So we had the immense highs of the Tour de France with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, aka Wiggo and Cav. Then the wonder of the Olympics and especially the British track team. Only to be followed by the lows of Lance Armstrong being stripped of his cycling achievements and the incessant arguments and counter arguments over whether it was true or not. Then Wiggo, Cav and the British Cycling coach Shane Sutton all had crashes in separate incidents. A real post-Olympic low.
Changes are underway and Wiggo, Cav and Shane are all back on their bikes and the GB cycling team are already back and competing. On the track Britain’s Olympic champion Laura Trott has won omnium gold at the Track World Cup, held at what is now the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow. Welsh cyclist Becky James partnered with Jess Varnish to win gold in the team sprint. Importantly, Dave Brailsford, Britain’s performance director, who many view as the mastermind behind British cycling success announced he would lead the cycling team at the 2016 Olympics. Brailsford is excited about another crop of talented youngsters and described 18-year-old Elinor Barker’s World Cup debut as “outstanding”. While Brailsford may have had lots of other opportunities open to him he says “You stop, assess things, work out what you want to do. That’s a natural thing to do. It was the same after Beijing – you get a bit of success and people are interested, keen to know how you do it. If I wasn’t enthusiastic I’d stop, because I don’t need to do this. The moment I stop enjoying it I won’t do it.”. UK sport, the governing body and responsible for Britain’s coaching development policy, are implementing changes for sustained progress and that does mean there are changes among the existing crop of coaches.
The head coach of GB’s track and field events is to depart his role. Charles van Commenee has guided the likes of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford at the London Olympics and has chosen to step down. The British athletic team had a medal target of between five and eight for London 2012, but Van Commenee set the bar at eight and said he would walk away if it was not achieved. Despite finishing with six, four of which were gold, he has decided to leave the team. He commentated “Success can be measured in many different ways. And I would say that if you look at all the factors from every angle it was a success. But the thing is I have been very clear, throughout these four years, about what targets mean and the difference between a target and an expectation, and a prediction and an ambition. I could easily have answered all the time: ‘If it doesn’t happen, we will look into the reasons why we didn’t hit the target. Then we will make changes and adjustments.’ Which is fair. That’s what happens 99 out of 100 times. But I wanted to make a clear statement about these things because it helped – and still helps – the new culture of no excuses and sanctions. In other words, accountability is important, and I wanted to put my credibility and my destiny on the line, saying, ‘Guys, this is a serious business. We need to change here. And I will lead’.”
What an inspiration. There is no doubt Van Commenee set the scene for the athletic team success, the same as Brailsford has brought real sustained success and progress to British Cycling. Their efforts outshine sports like football where managers and coaches seem to be replaced on a whim. Maybe this is a new era for cycling and the drug cheats can truly be on the sidelines of sport, as they so justly deserve to be. And maybe this should be a model for some of our other “high achievers” – the politicians and bankers and other movers and shakers. Maybe they should measure themselves against these coaches to see if they are more the Lance Armstrong/Ferrari type or more the Brailsford and Van Commenee. If the latter we salute you!