Neil Black interview

By Sam Drury - Follow on Twitter

Last Updated: 05/03/2014, 14:10 GMT

"Then there are two huge events during the summer, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which is amazing, and the European Championships in Zurich. All of these events are important for people in different ways as part of their journey on to 2016 and 2017." Two young athletes for whom 2014 could be a significant year in terms of confirming themselves as really elite competitors are heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and pole vault, and Sky Academy Sports Scholar, Holly Bleasdale. Both will be in action in Poland over the weekend and Black was quick to praise the work of coaches Mike Holmes and Scott Simpson in helping Johnson-Thompson and Bleasdale, respectively. "It makes the job so much easier when great coaches are working with great young athletes," he commented. "Those two athletes in particular have got personalities where they are able to deal with the variables, the highs and lows of track and field as part of life. "Holly has obviously overcome serious injury where she made a massive decision last year to end her season early and not attempt to compete in the Moscow World Championships with a view to getting herself healthy, having a positive plan, thinking positively about this year as part of that journey that I keep mentioning through to 2016, 2017. "Again with her coach Scott Simpson helping her to make those tough calls with a really positive thought process about what she has the ability to do over her career as opposed to any one moment within it. "Kat and her coach Mike Holmes, who I've known for many, many years, we've coached lots of athletes over the years so we go back a long way and he's always been the guy who is quietly confident, assertive. "Again just sensible, logical, part of a team, interested in taking advice and thoughts from other people but then making good decisions with the athletes. So it's brilliant to see him working with Kat who's got so much talent, who's at the very early stages of her career but already seems as though she's been around for quite a long time because she's been so successful and has such a big personality with it. "It's that combination of coach and athlete, supported sensibly, being able to deal with the circumstances of being talented, success at relatively early years but then thinking longer term about how to maintain and further develop this success and our job in British Athletics is to support, to facilitate, to manage and to occasionally give direction, occasionally constructively challenge and that's what we do. We work with these guys to assist their performance." It is no surprise that things have changed significantly in the 22 years that Black has been involved with British Athletics, but the current Performance Director is adamant that it is a natural development and increased knowledge rather than any lack of professionalism in the past that has seen progress made. "I think things have changed a lot and I think the simple summary would be that athletes and coaches have become more knowledgeable over a period of time, naturally," added Black. "But I think in a really accelerated way over the last eight to ten years things have changed a lot. So if you went into a training centre in Loughborough, the National Performance Institute now you would see very different practicing, very different techniques to that which you would have seen ten years ago which would have been quite different to that which you'd have seen 20 years ago. "So the desire the, the interest, the enthusiasm is the same, the actual knowledge, the understanding and the application have improved significantly as knowledge has increased and an understanding of almost how to go about your trade, how to go about being a professional athlete or a professional coach. That's not a criticism of people from the past; it's just natural as knowledge is improved." Such knowledge is not limited to Britain, of course, but there is little doubt that it will help Team GB on their journey over the next few years. What, though, is the final destination on this journey and how will Black measure whether it has been a successful one? "You look at it in different ways," he said. "The fundamental measure of what we do is medals at the Olympic Games, the World Championships and Paralympic Games - and I think it's really important to remind people of that, it's not just the Olympic programme but the Paralympic programme as well. "As part of that we all want to contribute to greater participation in track and field and in sport. We all want to contribute to the health of the nation, we want more young people in clubs, we want more coaches coaching young people. We want the performances of those young people to be improving so that club records, national records and so on are broken over time. We want each individual athlete to be improving their personal bests on that journey to winning medals. "The simple answer is that the fundamental is medals at the Olympics, Paralympics, World Championships, IPCC Worlds but that journey of everyone both participating and achieving improved standards and ultimately doing their best performances is the much bigger overall thing."