London 2012: Van Commenee confident over GB medal target

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer, BBC Sport

UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee insists his squad can hit his ambitious target of eight medals at this summer's Olympic Games.

Four years ago in Beijing Britain won only four in athletics.

But with 100 days to go until the opening ceremony in London, Van Commenee believes that can be doubled.

"The statistics and the results over the last three years indicate that we should be able to be there or thereabouts," he told BBC Sport:

"99% of the work is done. We have to do much better than in the previous Olympics.

"It's been difficult at times, having hard conversations and decisions to make. The effort has left me feeling 12 years older, but at the same time it feels as though my first championships - which were the European Indoors in Turin - were last week.

"I always say to the athletes, 'you'll wake up tomorrow and see the Olympic flame. So, are you ready?' I'm fully aware that the next three months will go like that."

Van Commenee once again hit back at those who have called members of his squad "plastic Brits".

He has been criticised by some commentatorsexternal-link for selecting athletes like United States-born hurdler Tiffany Porter and Cuban-born triple-jumper Yamile Aldama for the British team.

But he told BBC Sport: "I work for the United Kingdom. That's the word - United. Shouldn't that mean something? Doesn't 'United Kingdom' stand for something, for anything?

"There is no such thing as 'plastic Brits', I think sport, and the Olympics in particular, is about bringing people together. It's about inclusion. It's not about separation or exclusion.

"So I expect our people to stand behind the team, and back the team, because that's the essence of sport."

When Van Commenee made Porter his team captain at last month's World Indoors in Istanbul, a reporter from the Daily Mail asked the hurdler to sing the national anthem.external-link She refused, and as the affair escalated the newspaper was banned from team news conferences.

Porter was born in Michigan but has an English mother and has held British citizenship since birth. Aldama, who won gold in Turkey, has previously represented Cuba and Sudan, but has been married to a Scotsman for 11 years and first applied for British citizenship in 2001.

"In the end I was quite pleased," said Van Commenee of the row. "When some people have different agendas, that's not something I could help.

"In the end it worked out really well because it brought the team together. We had great team bonding, and that was maybe also a result of negative forces around us."

Van Commenee also insisted that his ongoing dispute with former world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu is "not a problem".

Last July he heavily criticised Idowu in a BBC interview, accusing him of using Twitter to announce his withdrawal from the European Team Championships.

A furious Idowu demanded a public apology that has never been forthcoming. When I talked to him earlier this year, Idowu admitted he could not remember the last time the pair had spoken.

"He's coached by his own coach, whom I speak to weekly, and meet very regularly," said Van Commenee.

"So the coach, and the medical team, are all directed by me, and they keep me updated, and we talk about progress and plans.

"The last time I spoke to him [Idowu] was around the Twitter affair, or just before actually. The lines of communication are open at this end. That remains.

"I offered my hand, and it's there. Most important is that he's got a good team around him, and that's the case, and they work under the guidance of UK Athletics."