Tributes pour in for coaching legend who was best known for guiding Linford Christie to Olympic gold
It is hard to think of an athletics coach more committed to the cause of helping athletes reach their potential than Ron Roddan. The 91-year-old, who died in the early hours of Friday (Feb 10), dedicated himself to the sport for several decades guiding, most notably, Linford Christie to world and Olympic 100m titles.
Roddan was born in Crewe but moved to London with his family as a child and joined Thames Valley Harriers shortly after World War II in 1947. He was a good club-level sprinter, winning medals at the Middlesex Championships and running the quarter-mile in 50.2, but later found his true calling as a sprints coach and from 1964 onwards guided several dozen athletes to international level.
Like many coaches, he fell into the role by accident too. When his own coach retired, Roddan was encouraged by his clubmates to take over. “Initially, I carried on with what my coach had taught us, but then I went on courses, met other coaches and began to put my own ideas to work,” he later recalled.
Roddan also combined coaching with a job as an engineer. He had a spell in of national service in the Army, too, before becoming a Geological Society laboratory technician until he was made redundant in 1990.
His coaching initially took place in Alperton and then at West London Stadium – an arena that would later be named after Christie – and he coached athletes of all standards. “My athletes getting PBs or just running better than they thought they were capable of… those moments make me feel that it is all worthwhile,” he said.
Roddan’s first major successes were Mick Hauck, who developed into a 46.75 400m runner, plus Dick Steane, who set a British 200m record of 20.66 at the Mexico City Olympics. Many more followed before that day in 1979 when the 19-year-old Christie approached Roddan.
He had placed second in the English Schools 200m and his best times were just 10.7 and 21.8. Christie clearly had talent but in those early days lacked self-discipline. “He just wouldn’t come training and only did when he felt like it,” Roddan recalled.
Following the 1984 season, by which time Christie’s PBs were down to 10.44 and 21.38, Roddan gave him an ultimatum on the lines of “either work seriously or don’t waste my time.” It worked and in 1985 he clocked a wind-assisted 10.20 and early in 1986 he won his first international title, the European indoor 200m gold.
Later that year he succeeded Allan Wells as UK record-holder for 100m before going on to win Olympic 100m gold in Barcelona in 1992 and the world title in Stuttgart in 1993. Inspired by his mentor, Christie later went into coaching himself.
The Independent once wrote of Roddan: “He is always there (for Christie). He has been since a teenage Christie first ambled into the Thames Valley Harriers club and took a half-hearted interest in being a sprinter.
“Roddan diverted him from a life of freewheeling to one of extraordinary dedication that turned him into a millionaire Olympic champion and his coach into . . . well in to being slightly better known, perhaps a bit better off, a lot better travelled, but at the end of the day still the guy who turns up in the middle of December at the grandly named, badly under-funded Linford Christie stadium. There he gives as much attention to kids with not a hope in the world of emulating Christie as he does to Olympians.”
In addition to guiding Christie to his major triumphs, Roddan also coached 2000 Olympic medallists Darren Campbell and Katharine Merry. He has also had input with athletes such as Frankie Fredericks, Bruny Surin, Joice Maduaka and Jamie Baulch, plus many more.
Roddan had a quiet, modest personality but was forthright with his views. He was a regular letter writer to AW and would often call the magazine to voice his concerns over the sport.
“I’m not pushy,” he once said. “I’m the opposite to what most sprinters are. They’re brash, loud and extroverted. I don’t know what it is but I just seem to be approachable.”
As recently as 2017, for example, he wrote to the magazine to argue that the medal tally by British athletes at the World Championships in London that year was poor given the amount of funding. “Over the last decade,” he said, “coaching has gone downhill. Go back to the system of the 1980s and ’90s where 6-8 national coaches work with club coaches and their athletes. This way everyone helps each other to improve.”
In his later years, not surprisingly, he earned a number of accolades such as the Ron Pickering Memorial Award for Services to Athletics and in 2016 he was inducted into the England Athletics hall of fame.
Announcing his death, Christie’s management agency Nuff Respect said: “It is with deep sadness that we heard the news that the amazing and irreplaceable Ron Roddan passed away. Ron was a valued coach at Thames Valley Harriers which came to be his second home, but his relationships reached far beyond West London.
“His coaching achievements are too many to mention but the most obvious is the Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European medals that Linford won with Ron by his side and the Olympic medals won by Katharine Merry and Darren Campbell at the Sydney Olympics.
“Ron was devoted to his athletes, brutally honest, pushing them to their absolute best. This most modest of men was at his happiest with a stopwatch in his hand, standing trackside.”
Christie himself once said that money and medals aside, the thing he prized most at the end of a race was “seeing a smile on Ron’s face”.
» For more AW news, CLICK HERE