Ancient and modern: Olympic tales of coach and competitor

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The Independent Online
520BC, Olympia: The first recorded evidence of coaching inspiration. A boxer, Glaucus, was being heavily beaten. Resigned to defeat, he was about to give in when his trainer supposedly shouted "One for the plough" to remind him of the day when as a small boy on his father's farm he repaired a bent ploughshare with a straight right. He won and became an Olympic champion.

300BC, Olympia: First known award of a local council grant to a sports coach. The Municipal Assembly of Ephesus agreed a fee to retain the services of a trainer, Therippides, for the Olympic preparation and travel expenses of athletes who had won youth events at the Nemean Games.

1904, St Louis: A chaotic marathon was won by a British-born American, Thomas Hicks, who finished only through the determined assistance - these days illegal - from his coach. He inherited the lead at half-way when the frontrunner collapsed and he himself begged to be allowed to drop out with 10 miles to go. His coach had other ideas. He pepped up Hicks with an oral dose of strychnine sulphate mixed with egg white. Further doses augmented with brandy kept him staggering on and he was helped over the finish line in a state of some stupefaction.

1924, Paris: Harold Abrahams' victory in the Olympic 100 metres was largely attributed to the coaching of Sam Mussabini. Eric Liddell, a Scottish rugby international was a natural rival but because of his religious beliefs would not run on a Sunday when the heats were held. Mussabini persuaded Abrahams to shorten his stride and dip at the finish. It was by one stride that Abrahams won the gold. Liddell won the 400m. The eventual outcome was the successful film Chariots of Fire.

1960, Rome: In the 1,500 metres final Herb Elliott's coach, the eccentric Australian Percy Cerutty, said he would stand by the track and wave a yellow towel if Elliott was running fast enough to break the Olympic record. Cerutty was refused entry to the infield but leapt a moat and stood at trackside waving his towel until two policemen forced him back into the crowd. Elliott was unaware he was on record schedule until he saw Cerutty's signal. He set a world best time of 3min 35.6sec and won by nearly 20 metres.

1964, Tokyo: Japan's women's volleyball team coach, Hirofumi Diamatsu, explained what he meant by saying squad members had no time for anything except preparation for the Olympics. All worked at a mill from 8am to 3.30pm when they went to the gymnasium and trained for eight hours, every day throughout 1963. On Sundays they worked out for 12 hours. They won . . . most retired soon afterwards.

1968, Mexico City: Chris Finnegan won a middleweight boxing gold for Britain in Mexico City thanks partly to the coaching of David James and Len Mills. James said of Mills: "In the old routine you met on the plane and if the boy was five pounds overweight you sawed a leg off. Under Len, we learnt that the old sweats who were coaching were the salt of the earth but their methods were archaic. You need more than a bent nose, scar tissue and a towel to be a trainer."

1976, Montreal: David Wilkie, in the 200 metres breaststroke, became the first British male swimmer for 68 years to win an Olympic swimming gold. He credited his coach, Dave Haller, with destroying the confidence of the Americans, who thought they were going to have a clean sweep of the gold medals, and at the same time erasing Wilkie's persistent dream that he would finish second. Haller had watched Wilkie win his 200m heat three seconds quicker than any of the Americans but immediately shouted to their coach, Don Gambril, that in the final he could go faster. Wilkie not only won gold but took the world record.

1980, Moscow: After the Olympic 800m semi-final in Moscow, Seb Coe went to dinner with his father Peter, who had coached him since he was a teenager. Both had premonitions of impending failure but would not let on to the other. "I had never felt so much pressure - I caught Peter's eye. He sensed I was uneasy and said 'Don't start now' but I had the worst night's sleep of my life." He lost to Steve Ovett but beat him in the 1,500m.

1992, Barcelona: Linford Christie had won the 100m. Meanwhile, and unbeknown to him, his coach and close friend, Ron Roddan, had sprained an ankle getting on the bus to the stadium. Television pictures showed Christie clearly concerned about something. He was looking everywhere to find Roddan who was back in the athletes' village where, ironically, he had treatment on the physio's bench where Christie had his pre-race massage.

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