Mick aims to build an Olympic legacy

OLYMPIC OFFICIAL: Haverhill's Mick Graham has been selected as an Olympic official for London 2012. Picture by Ben Carmichael
OLYMPIC OFFICIAL: Haverhill's Mick Graham has been selected as an Olympic official for London 2012. Picture by Ben Carmichael

As we continue our countdown to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are now 46 weeks away, sports reporter JACK TAPPIN catches up with someone who won’t be going for gold at next year’s event.

WHEN Mick Graham started coaching his children to improve their running around 20 years ago, he hardly expected it to lead to him becoming one of the top officials for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Now Graham, 63, from Quendon Place, Haverhill, has landed that honour after his years of service in coaching and officiating with some of the world’s top athletes.

He began coaching in the late 1980s while training with the Belgrave Harriers, and even at that time was sharing facilities with the likes of decathlete Daley Thompson, middle-distance runner Seb Coe, long-distance runner Hugh Jones, sprinter Linford Christie and boxer Frank Bruno.

Graham was then competing at club level at Battersea Park, where he grew up, and soon his own participation in athletics led to him training others.

“It’s a gradual transition — I started training my boys, then soon I was training other youngsters too”, he said.

“I had a great advantage because the likes of Peter Coe and other top coaches who were there that I learned a lot from, so as I was training I had been learning without realising.”

All Graham’s sons became involved in sport — Phillip, 28, has a black belt in karate; Paul, 25, is a games instructor and was national champion in the 400 metres; and Andrew, 22, has seen his athleticism blighted by football injuries.

“People started seeing my children being successful as I trained them and soon the other youngsters were too, and I progressed up the coaching ladder and was soon coaching running, jumping, throwing, walking, badminton and other sports,” he added.

Graham would go on to train a team of ten athletes who set the world record of nine hours and 47 minutes for completing an 100-mile relay run, and Greg Billington, who achieved national aquathlon (swimming and running) medals.

He trained four national champions — Billington, sons Andrew and Greg, and Sam McNally. Three were trained ‘from scratch’ — a measure he says all coaches aspire to.

“From scratch means that you’ve trained them right from beginner level, from raw material, to being a national champion”, he explained.

“They would rise through the ranks within two or three years, starting at the ages of ten to 15.

“I also coached Angie Alstrachen, who was a 400-metre runner, and got her to be a 100-mile walker, which people were impressed with.”

Graham now coaches around 150 runners, and works at Lee Valley in London, with athletes in Haverhill, Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds, and also with the Orwell Panthers in Ipswich.

The level four qualified coach also works with disabled athletes and those with learning difficulties, training them in speed and endurance events from beginner to international level.

Among stellar names he currently works and trains with are sprinter Dwain Chambers, 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu, middle-distance runner Mo Farrah and hurdler Andy Turner.

Graham’s coaching led to him becoming an official as well for the London 2012 Games and so far he has officiated several test events, including the marathon, ten-kilometre run, 20-kilometre run and the London to Surrey bicycle ride, won by Mark Cavendish.

“It’s the highest honour for me to be involved with the Olympics, the highest point of recognition for my career,” he said.

Graham has also managed to keep fit himself — his past honours include 28 marathons, several 30-plus mile races and walking the London Marathon in under four-and-a-half hours.

He came 12th in his last competitive marathon, finishing the Bungay course in two hours and 58 minutes back in 1988.

He has also been the national over-40 champion in numerous racing distances and boasts an impressive medal collection.

Graham’s over-60 world ranking for race walking places him in the top 25 for several distances, and he is currently going 70 miles a week in preparation for a 50-kilometre race.

He says it takes both a good coach and a good athlete to make a winner, and that sacrifice is always necessary.

“Champions don’t come without sacrifices — the sacrifices are always there,” he added. “The top youngsters always blame themselves — one of the main ingredients is that they don’t blame everyone else.

“If you get something wrong you look in the mirror – that’s what the most successful people, the true champions, do.”