Ron was the longest serving, most highly respected and best coach at Thames Valley Harriers for many years. Quiet and unassuming, Ron became an enormously important figure in the athletics community, coaching for more than 60 years. Ron was best known for coaching Linford Christie to his Olympic and World 100m titles but was equally ready to help and encourage athletes of all abilities.
Ron’s funeral service and wake took place on Wednesday 15th March, very well attended by many of his friends and family and those he helped during his lifetime in athletics.
Ron was born on the 8th May 1931 in Crewe, his family moving to London in 1937. He joined Thames Valley Harriers in 1947 at the age of 16 and initially competed in middle distance and 440 yards hurdles as a teenager but was best known as a 440 yds / 400m athlete. A good County standard athlete and medallist at the Middlesex County Championships, where he competed against Arthur Wint, the Jamaican 1948 Olympic 400m Champion.
He qualified as a coach (A.A.A. Sprints & Starts Coach as it was at the time) at a relatively young age in 1957, having some early success with the Junior sprint relay team (John Barratt, Graham Beckley, Allen Dudley and John Sexton) who won the AAA National Junior 4 x 110 yds relay. Ron wrote regularly (and very well) on sprints, relays and hurdles in the TVH club magazine in the 1960s. Two of Ron’s articles are copied below, one describing his favourite race as an athlete (a relay, as you would expect from such a dedicated club and team member) and the other describing the difficulties with winter sprints training in the 1960s and modestly thanking his own coach Arthur Filkin for using and adapting his ideas early in coaching career.
Ron was urged to take over coaching the group by the athletes he trained with when Arthur retired and gradually started to put his own ideas to work, on the cinders track at Alperton for many years before the club moved to West London Stadium, renamed Linford Christie Stadium in 1993.
Roger Fitzgerald (who featured in Ron’s favourite race) recalls that “I joined the club in late 1957 and did not start to go down to Alperton until the following year. By that time Ron was winding down from racing and had joined Arthur Filkins on the coaching side. I was one of a number of juniors who had joined the club and we came to be known as Ron’s squad. We had well prepared coaching sessions whether on the track or at Horsenden Hill during the winter. We went to a number of training weekends as a group which he organised through the year encouraging us all to help and support each other. My event was 440 yds hurdles, and from January to April he gave me one to one coaching on Saturday mornings at Hurlingham. Ron was always generous with his time. He was instrumental in me gaining my GB reps at 440 yds hurdles in the sixties.”
He worked as an engineer and as a laboratory technician until he was made redundant in 1990, coaching as an unpaid volunteer. Before the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Ron was unable to accompany Linford to warm weather training, because of work commitments but worked closely with Malcolm Arnold as Linford trained with Colin Jackson on final pre Games preparations.
Ron’s first major successes as a coach were Mick Hauck, who ran 46.75 for 400m and Dick Steane, who set a British 200m record of 20.66 at the Mexico City Olympics. He started coaching Linford (who had finished 2nd in the English Schools 200m) aged 19 in 1979. It wasn’t until after missing out on Olympic selection in 1984 that Ron gave Linford an ultimatum to train seriously and his international titles soon followed.
Ron has won many awards for his coaching and contribution to athletics, including being inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016 at a ceremony he attended with Linford. Ron was happy to help athletes improve and never sought rewards or accolades and in 2012 we had to arrange to present the London Performance Coach of the Year award to Ron at a very well attended ceremony in the TVH clubhouse.
Alistair Aitken interviewed Ron and some of his athletes soon after that award; When I talked to Ron in 2012, despite his exalted position as a coach he had never in his life been paid but, the regard for him was strong. One who he coached was Kermitt Bentham a World class Master 400m runner who ran a time of 46.57 as a younger man. He talked about Ron to me “He is very inspirational. He comes down the track…….when we go down to the track he is our Dad, Our Father figure. We all love him.”
What were Linford’s qualities? Here Ron explains “Once he made his mind up he was going to do it properly he was very focused. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be the best in Britain, then the best in Europe, and then the best in the World. He made his mind up and just put his mind to it’
Ron continued ‘When he was young he played around a lot and just enjoyed life but at about 23 to 24 he suddenly got told that if he put his mind to it he could become really good and as I say, he buckled down to it. He made his mind up he was going to do it and he did it!”
I said he had a strong mind in competition and Ron came straight back with “That was one of the reasons he lasted so long; because once he made his mind up at 24 he went full time, he then made a breakthrough at 25/26 and that was when he started training properly. He became Olympic Champion at 32 and he still ran for another two or three years.”
‘In those days you had heats and semi-final and finals in a proper County Championships.’
Ron: “I think nowadays too many people are ducking and diving. Coaches say ’ You don’t need to race etc!’ To my mind you have got to get used to racing. You can train and train but that does not simulate a race. The only way you get used to racing is to race. I remember one time years ago, one year in particular, everyone one was saying Linford’s racing too much. I said half of his races are training. He is not racing too much and in a Championship he proved it.”
Ron listed the most memorable athletes he coached as Linford Christie, Mick Hauck, Ian Matthews, Leslie Hoyte, Wendy Hoyte and Selwyn Harper. Together with Linford, he also helped coach Katherine Merry, Frankie Fredericks and Merlene Ottey.
