curious and complex character. But over the past few weeks, the triple-jumper’s behaviour has gone from the merely quizzical to the profoundly baffling.
Athletes are always sensitive about fitness issues as major competitions approach, and at first the Londoner’s secretiveness seemed to be just another case of a competitor who did not want the outside world to know the true extent of his leg and hip injuries. But he then became involved in a bitter row, involving UK Athletics and the British Olympic Association about releasing his medical records, and declined to go to the pre-Games camp in Portugal with the rest of the track-and-field squad.
And yesterday the waters became muddier yet, as it emerged that Idowu has split with his coach, Aston Moore. That has cut the principal line of communication between the athlete and UK Athletics, leaving head coach Charles van Commenee in the dark, and reduced to using words such as “bizarre” and “perplexing” about the actions of a man who was expected to be one of the stars of Great Britain’s track and field campaign.
“No, I have not been in touch with Phillips,” Van Commenee said yesterday at a press conference the day after around half of his team moved into the athletes’ village. “Up until about two weeks ago Aston Moore, his coach, was in regular contact, he has seen him in training a number of times. But that contact died. So all the information we have about Phillips is now coming from the BOA.
“That information is that he is fit and ready to go. We had to hand in medical information. The BOA decided not to take it to the next stage, which would be a fitness test. That hasn’t happened, and therefore Phillips is fit to compete and probably in great shape. That’s the sort of athlete he is. I’m sure he’ll be a medal contender.”
That is the official position at least. But in reality neither the Dutchman nor anyone other than Idowu himself can be sure about anything.
There are even rumours here that the whole thing has been an elaborate hoax, conducted by Idowu to make his rivals in the triple jump first write him off, and then become demoralised when he turns up for Tuesday’s qualifying round fit and ready to go. But that would surely be taking kidology too far, and just as Van Commenee accepts that Idowu has been passed fit, so he is sure that there was a genuine injury problem.
So has the jumper not been playing mind games at all? If not with opponents, with Van Commenee or the UKA support staff? “You’re asking me to look into Phillips’ head,” the coach replied. “That’s a challenge. I find it difficult to look into people’s heads anyway, but certainly into Phillips’ head.
“First of all, Aston has been involved in sessions that he [Idowu] couldn’t complete. Secondly, I gave permission not to compete at the trials because of injury risks.
“He did not compete at a number of meets where he was entered, and basically saying ‘I’m injured’, especially in London, Crystal Palace, he was injured. The BOA tells me now he’s not injured any more.
“Knowing the nature of the competitor that he is – he’s a great athlete – I’m sure he is a strong contender for a medal. He has to be.”
Even if that is the case, however, it is clearly not ideal for there to be a rift between an athlete and his coach so soon before a big meeting. “It’s not right, obviously,” Van Commenee accepted. “Because I know how important coaching is in the direct preparation.
“Phillips decided not to join the team, and by definition therefore in my eyes that compromises his preparation. If I thought differently I would not have put the camp on.
“I find it bizarre. Aston finds it bizarre. We have to deal with the situation as it is presented to us. UK Athletics has supported Phillips Idowu for about 12 years, financially for a big part of that 12 years, camps, medical support, psychological and coaching support. We pay the salary of his coach; our coach.
“So I’m perplexed, really, that the last few weeks before the Games he turns his back to us.”
Being from the capital, Idowu could just stay at home and turn up at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. But if he does suddenly turn up at the village, Van Commenee was asked, will there be a room for him?
“Yes I’m sure. There will be a bed for him.” In a room or a corridor?
“Don’t give me ideas.”
That response showed that Van Commenee has been able to keep a sense of humour about this strange affair. But it has also been frustrating to him to deal with the Idowu issue at a time when everything else seems to be going very well.
“Guys,” he pleaded. “The sport is so big. The team hasn’t been stronger than this for a long time. What do we do? We talk about the Invisible Man. Why? This summer we have great athletes. We’re ready to go. Nobody interested?”
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