Daegu, South Korea. British athletes have succumbed to a rush of blood to the head rather than gold fever at the world championships.
As time ticks down to the 2012 London Games, British hopes of Olympic medals will flatline without significant improvement.
False starts and big flops have been the story so far in Daegu, with defending heptathlon world champion Jessica Ennis and 10,000-meter favorite Mo Farah letting gold slip through their fingers. Olympic 400-meter champion Christine Ohuruogu was disqualified for a false start, world 1,500-meter silver medalist Lisa Dobriskey failed to get through the heats and pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale failed to record a height.
Dwain Chambers would have gladly accepted the offer of matching Usain Bolt’s performance in Daegu. The veteran sprinter did as much, but not in the way he envisaged — leaving the track with his head in his hands after false starting in the 100 meters.
A target of five to eight medals had been set before the worlds. While Britain will probably achieve that mediocre mark, few, if any, will be gold.
Steve Cram, Britain’s former 1,500 world record holder and 1983 world champion, said the team’s performance had been “slightly disappointing.”
“We’ve had a couple of false starts, Holly Bleasdale no-heighting, so it’s been a bit up and down. A bit below par from what was expected,” he said. “Hopefully we can still win a handful of medals here and they will be of a different color next year.”
While UK Athletics chief Charles van Commenee conceded just a month ago the team was underdone and would need every minute of the next 11 months to get ready for London, Cram said there was little the federation could do at this late stage.
“It’s up to the athletes. We make too much of systems,” he said. “This is individual athletes trying to improve themselves the best they can. The more help they get from the federation great, but 11 months out there’s not a lot it can do.”
Ennis gifted her world heptathlon title to Tatyana Chernova with a feeble javelin throw that dropped 13 meters behind the Russian’s, while Farah blew his chance to become Britain’s first world champion in the 10,000.
Farah had been touted as the man to shatter Kenenisa Bekele’s aura of invincibility in the event. When the Ethiopian, never beaten on the track over the distance, limped out of the race, the title was there for the taking.
Farah, however, shot himself in the foot. Despite possessing one of the fastest finishing kicks, he exhausted the fire in his legs by striking for home well before the bell. He was hunted down and passed by the unheralded Ibrahim Jeilan.
“I didn’t have a clue about the guy and didn’t know what he was capable of,” Farah said.
Sebastian Coe, London 2012 organizing committee chairman and one of the all-time great middle-distance runners, accentuated the positives of the British performances. Farah’s silver medal marked progress, while Andy Turner’s bronze in the high hurdles, albeit after Dayron Robles’s disqualification moved him up the order, was cause for optimism, he said.
“There’s a feeling that this is a team on the move,” he said. “Teams are not as fragile as outside observers think they are. If you think where we were four years ago in Osaka, this is a very different atmosphere.
“For a few years, some of them looked like they were being led to the lions and not in an arena celebrating the best athletes in the world.”
Britain now looks to Dai Green (400-meter hurdles) and Phillips Idowu (triple jump) to resuscitate its Olympic gold medal hopes.