Interview with George Gandy
Friday 29th July 2011
I first became aware of George Gandy, when as an enthusiastic MSc student, I arrived at Loughborough University in 2005.  Initially, I wasn't really sure if George Gandy was a current member of staff, a former member of staff or someone that had allied himself to the university, or rather the university had allied itself to him.  Such was the reputation of the man & the stories which were told about him, the first information ever disclosed to me about him was more akin to legend & folklore than fact & biography.

In fact it took months until I started to build a more accurate picture of the fact that he was (at the time) a respected lecturer & (still is) a highly respected athletics coach that had, since the mid-seventies, intertwined his burgeoning reputation with that of Loughborough University's.  The mutual respect was & still is justified & apparent but so poor was my knowledge of athletics at the time, I hadn't realised that the rich history of athletics in Great Britain since the eighties also owed a major debt to George's influence - just keep reading to see what I mean!

Font StaffWhen the details of the Font Romeu camp were sent to me, one of my first reactions was one of disbelief that not only would I be spending the duration of my stay working with George & hopefully learning from his knowledge & experience but that I would be sharing an apartment with him, which meant only one thing...I would finally work out what the hell George Gandy actually looked like.  You see, I had never had him pointed out to me in all my time at Loughborough!  In my minds eye I had conjured up a picture of a sturdy but swarthy chap of Indian heritage who despite his years, had aged rather well.

...those of you that know George will now be chuckling heartily into your computer monitors. Don't worry, earlier this week I related my (somewhat inaccurate) preconceptions to George over dinner, which he found rather amusing!

So, the scene is now well & truly set , all that is left for me to do is to introduce George Gandy: proud Geordie, sports enthusiast, entertainer but also officially, UK Athletics Endurance team coach & Loughborough University son & legend...

Question:  When did you first start becoming involved in coaching & what was the appeal to you?

I began coaching too many years ago to specify, when asked to do so by the British Milers Club for two 17 year-old lads in the North-East because I was in my final year at St Mary’s College (Athletics Club Captain) & had expressed my intention of returning home to Newcastle to teach once I was qualified. 

The notion of coaching had appealed to me even from childhood games & I saw myself as probably getting into it as an adjust of a prospective career in Physical Education teaching.


Question:  In your opinion, what have been the greatest developments in athletics coaching between then & now? 

(i)  Advances in coach education & science, leading to clearer & surer insights into the value of mileage, hill training, tempo training, different types of rep sessions, strength & conditioning, posture & technique drills, altitude training, as well as overall planning, periodisation & peaking.

 (ii)  Advances in medical, para-medical expertise & in quality of equipment (shoes, clothing, video, etc.)

 (iii)  The government backing enabling leading & high-potential athletes to be funded & backed in other ways

 (iv)  The altitude training programme as initiated by Ian Stewart (UK Athletics) & supported by London Marathon, which is now enabling many leading & emerging athletes to attend fully-serviced training camps in Kenya &/or the Pyrenees at virtually all phases of the year.


Question:  Who has influenced you throughout your coaching career?

In the early days Frank Horwill (British Milers Club), Wilf Paish (National Coach) & stories/books about/by Percy Cerutty (coaching Herb Elliott), Franz Stampfl (coaching Bannister), Arthur Lydiard (coaching Snell) & Bob Timmons (coaching Ryun).


Later, multiple sources, especially from my appointment at Loughborough, notably via the experience gained from athletes I have worked with such as Terry Colton for over 20 years (now Athletics Director for the London Olympics), Sebastian Coe (from 1.52/3.47 through to quadruple world record holder & Olympic gold), Steve Scutt (UK number one at 400m in 1979), Michelle Scutt  (Commonwealth 400m record, 7th fastest in Olympics semi), Chris McGeorge (World University gold/Commonwealth bronze 900;/1500m), Graham Williamson (World Jr Record,4th Commonwealth Games 1500m), Jack Buckner (European 5k gold, Commonwealth Games 2nd, Worlds 3rd, Olympics 6th), Omer Khalifa (9th Olympics 1500m), Angela Newport (National XC Champion & Euro Champs semi 1500m), John Nuttall (3rd Commonwealth Games, 5th European Champs, Olympics semi 5k), Sonia McGeorge (4th Commonwealth Games, 8th European Champs etc), Jon Brown (Euro XC 1st, World XC 8th, 2 x 4th Olympic Marathon), Gary Lough (3rd World University Games, 9th World Champs 1500m), Lisa Dobriskey (Commonwealth Games 1500m 1st, Olympics 4th, World Champs 2nd), Abby Westley (Euro U23 Champion 1500m, World Champs semi), Laura Kenney (Euro U23 Champion 5k), Matt O’Dowd (World Champs & Olympic marathons, 2:12 pb), Stevie Stockton (2nd National Sr XC, 3rd Euro U23 Champs 5k), etc ....... over 80 full international athletes in total.