MY MOST EXCITING RACE
by Ron Roddan The Interval (TVH Club Magazine) August 1962
In a previous issue I described my finest race; but my most exciting race was again a relay – the 4 x 400 in the match against the Hague in 1961.
The weather had been dismal, with heavy rain throughout the day; but by the time the meeting started in the evening, the rain had stopped, only to have a gale-force wind blowing against us all the way down the finishing straight.
There was a large crowd, which was in an excited mood by the time the relay started.
Our team was D.Huffer, R.Pedrick, myself and R.Fitzgerald. We had all run earlier, so we did not feel fresh, although we were fairly confident.
Dave started off against the Hague runner who had already won the 400 metres, so we expected him to beat Dave, but we hoped not by much. Dave managed to stay with him for most of the way; and when Pedrick took the baton he was only 3 yards down. A good run by Dave! However, when we next looked at Roger (down the back-straight), he was 10–15 yards down; and we all thought: “Roger’s having a bad one.” However, round the last bend he suddenly woke up, and really started moving. In the final straight he caught the Dutchman, to give me 2-3 yards lead. I moved away quickly ( too fast I think!); but going down the back straight, I felt the Hague runner close up behind me. Suddenly, just before the bend, he jumped me and grabbed a 3 yard lead. I managed to keep contact with him round the bend, and started to catch him in the straight, so that I passed the baton to Roger Fitzgerald about 2-3 yards behind. However the last runner for the Hague moved away like a 100-yards sprinter, and down the back-straight had 15 yards lead over Roger. All the Valley boys were round the track shouting themselves hoarse; the crowd was on its feet.
Round the last bend Roger began to close the gap. Slowly and remorselessly he gained on his opponent, and at the start of the straight he went past into a winning 3 yard lead.
It was certainly very exciting, and a great climax to fine meeting. Wally Kuy (our team manager) said it was the best relay he had ever seen, and he had lost his voice shouting.
SPRINT COACHING AND TRAINING
by Ron Roddan The Interval (TVH Club Magazine) February 1964
I was prompted to write this article by something I read in the latest edition of ‘Athletics Arena’. An article by A.A.A. Coach, Tony Ward, about the improvement in sprint coaching and training, finished by saying that he thought that a lot of British sprinters and their coaches were still using out of date methods.
A lot of what he says is true; but there is something he has missed. It is only in the last 5 or 6 years that sprinters have been able to train on tracks all the year round, due to the advent of floodlighting at some tracks. Even now, not enough tracks are floodlit in the British Isles. So, for most sprinters, especially in the North, they have to do the best they can by improvising suitable training conditions. For example, Dorothy Hyman trains under car headlights when she can, and travels miles from home to do it.
Another aspect of coaching and training sprinters is the weather. Alperton track is a prize example. The slightest frost and the track is useless – like a suet pudding – and the inside track, supposed to be a standby, is just as bad.
However, these are wider issues than I wish to write about now. I would like to give you an idea of what the Valley does for its sprinters.
For quite a few years, about ten at least, the Valley sprinters have been all-the-year-round trainers. This was due to Arthur Filkins’ insistence on regular training at all times of the year. Arthur always maintained, as I do now, that cross-country running is not for sprinters. There have always been a few sceptics of this idea; maybe I can explain why. There are many reasons, but two main ones are;
(i) Cross-country courses vary so much in their surface conditions, uphill and downhill, that a change of running action is necessary to maintain balance. A sprinter takes time to learn the correct action, and cannot afford to lose it.
(ii) The type of surface varies so much from hard to very soft, which must affect a sprinters muscles, particularly the leg-driving muscles. Soft courses really deaden those, so that it takes quite a few weeks to put them right.
Above all, speed must be maintained all the year round; over the country this is not possible. Frankly, if the track is not in use, I would prefer a sprinter to go on the road, for short distances. At least the surface is firm and level. Too much of this, however, also affects the leg muscles.
So you can see, winter for the sprinters is a long session of training under difficult conditions; that they do so is a tribute to their eagerness, and this in itself helps the coach to keep at it with them.
As I have said before, the basic idea of sprint training is speed all the year round, with variation during the winter (October to April). During those winter months, the coach really piles the work in, for this is the time in which the sprinter has to gain his strength and stamina. If he has not got it by the start of the summer, he will not get it during the track season.
An example of the difference between summer and winter training would be; in the summer, a sprinter would run 4-6 x 150 yards in 15 seconds or faster (flat-out); in the winter, he would slow down to about ¾ effort, and would run 10-15-20 @ 18-19 seconds. As you can see, he keeps much of his speed, and also increases his mileage.
The sprinter has very few races in the winter. In order to keep him interested and keen, it is important to vary the training as much as possible.
I can honestly say that, under Arthur Filkins’ coaching, we never did the same winter’s training twice. He got ideas from all over the place, and this is one of many reasons why we were never bored. Most of my coaching ideas are based on Arthur’s original coaching methods. I vary these to suit my own ideas, but basically they are the same, as I rate Arthur as one of the finest sprint coaches going.