The ‘official’ obituaries of Frank Horwill, who died on Sunday, January 1, at the age of 84 will doubtless hint at his unoffical role in British athletics over the last 50 years as Troublemaker-in-Chief. There is a tradition for the obituarist to observe the ‘nil nisi bonum’ (nothing but good) of the recently deceased, but since Frank would have scoffed at that, so do we.
So for those of you who only knew Frank as one of the founders of the British Milers’ Club (BMC), as a coach to dozens of Olympians, and as the creator of the ‘five-pace, multi-tier’ system of training – already sufficient for any man – here are a couple of reminiscences of Frank, including from himself…
Although he would never admit it publicly, in the 1970s Frank was instrumental in the publication of a scurrilous mimeographed magazine called Athletics Truth, which attacked the then leading lights of the administration. Frank’s abrasive style was apparent in the same period when at a meeting to discuss Olympic selection policy, he publicly accused a national coach of favouring a particular middle-distance runner, “because he is fucking her”.
“I first met Steve (Ovett) at a Southern Counties Easter training weekend… I was in the middle of explaining some exercise, and I remember saying, ‘Listen carefully, because we’ve got to get this down,’ and I heard a raspberry. So I said, ‘who did that? No need for you to own up, I can see who it is, it’s you. You’ll never make a champion, you haven’t got the right attitude.’”….. Years after, Horwill presented Ovett with a BMC world record plaque. “I handed it to him, and he said, ‘This is strange, because I was told by Frank ten years ago that I’d never make a champion, and those words stung me into action’”.
“I first met (Seb) Coe when I put on a boys’ 800 metres at Copthall (north-west London stadium). I remember getting ‘em all together before the race; I said, ‘Look here, boys, the BMC hasn’t paid your fares to come down here and fuck about, so get stuck in”.
It may be that each successive generation has characters like this, and I hope that is the case. Because, over the past year or so, as we have lost people like Roy Fowler and Mel Batty and Peter Hildreth, and now Frank, we can truly say of these of our contemporaries, they don’t make ‘em like that any more.
Frank Horwill was another ‘one-off’.
(recent pic by Dave Cocksedge)