Ex-Harrier Neil lands a top job at UK Athletics

Neil Black
Neil Black

THE expected shake-up of top-level personnel at UK Athletics last week following the post-Olympics departure of Chief Coach Charles van Commenee saw a former Morpeth Harrier elevated to the position of Performance Director, writes George Patterson.

Neil Black will oversee the preparations leading up to the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016, and other major international competitions before then.

The pivotal figure in the success of Britain’s top athletes for around 20 years will take up the prestigious post with immediate effect and one of his first tasks will be to seek out and appoint a replacement for van Commenee.

Black is well known and well respected by many athletes for his help and guidance as a renowned and valued physiotherapist, however despite being observed as one of the nicer men in the sport, he will not emerge as a soft touch and is very much focussed on improving the British squad’s performances on an international basis.

Having worked closely with the likes of Sally Gunnell, Colin Jackson, Roger Black, Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, and Kelly Sotherton, and more recently two-time Olympic Gold Medallist Mo Farah, Black is certainly well qualified for the post that he is about to undertake and will have an instant knowledge for the demands and rigours in the drive for good preparations for the nation’s top athletes.

Educated in Northumberland, and now 53 and living in Shropshire, Black was very much an integral part of Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men’s Road and Cross Country team in the late 70s and early 80s.

His former coach and mentor at the club Jim Alder last week reflected on how he had helped Neil become one of the region’s and country’s top athletes, and on many an occasion he had locked horns with the likes of Steve Cram and Mike McLeod (both Olympians) and had shown them a clean pair of heels, such was his potential.

It was an Achilles injury in the mid-80s that terminated Black’s promising and blossoming athletics career, so he turned his attentions to helping his fellow sportsmen and qualified as a Sports Physiotherapist, this eventually led him to the role of Head Physiotherapist to the Great Britain Athletics squad.

• Morpeth Harriers were very dominant among the top finishers in Sunday’s Bupa Great North Run.

First home, and having his very first run in a half marathon, was GB 5000m athlete Nick McCormick who finished an excellent ninth in 62m44s and was second Briton behind Aldershot and Farnham’s Chris Thompson, who finished sixth.

McCormick was the first of seven Morpeth Harriers who finished in the top 50 of the country’s premier half-marathon.

Next to finish for the club was the evergreen Ian Hudspith, who produced an excellent Veteran performance in finishing 24th in 66m02s. Not far behind him in 29th place was Peter Newton, who clocked 66m27s.

Despite a lack of regular competition, Michael Morris managed to come home as the club’s fourth finisher in 42nd place in 71m46s.

Morpeth Harriers had three consecutive finishers in 46th, 47th, and 48th places.

Michael Dawson was the first of these in a time of 72m40s, closely followed home by Ross Floyd nine seconds behind, and three seconds behind him was Simon O’Donnell, who clocked 72m52s.

Further down the field, but still within the first 1,000 of around 40,000 finishers, were Matthew Boyle, who was 227th in 82m11s, and Bill Gilroy, who was 642nd in 88m07s.

• There were some excellent performances from athletes belonging to Morpeth Harriers at Saturday’s Junior Great North Run.

A leading finisher in the Senior Girls’ event was Alison Brown, who clocked 16m05s when placing fifth behind Birtley AC’s leading light Lydia Turner, who was crowned the event’s Girls Champion for 2012.

In the Senior Boys’ race, Philip Winkler and Elliot Kelly finished 11th and 12th in 13m34s and 13m39s.

In the Junior Boys race, Kieran Hedley finished ninth in 15m18s and his club colleague Alex Cunningham ran well to finish 17th in 15m55s.

Another prominent Morpeth Harriers finisher was Jacob Hopkins, who finished 17th in the Intermediate Boys’ race in 15m13s.

In the Mini Boys’ event, Mark Booth finished 13th in 17m05s.