Reality bites for British athletics
British athletes didn't have to wait long for new head honcho Charles van Commenee to brandish the big stick, although they would also have noticed a fair amount of carrot in Tuesday's announcement of UK Athletics' 2009 funding plans.
The 50-year-old Dutchman arrived with a reputation for hard work and honesty: by reducing the number of athletes in the elite programme he has demonstrated the latter, the former will no doubt start very, very soon.
The headlines were eye-catching: a 20% cut in headcount (a fitting reduction after winning four of five medals targeted in Beijing), only limited support for the under-achieving relay teams and the thinly-veiled threat of there being "no room for sentiment" in the future.
Gone were veterans like Donna Fraser and Joyce Maduaka, out too were injury-plagued talents such as Sam Ellis, Becky Lyne and Rhys Williams.
So with just one press release, it seemed the new man had swept away the bloated vestiges of the old regime, struck the perfect note for these cash-strapped times and set the good ship UKA back on course towards PBs and parades in 2012.
And then you read the small print.
What appeared so strong-willed and revolutionary at first glance looked a lot more consensual and evolutionary when you looked at it a little longer.
Not that this is a bad thing. Let me explain.
The number of lottery-funded athletes (although they are now partially funded by the tax payer and hopefully private companies, too) has been falling for a decade.
There were 247 hopefuls on full lottery lolly in 1997, that number was almost halved a year later and then halved again in 1999. The next six years saw the "podium" squad settle at around 80.
But then it fell again and by the time Van Commenee's predecessor Dave Collins got the job in 2005, albeit with a different title, the number of athletes in the top tier was closer to 50.
As of March this year, there were 43 athletes in the "World Class Podium Programme", which is...erm, exactly the same number announced in Van Commenee's brave, new world document.
OK, today's 43 include 10 relay runners getting limited contributions towards their "living and sport expenses", but for those athletes this is more of a pay cut than a pink slip.
The sums involved are also fairly similar. In 2005, the maximum award an athlete could receive for living expenses was £22,000 a year. And that was means-tested so athletes with big-buck sponsorship deals would get less.
The new UKA regime (still means-tested, so Paula Radcliffe receives little more than first use of the steam room) for the top 33 is more transparent. There are now three bands - maximums of £25,383, £19,000 and £12,600 - that roughly relate to proven medal-winners, nearly medal-winners and maybe medal-winners.
I say "roughly" but in the case of the top band it is really as simple as that. The four medallists from Beijing, plus the two who failed there but did medal at the 2007 Worlds in Osaka, are on the top wedge.
So well done Tasha Danvers, Phillips Idowu, Germaine Mason, Christine Ohuruogu, Nicola Sanders and Kelly Sotherton: here's your carrot, now get back to work.
The 13 athletes who posted top-eight finishes in Beijing or Osaka - the likes of Lisa Dobriskey, Jessica Ennis, Martyn Rooney and Goldie Sayers - get £6k less but at least they know exactly what awaits them if they can up their games in time for the 2009 Worlds next August.
The remaining 14 - all highly-rated performers who have just missed a recent final or could at least aspire to one in terms of their personal or season best - can also now see a clearly-defined path to Berlin and beyond.
Beneath this podium group exists a 48-strong "development" squad of "athletes already identified as potential medallists and finalists in London".
It claims to be a new category but is actually just a "more tightly managed" version of the existing development programme, which supported 67 athletes (26 of whom have been cut entirely) ahead of Beijing.
Again, this is no bad thing. There is no way Britain has over 100 athletes capable of reaching a final in Berlin, London or any other major championship in between, to pretend otherwise is ridiculous and a waste of resources.
The message here is not revolutionary but it is perhaps more refined and better communicated: London 2012 is the ultimate goal but the Worlds are important too and our best medal hopes there are those who have done it before.
This will make sense to the likes of Steve Backley and Linford Christie - two celebrated British athletes who have long advocated rewarding performances as opposed to potential. And this is what seems different about the new funding criteria, not the overall numbers.
Admittedly, there are individual selections and omissions in the podium and development groups that could be debated ad infinitum, but that's the nature of sport and I'm more than happy to let Van Commenee pay our money and take his chances.
Athletics received nearly £27m of lottery money in the build-up to Beijing so its four medals cost £6.75m a pop.
Direct comparisons with other sports are usually unfair so we shouldn't read too much into the fact British Cycling's 14 came in at a far more recession-friendly £1.57m each, but Van Commenee's performance will be partially measured on how close he gets to this gold standard.
It won't be easy - medals in the main stadium are harder to come by than medals in the velodrome - but targeting more resources (and it should be remembered that those personal awards are only a part of what UKA spends on each athlete's training and medical support - it was laying out £45k per squad member in 2005) at those who can actually benefit from them is a great start.
So let's not waste too much time debating whether Danvers really is a better medal prospect than Ennis, or why world junior 1500m champion Steph Twell is deemed to be a less deserving of support than the dependable but limited Larry Achike.
No, let's embrace the new, more realistic, less is more approach, even if it is just one step towards London at a time.