UK Athletics performance director Neil Black will make a decision on his future “sooner rather than later” after claiming he was blindsided by the doping revelations surrounding Alberto Salazar.
The American, who coached Mo Farah to all four of his Olympic titles, was handed a four-year ban last week when the US Anti-Doping Agency found him guilty of “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” while overseeing his distance running programme at the Nike Oregon Project.
Black previously hailed Salazar as “one of the best people to work with that I have ever come across” and a “genius” despite a swirl of previous accusations. And he signed off on continuing to fund Farah to train in Oregon following an investigation overseen by current UKA president Jason Gardener.
It has all left Black, once a runner for Bellahouston Harriers, with egg splattered all over his face for supporting Salazar, who was previously employed as a consultant by the British governing body. “I was shocked when (the report) came out,” he insisted before departing the world championships in Doha.
But it is understood that recently-appointed UKA chair Chris Clark has already begun to personally revisit past documents and processes. Any lapses identified might yet remove the choice from the performance supremo over whether he remains in post.
“Travelling home,” Black said, “I’ll be reviewing all the information. The board are obviously reviewing all the information and the first person I’ll speak to will be the chair Chris Clark. We will go through it in detail and that’s the point I personally will begin to think about my understanding of it, the implications and how I feel about it.”
No athletes were implicated directly in the USADA dossier although it alleged that painkillers, asthma and thyroid medications were given to athletes at the Oregon Project for a competitive advantage. Black, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, firmly denied that has ever occurred within his own realm on his watch. Farah, he insisted, remained under UKA’s medical supervision, even while he was based in the USA. He plans to fly Stateside for next weekend’s Chicago Marathon to assist the British star in his bid. “Nothing at all has changed in terms of my belief regarding Mo Farah,” he said.
With an Olympic season now lurking over the horizon, he insisted he that he still wants to be “the person leading the team through to Tokyo 2020.” Performances at the world championships weakened his hand with only five medals brought home: two golds, for Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, plus three silvers.
Callum Hawkins, fourth in the marathon, was one of the few males who made a mark. But Black believes that the fifth place earned by Laura Muir in the 1500m following a speedy return from injury points towards an Olympic medal come Tokyo next August. The Scot produced the second-quickest time of her career and it was “one of the performances of the competition,” he declared.
“My thought and concern was whether it was possible to do three races in four days and still bring your best,” Black admitted. “I think she demonstrated that incredibly – she probably exceeded what we might have thought. Historically 3:55 wins medals; I think she’s really impressed with herself.
“She’s probably learned something that says ‘bloody hell, if I can (do this) off different or altered preparation, I’ve got even more.’ I think she will demonstrate more and so you know in a roundabout way, the learning and the potential for the future is even greater. But the event is obviously massive at this stage.”