FOR any athlete, their choice of coach is never more important than in Olympic year.

While it may be the athlete who takes to the field or the pitch or the track in the heat of battle, there is widespread acknowledgement that sporting success for any individual is a team game.

And so, it stands to reason that selecting a coach is one of the most vital career decisions an athlete will make.

With this in mind, the news that GB 1500m runner Charlie Grice has begun training with Alberto Salazar’s former assistant Pete Julian caught my attention immediately.

Salazar is, of course, the American athletics’ coach who is serving a suspension from the sport for doping offences involving a number of athletes he was training.

Julian has not been suspended, but he has been the target of criticism and allegations that he must have had knowledge of some of Salazar’s poor treatment of his athletes, which included callous and insensitive pressure on his female charges for which he has apologised.

The decision of Grice to begin training with Julian is therefore questionable, but it is surely, at least in part, driven by the quite incredible success of Scotland’s 1500m runners.

Englishman Grice has run Britain’s fourth-fastest 1500m in history and made World and Olympic finals in 2015 and 2016 but despite this pedigree, failed to make the GB team for the World Championships in 2017 and 2019.

The exceptional performances of Jake Wightman, Chris O’Hare, Josh Kerr and Neil Gourley have seen Scots exert a monopoly over GB’s spots in the 1500m at recent major championships and Grice has admitted part of his reason for his split from long-time coach, Jon Bigg was due to his failure to grab a place in these past two World Championship teams.

While Julian, has not been accused of any wrong-doing, it should have been obvious that joining the training group of the former assistant of someone as notorious as Salazar would raise at least a few eyebrows. The Englishman’s decision may reflect just how desperate he is to break the stranglehold of the Scots.

Whether his partnership with Julian is enough to secure a spot at the Tokyo Olympics this summer remains to be seen but his decision opens up the wider issue of what reputational risks are worth taking when it comes to improving as an athlete.

There has never been any question of Grice’s integrity but there may be some who wonder why he decided the former assistant of a convicted doping coach was deemed the best option. 

At what point does the potential reputational damage outweigh the potential athletic advantages that a coach could bring?

Admittedly, decisions cannot be made by athletes with a view to keeping everyone happy.

In a sport like athletics, there are more than a few coaches who have some kind of cloud over their past and just like in cycling, as Team Sky found to their detriment, it can often be hard to go through an entire career having no contact with anyone connected to doping, whether directly or indirectly and fairly or unfairly.

But making a decision to hire a coach in spite of their past connections is one that is always likely to raise questions, whether justified or not.  


IT seems like it’s been a long time coming, but finally the first tennis Grand Slam of the year is here.

The Australian Open has been plagued by challenges in the lead-up; from players shouting about their displeasure over the strictness of their quarantine to mice being found in their bedrooms and the most recent issue, a positive test for Covid by a hotel security guard leading to 600 players, staff and officials being forced to isolate, causing the postponement of all six of the warm-up tournaments.

With the Australian Open beginning tomorrow, the tournament organisers should be over the worst of it in terms of setbacks and it will be interesting to see which players have dealt best with the unique run-up to the event.

Some players have been in “hard quarantine’”, meaning they were not able to leave their room for a fortnight, while others were able to practice and train almost as normal. 

Favourites are usually  determined on the back of form but with almost no recent form to go on, predicting how the tournament will pan out becomes almost impossible.

The players who will do best in Melbourne over the next two weeks are likely to be those who have best adapted to what has been a truly unique past few weeks.