Athletics: Pascoe is on fast track to success

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The Independent Online
A hurdler turned businessman aims to save British athletics. Mike Rowbottom reports

ALAN PASCOE is not comfortable with being referred to as a multi- millionaire, but one is on safe ground in referring to him as a millionaire.

The former Commonwealth and European 400 metres hurdles champion has built on his track success since retiring from the sport in 1978. A prime mover in the world of sports sponsorship, he is a figure who, like the current chief executive of Britain's athletics administration, Dave Moorcroft, commands respect. His decision to step away from the corporate lifestyle to concentrate on a more specific area - that of ensuring a healthy climate for athletics sponsorships - has not been taken lightly.

Although there is a considerable element of personal interest - "I want to play a part in helping British athletics get back off its uppers" - Pascoe has not got where he is today by ignoring the small print. He has been involved in lengthy negotiations over the extent of his control of the commercial operation in the sport. Eventually, a balance has been struck which offers him sufficient leeway to employ the talents which he first displayed in 1985 when he obtained the marketing rights for British athletics and transformed the Federation's annual income of pounds 300,000 to pounds 5m.

His cut of that figure was 20 per cent. What percentage he will take in his new role was not discussed. Pascoe, nevertheless, maintains that he has taken a real risk in selling out his shares in Alan Pascoe International - the group he has built up to a point where its last registered turnover was more than pounds 50m, in order to concentrate on the area where he first made a business impact.

"If this does not work, people will turn round and say `He wasn't as good as he thought he was.' " There is also the possibility of financial loss as the new company involved at Fast Track is underwritten by Pascoe himself.

Underlying his change of direction is a sense that he was drifting further and further away from direct involvement with clients, which has always been his great strength. "There seemed to be fewer and fewer situations where I could get my hands dirty," he said.

Pascoe is in search of the buzz which he got from his first involvement in business deals. His sporting background has always been an asset to him in his new arena. "I'm convinced there is a carry-over between sport and business... When you have to get up in the dark in winter and lug out all the hurdles before you can begin training, that toughens the mind," he has said.

Pascoe's performances on the track were marked by competitiveness, patient effort and adaptability. Having started out as a sprint hurdler, he followed his rival David Hemery up to the 400m hurdles. It was at that distance that Pascoe had his greatest successes, achieving a time of 48.59sec, which still leaves him third in the UK all-time list behind Kriss Akabusi and Hemery. But Pascoe also struck Olympic silver in 1972 as a member of the 4x400m team which also included Hemery, Martin Reynolds and David Jenkins.

However, the image of Pascoe which remains in many peoples minds is of a man tripping over a hurdle. After his European victory in Rome, an exhausted Pascoe unwisely attempted to hurdle over one of the barriers on his lap of honour. It was facing the wrong way and when he clipped it he was the one to fall over. He tried it once more - to similar effect - before laughingly pushing it over with his hands.

He sees his main task now as reminding people just how successful athletics is in relation to other sports in this country and, in his own phrase, "showcasing" top athletic performers. He believes there is still much more than can be done to liven up domestic athletics and make the events accessible and intelligible to the viewing public.

Among the measures being considered are a reduction of the number of events in each meeting and a profound improvement in the level of information on offer to spectators.

Pascoe also wants to establish a separate identity for each of the five main domestic events, utilising more adventurous measures for the indoor meeting and Grand Prix events, while retaining the traditional strength of the annual AAAs trials.

He guards against wild optimism, however, stressing that it would take several years before these meetings will be watched by sell-out crowds.