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Todd Bennett obituary: Silver medallist at the 1984 Olympics

‘He was a hard man,’ recalled Roger Black. ‘He used to love all the barging and shoving’

At 5ft 7in and around 10 stone, Todd Bennett, who has died of cancer aged 51, was not really built for 400 metre running. But his attitude and determination were the equal of any and by the time he retired in 1992 he had played a central part in an era of British success over that distance.

Bennett’s powerful frame, with its low centre of gravity, was ideally suited to the tight, banked bends of indoor tracks, and his individual highlight was an astonishing performance at the 1985 European Indoor Championships in Athens where he set a world indoor record of 45.56sec. Bennett added a world indoor silver that year, and retained his European indoor title two years later in Liévin, France.

Another feature of indoor running is that runners break from their lanes and have to find their place on the inside as best they can – a process which Bennett relished as the elbows flew. Roger Black, the Olympic silver medallist and double European champion who ran with Bennett for Southampton AC and Britain, recalled how his friend loved to mix it on the track. “Todd was a great training partner. He was one of the reasons Kriss Akabusi and I started running at Southampton AC because he was already being coached there by Mike Smith. “In our business of 400m running he was too small, but he had phenomenal leg speed and he was a hard trainer who never, ever complained, a hard man. You didn’t mess with Todd. He loved all the barging and shoving that used to go on a lot more in relay running and indoor athletics, In those days you could bundle around.”

Bennett, who was born in Southampton and brought up in Romsey, Hampshire, announced himself in international running by winning the 1981 European junior title, He was also very proud of the individual silver medal he won in the 200m at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. But it was as a relay runner that he made his main impact outdoors.

In 1983 he was part of the British team which took 4x400m bronze at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, and the following year he won silver at the Los Angeles Olympics in company with Akabusi, Garry Cook and Phil Brown in a British and European record time of 2min 59.13sec. He also won golds from the 1982 and 1986 Commonwealth 400m relay events.

“Todd was in at the start of a new era of success in British 400m relay running,” Black said. “Gradually other runners came into it – myself and Derek Redmond, and a little later Iwan Thomas and Jamie Baulch. It was a very successful time in the event which stretched from 1984 through to around 1998. Everybody knew Todd was a major player in the history of British 400m running. Obviously the highlights of his career were winning the Olympic silver and then setting the world indoor record the next year at the European Indoors. But he was very proud of his 200m silver medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. He tore his hamstring soon after that, which was the beginning of the end for him, really.”

Bennett went on to work with Great Britain’s junior athletes and was their team manager for four years. He also trained his own group of athletes and maintained close links with the Southampton club, for whom he was coach and team manager. In 2008 he linked up with the Olympic sprint relay gold medallist Darren Campbell in the Team Superschools’ Challenge, whose aim was to promote sport to schoolchildren. “He put a lot back into the sport,” said Black. “Todd was an athlete through and through.”

Last summer Bennett joined Black, Akabusi and many of his other former team-mates when they stood together as British Olympic medallists to witness the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. “Athletics is not a team sport, so the relay is a special event, and there was a special bond between all of us who were a part of the 4x400 in those days,” Black said. “That was why, when we found out in January that Todd had cancer, so many runners came to see him in hospital – apart from myself and Kriss, there was Phil Brown, Derek Redmond, Brian Whittle and Roy Dickens, all guys who had run with him. Todd was very quiet, very modest and unassuming. For him the most important thing in his life was his family, He had a wonderful marriage to Vanessa, his childhood sweetheart, and two lovely kids whom he saw through to adulthood.

“Kriss and I spent time with him in the weeks before he died. We knew he was dying. He fought it in the way he fought as an athlete, but in the end he was very pragmatic and realistic. He died on his own terms, peacefully at home with his wife and children at his bedside. He was too young. It’s incredibly sad.”

Todd Anthony Bennett, athlete and coach: born Southampton 6 July 1962; married Vanessa (one daughter, one son); died 16 July 2013