Athletics: Books for Christmas - Failure to realise potential in heart-to-heart
Wednesday 23 December 1998
It was once said that the greatest sight in athletics was David Jenkins storming down the back straight of a 400 metre race.
The worst sight, meanwhile, was David Jenkins in the home straight of the same 400m race. There was more than a touch of that when watching Roger Black in the final strides at the AAA Championships final in Birmingham last July. Black knew that he needed to finish in the first two to guarantee himself a place in the British team for the European Championships and a chance of an unprecedented third title.
But in the last strides Black faded into fourth. It has long been dangerous policy to leave decisions in the hands of athletics selectors so, when Black was omitted from the team, there was a strong sense that in the previous couple of months he may have attended one book-signing session too many and one training session too few.
The publicity drive for How Long's the Course? - My Autobiography by Roger Black with Mike Rowbottom (Andre Deutsch, 250pp, pounds 15.99) had ensured, though, Black had at least one success in his last season. Of books in the limited athletics canon, only Linford Christie has ever sold more (and he has twice published "auto"-biographies), which is proof of Black's popularity with the British public.
Like Black himself, the book covers the ground speedily and seemingly effortlessly, from his days as a bright, football- absorbed, Portsmouth choirboy "who had everything", through to the athletics heights of the Olympic silver medal in Atlanta in 1996.
It was this book which revealed that Black had a serious heart condition diagnosed when he was 11, requiring annual check-ups ever since. A recurring theme throughout the book, written with The Independent's athletics correspondent, Mike Rowbottom, is the question of realisation of potential. From accusations from friends that Black had underachieved, to the philosophising during the pre-Olympic winter of 1995-96 with David Jenkins, there is a sense of self-doubt that Black never ran his perfect race. Athletics watchers were aware of the cruel catalogue of injuries in Black's career, but only now is there an awareness of what may have been, literally, at the heart of the problem.
The relationship with Jenkins, a predecessor as British record-holder, is curious because of Black's stance against drugs and Jenkins' criminal conviction for peddling steroids. Yet Black credits Jenkins with the role of mentor in achieving the pinnacle of his career in Atlanta. There are echoes of Chariots of Fire here, with Black receiving messages from pariah- like Jenkins just as Harold Abrahams did from his coach, the banned professional Sam Mussabini.
Black's auto-didactic philosophy grates at times, but not so much as his reluctance to express an opinion on the issues he raises in the book. "You can see both sides" is a phrase which betrays Black's future career as a TV pundit, but ought to have no place in such a book.
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?
Met Police confirm it was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested
Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
Eccentric Fury star, 28, reveals he is 'not a really confident actor'
Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday
The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell
Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home
Latest in Sport
'Adel Taarabt is about three stone overweight. I can't pick him' - Harry Redknapp
Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
QPR vs Liverpool match report: Liverpool snatch victory in seven late minutes of madness
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce calm over lack of new contract
QPR vs Liverpool player ratings: Who was the star man? And did Mario Balotelli emerge with any credit?
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Lynda Bellingham dead: Loose Women presenter dies after battle with colon cancer
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...
£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...