Athletics: Hemery choice for resurrection role

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The Independent Online
DAVID HEMERY, the very model of an English sporting champion - or should that be sporting English champion? - was announced yesterday as president of the re-emergent body now running British athletics.

The 54-year-old MBE, who will always be remembered for winning the 1968 Olympic 400m hurdles in a world record time, was a surprise - and surprised - choice for a position that now establishes him as the domestic sport's main ambassador, not to mention its conscience.

He gained 426 votes in a poll of athletics clubs that saw 743 of the 1,604 registered to take part respond. That put him 117 ahead of the man who many regarded as favourite for the position, Sir Eddie Kulukundis, the millionaire shipping magnate and theatrical impresario who has unofficially funded many athletes over the past 20 years.

The 1980 Olympic 800m champion, Steve Ovett, who had also thrown his hat into the ring, was third with 274 votes. Tom McNab, the coach and author, received 129 votes and the former British team manager, Mike Turner, polled 99.

Hemery, who has worked for many years in the area of motivational performance in both sport and business, will have an immediate opportunity to develop his ambassadorial role as he attends the IAAF's annual gala in Monaco this weekend to launch Britain's bid to host the 2003 World Championships at a refurbished Wembley Stadium.

"The last major event of that kind which we have hosted was the 1948 Olympics," he said. "I would like to ask the IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, what it is they are looking for in the bid."

Another question that Hemery, a long-standing advocate of drug-free sport, would like to ask the IAAF president is why the ban for positive dope tests within the sport has been reduced from four to two years.

"I think it sends out the wrong message," said the man who, in 1990, wrote a book entitled Winning Without Drugs - the Natural Approach to Competitive Sport. In his book, Hemery describes the key role that mental rehearsal - visualisation - played in his Olympic victory. It is a technique he has passed on to many other athletes, including Sally Gunnell, who found it hugely effective in preparing for her Olympic and world title wins of 1992 and 1993. But it was clear enough yesterday that he had not visualised himself as a winner in this particular five-horse race.

"I was quite staggered to be appointed," Hemery said. "I thought Steve Ovett would win. But I'm very grateful to have been given this chance."

After the financial turmoil of the past year, the domestic sport - currently operating under the monicker of UK Athletics 98 - has plotted its course for the new millennium, steered by the man who now fills the role as its chief executive, David Moorcroft.

Another of Hemery's key roles in a position he will hold for at least two years will be to chair the appointment panel that will decide whether Moorcroft will remain in his post or give way to one of a number of other candidates.

Yesterday Hemery paid tribute to the "awesome" work that Moorcroft, a former world 5,000m record holder, had done to turn around the domestic sport's fortunes after the British Athletic Federation was declared bankrupt just over a year ago. "It would take a very strong candidate to dislodge him," Hemery said.

Hemery, like Moorcroft, is likely to generate considerable goodwill within the sport. His place in sporting legend is already secured by his majestic performance in the thin air of Mexico 30 years ago, when, with blond hair flying, he produced the perfect performance at the perfect time to set a record that was not beaten by another Briton until Kriss Akabusi in 1990.

Since retiring from athletics, having gained a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics behind the late John Akii-Bua of Uganda, he has worked for the National Coaching Federation and, more recently, in his own company, Performance Consultants, which teaches business managers to get the most out of their employees.

Hemery was asked to stand for the new post by Chris Carter, the former international 800m runner who has held a number of posts in British athletics over the past 15 years.

"I think it may have helped me that I have come back into the sport fresh," Hemery said. "I'm coming to it with a lot of passion, but without too much baggage. I believe this is a time of golden opportunity for the sport." With a new five-year television deal worth about pounds 15m newly signed with the BBC, and a steady flow of Lottery money now established, the sport does indeed seem on the brink of a happier era. Yesterday's appointment was another welcome breath of fresh air.