Athletics: Athens the crucible for Moorcroft

Pat Butcher finds the new man at the top is looking and still learning

David Moorcroft is well placed to appreciate the problems that athletes such as Kelly Holmes have had this week at the World Championships. In one of his final assignments for BBC before he takes over as the British Athletics Federation chief executive on 1 October, Moorcroft is looking out every day over the track where he had, "probably the biggest disappointment" of his career.

The difference, as he is quick to point out, is that he wasn't injured. Moorcroft came into the European Championships which inaugurated the beautiful Olympic stadium back in 1982 as the world record holder for 5,000 metres, which he had taken to the verge of 13 minutes a couple of months earlier in Oslo.

"I think I believed I was better then I was, not in a big headed way, but I wanted not just to win, but win in style. I even had a few conversations with Brendan Foster while I was out here. I'd watched him win the Europeans, and I wanted to win it like he did. I'd been on antibiotics, and I wasn't as sharp as I'd been when I broke the world record, but I still felt I could win it in style when what I should have done was just win it."

In fact, after six weeks of submitting to the novelty of being athletics' "most-wanted" around the tracks of Europe, he finished a drained third behind Thomas Wessinghage, in what was probably, in contrast, the best race of the German's career. "I blew it after the world record by trying to be too nice, too kind to to many people. And I think there is an analogy with this job. You can blow it by trying to be all things to all people."

"This job" as head of BAF has been described by his co- commentator, and also former world record holder, Foster as a "poisoned chalice" - an appropriate term in the land of Socrates. The propensity for in-fighting and subversion in British athletics sent the most recent boss, Peter Radford, back to academics after just three years. And Moorcroft has admitted privately that if enough people wanted him out of the job, he probably wouldn't survive.

"Its a bit like starting an athletics career. You either jog along and say, 'I'll be pretty serious and that will be good,' or you say, 'I'm going to go for it in a big way,' totally mindful of all the frustrations, injuries, illnesses, and all that. But that's what I'm there for. And it's pretty much the same here, in that you know there are certain things you can control, and certain things you can't. What I've got to do is manage the way through the controllable and the uncontrollable."

One of the things that Moorcroft will have to contend with is the re- emergence of Andy Norman in his favourite role as behind-the-scenes manipulator. Moorcroft has little reason to welcome Norman's return, despite being one of the many athletes who benefited from Norman's undoubted acumen. Moorcroft was a close friend of Cliff Temple, the athletics writer with whose suicide three years ago Norman was linked. Indeed, Temple wrote Moorcroft's biography. But any antagonism obviously has to be tempered by reality. "I suppose I have to be diplomatic and pragmatic about it," Moorcroft said. "He's clearly a part of British athletics. Several athletes use his talent, and it's up to them."

Where Moorcroft already scores over his predecessor, the private, patrician, Radford is in his capacity for communication. And so he should, with his broadcasting experience. "We've got to get a balance between the public's perception and reality. But we've got to go with perceptions, because the media and public identify with different things. If Jon [Edwards] and Colin [Jackson] had won, and we had got two golds and two silvers, it would have been perceived as a very successful games. In the same way that Atlanta was perceived as being poor, when in fact it wasn't too bad, people would be saying, 'thank God, we've got two golds'. In fact, we should say that's pretty average."

A ridiculously youthful looking 44-year-old, Moorcroft on TV and radio strikes some people as being hesitant, even bumbling. Certainly, in conversation, the words come tumbling out as if ideas, reflections, tangents, qualifications are crowded in too quickly. But he never loses the ultimate aim, even if the route can seem circuitous.

He is genuinely a nice man, and received wisdom is that nice guys come last. His former coach John Anderson has retorted that Moorcroft has always confounded low expectations of him; that he was dismissed as an academic no-hoper as a youngster, yet ended up going to university; and that, having failed to realise an early ambition to get a first foot on the athletics ladder and make his county schools cross-country team - albeit Warwickshire had the best youngsters in Britain at the time - he ended up on the topmost rung as a world record holder.

Given that he is seeing his new role comparative to his running career, perhaps the best indicator of his capacity for the job is how he quickly put into action the lesson he says he learned here 15 years ago.

A month later, he won the Commonwealth Games 5,000 metres title. "It would be really easy for me to say I had the 5,000 sussed, that I was the world record holder. But in hindsight, I never felt comfortable with it. Athens epitomised that. The Commonwealth was more about control, doing what I needed to do to win."

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits