Athletics: New Team GB chief vows to communicate

Jenny Meadows wants to try to defend her European Indoor 800m title. Picture: PA
Jenny Meadows wants to try to defend her European Indoor 800m title. Picture: PA
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A NEW era will get under way at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg this weekend with UK Athletics head coach Peter Eriksson forecasting new medallists but offering no medal targets.

The Swede’s predecessor, Charles van Commenee, made as many headlines as his athletes, famously stating that those complaining about injuries were in danger of being seen as weak by the public, while falling out with triple-jumper Phillips Idowu and claiming Twitter was a medium for “clowns and attention seekers”.

But, while Eriksson is more in favour of social media and even posted a picture on Twitter yesterday, he is promising a different approach to Van Commenee’s seemingly autocratic style.

“It’s not part of me to p*** people off,” Eriksson said at the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team’s press conference.

“I try to help as much as I can. There are certain points where you can’t and you have to say no. No means no.

“You do what you can but there are certain restrictions and most of the time it’s financial. Otherwise you try to come up with solutions.

“I talk to a lot of people, I consult a lot of people and try to be available any time of the day. If it comes down to tough decisions then I can make tough decisions. It’s a new era and we are going forward to try to develop on where we ended up last year.

“I think you need to consult more and more and listen and get feedback in order to improve. To me it’s all centred around the athletes. The athletes are the focal point, we are all there to support them. It’s important to communicate the whole time and be available.”

The 60-year-old was less forthcoming when it came to stating medal targets for his team.

Britain won eight medals at the European Indoor Championships in Paris two years ago, although that could shortly become nine after Russia’s Yuliya Rusanova was banned for doping, with her results for the last two years expected to be wiped out, meaning Marilyn Okoro would be promoted to the bronze medal position in the 800m behind Jenny Meadows.

Eriksson simply wants to “do better” than Paris, adding: “It’s the first major event for me as head coach and happens to be in my former home country.

“I have not lived here for 27 years and not been in Gothenburg since 1995 [when he was in the stadium as Jonathan Edwards broke the triple jump world record] but it’s exciting because we have a young team and a well-prepared team and I think we will do well. It’s early in the year and setting a medal target is unpredictable so we have to look at if we are doing the best we can, and if we’re doing that then we are in good shape. Numbers don’t mean that much to me “I think a few people will surprise here.”

Medals could come from Holly Bleasdale in the pole vault, Olympic medallist Robbie Grabarz in the high jump and both the men’s and women’s 400 metres – individual and relays. And team captain Meadows is determined not to let her title go without a fight.

The 31-year-old finished second in 2011 but was recently presented with the gold medal after Russian winner Yevgeniya Zinurova was given a back- dated doping ban. Meadows has raced just once since September 2011 due to injury, but ran the qualifying time in Birmingham earlier this month.

She said: “The first thing I thought was ‘that was tough and I don’t want to do that again any time soon’. A few minutes later I thought ‘that’s the very reason I want to do it again soon’. I needed to mentally and physically challenge myself. It’s still a a great honour for me to be part of the GB team and I thought that might never happen again.

“I think maybe in the rankings I’m seventh or eighth but I’ve got a title to defend and I won’t give that up easily.”