Michael Johnson urges Britain not to get carried away with relay medals
Former 400m great tweets ‘£27m investment. I’d be concerned.’
Britain’s women’s 4x400m relay team of Zoey Clark, Laviai Nielsen, Eilidh Doyle and Emily Diamond celebrate winning silver at the World Championships in London. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images.
The former world 400m record holder Michael Johnson has urged the British public not to get carried away with Britain’s late haul of medals at the world championships – and says he is concerned that athletics is not doing enough to justify its £27m (€29.7m) investment from UK Sport.
The British team won five medals in 24 hours on the final Saturday and Sunday night, four of them in the relays, to ensure they finished with six overall. That also meant they scraped inside the UK Sport target of six to eight, and ended up in sixth place overall in the medal table.
However Johnson, who is a BBC pundit, urged the public not to be fooled given that Mo Farah was the only individual medal winner and the relays in track and field are widely considered to be low-hanging fruit. He tweeted: “Four thrilling relay medals. Only one individual medalist, Mo Farah. He’s retiring. £27m investment. I’d be concerned.”
He added: “I’m not comparing GB to US, but to countries like South Africa, Poland, and France who don’t have nearly the resources of GB.”
Daley Thompson, the former British decathlete, also sounded a cautionary note, warning: “I hope we don’t allow the magnificent relays results to paper over the cracks.”
Thompson did not elaborate, but many inside the sport are critical about the lack of funding for coaches outside the system as well as British Athletics’ policy of taking athletes from coaches and bringing them to a central hub in Loughborough. There are also concerns about whether those at the of the top of British Athletics, and especially the chief executive, Niels de Vos, are doing well enough when it comes to selling the sport to the public and sponsors.
However, the performance director, Neil Black, has dismissed suggestions that his team got out of jail in London – and has insisted the relay medals were not cheap successes. “If you could see and feel the blood, sweat and tears that go into the relays, they are certainly not cheap medals,” he said. “We don’t look at it that way at all.
“We have made a massive investment in the relay programme and boldly said we believe we can win medals in all four relays. We probably didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as this. But we are not surprised.”
However, Black did admit he had been worried on Saturday night when his team had only one medal and the knives were being sharpened for his job. “I was aware that people would be saying all sorts of things,” he said. “That’s cool. Say what you want. Do what you want. We’ll carry on performing and that’s where the motivation comes from.
“But we were massively confident. The relays have come up trumps, Mo came up trumps. And we can all see a group of young people who have gone so close and are ready to step up in the future.”
Black mentioned Kyle Langford, who came fourth in the 800m, Reece Prescod, who was seventh in the 100m final, and Dina Asher-Smith, who won a relay medal two months after returning from breaking her foot. “Dina excited the hell out of me,” he added. “That was just an outrageous performance all things considered. Kyle has untapped potential - he’s like Mo. Reece has so much potential it’s unbelievable. Callum Hawkins excites me as well. That guy was so close.”
Black does not set medal targets but said the plan for Doha in 2019 was to do better than in London. “The plan is progress these athletes,” he said. “We expect more individual medals and more relay medals.”