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How valuable is Britain's Euro Indoors haul?

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Tom Fordyce | 18:24 UK time, Sunday, 6 March 2011

Paris, France

If spring was in the Parisian air this weekend, there was also a bounce in British steps as the squad returned to colder climes on the other side of La Manche.

Fourth place on the medal table at the European Indoors and a final tally of two golds, five silvers and a bronze represents the country's best return on foreign soil in these championships in 22 years. Ordinarily, this would be the cause of unrestrained celebration.

But these are not ordinary times. With the London Olympics just 16 months away, there is a heightened intensity and scrutiny to everything British sporting squads do or don't achieve.

Are the country's athletes on track? Who might step up or struggle when the summer sun and outdoor season replaces cold nights and claustrophobic indoor action? How much can really be read into the results here at the Palais Omnisports?

In the simplest terms of reference, the last three days were a huge improvement on the last staging of the event two years ago. Britain won twice as many medals here in Paris as they had in Turin. Only once in history have they won more, and that was when home support roared the team on in Birmingham four years ago.

Whether any of this will translate into performances at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, this summer, let alone the Olympics a further year on, is far less easy to quantify.

"I think it's been a successful championships - all of our athletes have really stepped up," says Colin Jackson, three-time gold medallist at the European Indoors. "But I'm not sure this tells us much about 2012.

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Clitheroe's 3,000m gold was GB's final day highlight

"Athletes always prepare differently for the indoors than the outdoor season. Some want to be ready in July so they can earn money in the Diamond League and then go onto success in the World Championships, while other athletes are better indoors than out so they'll focus more on winning these titles.

"So while it's all part of the training and competition process, it's not really an indicator of how well people are going to do outdoors or certainly in 16 months' time."

Had injury not intervened, Jessica Ennis would have been hot favourite for pentathlon gold in Paris. Sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis would also have had a shot at a 60m medal. Other potential successes - world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, European sprint hurdle champion Andy Turner - chose not to compete.

"Most of our best athletes were at home so we shouldn't get too lost in the overall picture," says Denise Lewis, Olympic heptathlon gold medallist in 2000 and in France this week for BBC Sport.

"Having had such a good outdoor European Championships some athletes are making adjustments to their training or working on different things. For example, Dwain Chambers has made some big changes to his start to allow him to make improvements to his 100m. For athletes like Dwain, these championships were just a warm up to test the water."

What will please team head coach Charles van Commenee is that the heavily-fancied names who did come to Paris matched his pre-competition expectations. The stages will get bigger over the next year and a half, but the stars show little sign so far of wilting in the spotlight.

For 3,000m champion Mo Farah this felt like the end of one chapter and the start of another. His gold here sealed his reputation as the preeminent distance runner on the continent; his departure afterwards to Oregon to work with new coach Alberto Salazar represents his desire to go even better and start challenging for medals on a global stage.

Jenny Meadows also lived up to her pre-race billing, progressing from a fifth place four years ago and a fourth in Turin to an 800m silver medal here to match her ranking as the second fastest woman in the race.

Others overachieved. If 17-year-old Jodie Williams excelled to come home fourth in her first major final, Helen Clitheroe - 20 years her senior - produced the best British performance of the indoor season and the emotional high of the weekend when she stormed to her first major title in the 3000m.

For an athlete like Clitheroe, a European Indoor medal has an intrinsic value that doesn't necessary need a wider context. While her example both as team captain and dedicated athlete should inspire her younger compatriots, this was an achievement that deserves celebrating in its own right.

For those in the team who are at the other end of their careers there were lessons to be learned that may yet pay off in the championships ahead.

Almost a third of the squad were making their first international senior appearance, and most - led by Tiffany Ofili with her silver in the 60m hurdles and Andrew Osagie with his fourth in the 800m - rose to the challenges presented.

"It's an ideal championships for athletes to learn," says Jackson, "not least in dealing with rivals at very close quarters. A lot of the time you don't actually associate with your opponents but when you come to an indoor arena everything is much more compact.

"You have to literally rub shoulders with your opposition; work with the media well and learn how you as an athlete respond best to the call room, the mixed room."

Williams has already ruled herself out of this summer's Worlds, preferring to complete her education in the junior ranks. The past three days will mark a key stage in her education as a possible Olympic athlete of the future.

"Jodie is used to winning everything at a junior level," says Lewis. "She has to learn to deal with the success and the failure the sport brings. Here she was part of a team where she possibly doesn't know everybody and must learn how to handle herself in and around the warm up area and learn to be away from home.

"If you look at the line-up in her 60m final, the next girl in age to her is 23. That's light years away in terms of an athlete's development. She's on the very start of her career, but the mind does boggles at what she can go on to achieve."

Everywhere else in the arena were reminders of something else that has direct relevance to British hopes in London: the success that French athletes enjoyed on their home soil, roared on by a passionate home crowd.

Overall the team rose to second on the medal table, beaten only by the inevitably peerless Russian squad. Individually there were stellar displays everywhere you looked, from triple jumper Teddy Tamgho's new indoor world record to Leslie Dhjone's 400m triumph and a new national record for the 4x400m quartet he then led to another gold.

"When athletes like Tamgho or Dhjone step on the track you can feel the electricity in the stadium," says Jackson.

"I hope this is what our British athletes will pick up on because that's exactly what we're going to get in 2012. They will have the crowd screaming for them like the French crowd have screamed for their athletes here, and that could inspire them to far greater deeds in the Olympic Stadium in Stratford."

Additional reporting by BBC Sport's Jess Creighton


  • Comment number 1.

    Another good article-Ofili was unlucky but produced an excellent performane and
    i am extremely pleased for clitheroe a great athelete and example
    for the younger generation.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ultimately with regard to the Olympics, the only value that can be taken from a European Indoor Championships is if British athletes were in competition with a world-class field. I think it's fair to argue that only a few field events had athletes that are likely to have a good chance of medalling come 2012. The two pole vault competitions and the men's high jump competition was of a very high standard, as was the men's triple jump. But in all these events we are either uncompetitive as a nation or didn't even send our best athletes. As you rightly point out, the achievement of someone like Helen Clitheroe should be celebrated and applauded for exactly what it is, not considered in a wider context, because I’d be very surprised if anyone in that field makes an Olympic final, let alone medals.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think we put way too much emphasis on the indoor season, it should only ever be a building block toward the outdoor season and should be seen purely as competitive competition. Sure if you get a medal out of it great but with World Champs in mind, it should be part of the training programme. But of everything to come out of the European indoor championships I think the triple jump at the world championships and Olympics next year could go down as the greatest ever. You think of the guys out there and how big they are capable of jumping. Idowu, Tamgho, Gregorio, Girat, Evora, Oprea, Donato and maybe even Christian Olsen are all capable of hitting the board and leaping out to 17.70/80/90. Tamgho could probably hit an 18+ if he nails it. Definitely one to watch for Daegu

  • Comment number 4.

    Spanked again by France and Germany.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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