LONDON 2012: Van Commenee doesn't do excited … but he is optimistic
IT MAY be a touch fanciful, if not good fun, to believe, just for a moment, that Charles van Commenee is sitting at home - his London 2012 master plan rounding the final bend in rude health - chortling God Save the Queen to himself and grinning from ear to ear.
MASTERPLAN: Charles van Commenee was drafted in to replace Dave Collins as UKA's top coach after a poor Beijing Games, in which track and field athletes won four medals against a target of five (Getty Images)
To hypothesise that the Dutchman's masterstroke of a record-breaking World Indoor Championships medal haul in Istanbul extends to concocting the 'Plastic Brits' furore himself on the eve of the competition - throwing the press the bait and smiling to himself as we gleefully accepted.
Van Commenee is habitually labelled no-nonsense, a man who always prioritises sensibilities over sensitivities, but he is not naïve enough to think selecting Tiffany Porter - perhaps the most 'plastic' of the Brits - as team captain would not have raised eyebrows, as was the case when the Michigan-born Brit was challenged to recite the national anthem.
It may be that he simply didn't care. With eight medals to deliver at London 2012, van Commenee has little time to waste but the thought of him purposefully creating such an environment to engender team spirit in his ranks is an intriguing one.
After all, British backs were being slapped by fellow Brits - plastic or not - team members were watching each other compete and celebrating together, Christine Ohuruogu claimed her blistering relay leg was all down to Yamile Aldama and even Seb Coe was brandishing high-fives.
It wasn't quite the Last Night of the Proms but the Union Jacks still fluttered in abundance - and more importantly for van Commenee, he had a record-breaking nine medals to boast - not that it was enough to induce excitement.
"The last time I was excited was when I was on a train with my grandmother but this must have been 48 years ago," he said.
"I'm pleased obviously, it was a record medal haul and we finished second in the medal tally so we've got confirmation here that we're heading in the right direction.
"We've seen it over the last three years and I'm very happy to see that keeps on going.
"The purpose of this [competition] for us was to learn. I didn't set a a target but I wanted to take things home and see what we can address in the next four-and-a-half months and it was very useful.
"I've seen now the British team being together and watching another British athlete competing and I've never seen that before and that's a sort of camaraderie that is easier when you win medals and Yamile's was the first big one.
"Yamile is certainly a candidate for the team captain for the Olympics but there are probably a dozen."
Without spoiling the broth for good, this cook will briefly throw in his two pennies' worth on the 'Plastic Brits' - a phrase that must be accompanied with speech marks, so odious is it's nature.
As 3000m champion Bernard Lagat, who himself switched allegiances from Kenya to the USA, put it: “I hate the name plastic. You can’t call a human being plastic."
The over-riding issue is that rules are not being broken in allowing Porter, Aldama, Shana Cox and Shara Proctor to compete for Great Britain in sport in which they are so often overstepped - after all, two of the men's 60m medallists in Istanbul are convicted drugs cheats.
All have perfectly legitimate claims to British citizenship and all have been through the stringent process - in Aldama's case it took nearly a decade.
Sport is the main modern-day amphitheatre in which nationalism manifests itself most but these days, Britannia no longer rules the waves. And while football fans may not know it, John Bull is long since dead.
Instead Britain is a diverse, multi-cultural society and while there will always be loopholes and opportunities to take advantage, that ideal should take precedence over all else.
FUTURE: Could Yamile Aldama, formerly of Cuba and Sudan, be Team GB's London 2012 athletics captain? Why not, says head coach Charles van Commenee (Getty Images)
But back to the athletics and Porter's captain's speech seemed to do the trick. Senior members of the squad - Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, Helen Citheroe and Dwain Chambers - understandably sprung to her defence but so did Lewis Moses, a GB debutant in the 1500m, the us vs. the world spirit was infectious.
And Porter, Proctor, Cox and Aldama certainly delivered on the track - claiming silver, bronze and two golds between them.
What may please van Commenee most however, is the resurgence of Ohuruogu, who delivered a breath-taking penultimate lap in the 4x400m before handing over to Perri Shakes-Drayton who held the USA's Sanya Richards-Ross at bay to claim gold as memories of 1991 and Kriss Akabusi came gushing back.
That was medal eight before the men's relay four took Great Britain onto cloud nine, adding to impressive bronzes from pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale and Andrew Osagie in the 800m while Dwain Chambers bagged a bronze over 60m.
And the youngsters also excelled. Andrew Pozzi is just 19 but he relished the occasion in the 60m hurdles, ended up fourth and may well find himself lining up at London 2012.
And so after a record-breaking European Championships in 2010 and seven medals at last year's World Championships in Daegu, van Commenee's mountainous task of doubling Great Britain's 2008 Olympic haul is looking increasingly more like a molehill.
"There are a number of highlights - one is that we selected the 4x400m women's team to find out how close we are to the top nations," he added.
"In Daegu we were more than four seconds behind a medal and if we want to get a medal in London we definitely want to be much closer and that's why we selected Christine.
"And now we've learned that we're in the mix, and can win, and that's very positive for me.
"Also we've had a few athletes who didn't peak in the past but delivered this time such as Andrew Osagie and in Yamile Aldama now we have a genuine gold medal contender.
"Christine's leg in the relay was fantastic. She's back, completely. I've seen that in training and it's good to see it in competition. Usually she's not a great relay athlete but now she's inspired. That's very good news for the team.
"We won seven medals in Daegu with 11 months to go and we all know now that the target is eight so knowing now that we have momentum in the right direction and getting confirmation that the process is still going on I believe there is no reason to be pessimistic."
The performances of Ennis and Farah were the blemishes however on Great Britain's near-spotless performance.
To say Ennis was off colour is perhaps harsh but the medal she returned home with certainly was. She did after all set a new national record to take pentathlon silver but as defending champion she was smiling through gritted teeth as another title slipped away before GB's golden girl admitted she's not the London 2012 favourite.
And Farah headed home empty-handed. No need for the panic button yet but Farah was nigh-on unbeatable last year but this term he's in danger of running himself into the ground before he returns to London from his USA base - a little R and R may do him the world of good.
So in short, the 'Plastics' were fantastic, the young are no longer unsung and even if the bankers were w..., well, not at their very best, van Commenee can revel in another significant coup - don't expect any excitement soon though.
© Sportsbeat 2012