... & also from evaluation of programmes set by leading British coaches for other athletes at Loughborough.


Question:  What do you believe are the 3 most important attributes without which an athlete will struggle to achieve their genetic potential?

 (i)  Mental strength (incorporating control, rationality, positivity, resilience, belief)

 (ii)  Great heart/lung machine (engine)

 (iii)  Technical quality (based on appropriate strength, postural control & excellent use of limbs)


Question:  What do you believe are the 3 most important attributes that contribute to making a great coach?

(i)  Knowledge (from education & experience) pertinent from young athletes through to top internationals

(ii)  The ability to get ‘inside athletes’ heads’ in order to significantly change/influence the way they think & operate  

(iii)   Personal qualities – systematic, resilience, resourcefulness, persistence, determination, & willingness/ability to travel, give time & whatever it takes to optimise results in athletics endeavour


Question:  As an athlete, you were a USEFUL miler & I believe you still hold ONE record over that distance for your old school.  Who should we be looking out for at this distance both in GB & internationally with a view to breaking through in the next 3 - 5 years? (Words in CAPITALS corrected by George as I had been deemed too complimentary!!!)

If I take it that we are talking metric equivalent (1500m) as well as the Mile, I think the biggest chances lie with James Shane (already 2nd in European Teams Cup this year), Adam Cotton & Jessica Judd (3rd in World U17 Champs at 800m this year).  However, the depth of talent potential in UK for this distance is staggering & I’m sure there will be several others challenging strongly 3-5 years down the line from now


Question:  What moments have given you the greatest sense of achievement in your coaching career?

(i)  Medals in global international Championships from athletes with whom I had very close personal involvement – such as Seb Coe, Chris McGeorge, Graham Williamson, Jack Buckner, Jon Brown, Gary Lough, Charlotte Best & Lisa Dobriskey – plus Coe, Buckner & Brown European golds

(ii)  Being told by 3 former international superstars that if they had their chance again, they would want me to coach them – Dave Bedford (ex-World Record-holder 10k), Ian Stewart (Winner of World XC, European Indoor 3k and Outdoor 5k, Comm Games, & 3rd Olympics 5k) & Mike Boit (the Kenyan 800m runner of his day

(iii)  Various lifetime achievement/contribution awards – but constrained by the thought of any possibility that they think I’m finished yet!

(iv)  Successes by Loughborough teams over the years (close to undefeated at British Universities World Athletics Championships 1972-present), 11 years unbeaten run in the equivalent Cross-Country Championships) & more recently (since my appointment as National Event Coach) the successes of British Teams at European & World Championships as well as at Olympic Games

(v)  Athletes with whom I had long coaching involvement being appointed Director of 2012 Olympics (Sebastian Coe) & Director of Athletics for the same Games (Terry Colton whom I introduced to athletics & coached for some 20 years)


Question:  What would you still like to achieve in your athletics career?

(i)  Continuing development & outstanding results linked with the London Marathon/UKA altitude training enterprises in Kenya & Font Romeu

(ii)  Best ever results for GB teams in endurance events over the next year – in European & World Cross-Country Championships & the Olympic Games 2012

(iii)  To coach at least one more athlete personally to Olympic &/or World Championship medals (preferably a gold)

(iv)  Establishment of a smoothly integrated coach development system in UK, incorporating the interests & contributions of UKA & its main partners, including England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, plus London Marathon, etc.   


Question:  What advice could you give to any budding coaches out there to help them succeed in whatever sport they have chosen to work in?  (Little known fact, George coached Worksop Town to a League Championship & League Runners-Up spot prior to his arrival in Loughborough)

(i)  Start out working with younger athletes while also ensuring adequate studies & broadness of experience

(ii)  Go out of your way to get close to top quality coaches, athletes & get to the competitions – you are very unlikely to be a coaching success at top level just by reading books, turning up 2-3 times per week at a training venue & watching top sport on TV in your lounge

(iii)  Endeavour to match or work towards the commitment-level & personal qualities of the best athletes/coaches you encounter

(iv)  Keep your eyes, ears & mind always open – & keep on learning

George,  thank you for your time & interest in answering these questions for me.  It has been a pleasure working with you whilst in Font Romeu & I hope there will be several more occasions on which I can learn from your work but also enjoy your stories over a good meal & a glass of red wine.


...& for those of you that would prefer to see the picture that represents George's character far more than the one he asked me to head his interview with, sing along "Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go..." 

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