An email conversation with Roger Black: 'My only regret is being tricked into wearing a sequined shirt'

My tip to take the 'Strictly Come Dancing' crown, Teething troubles of the London 2012 Olympics, Getting to know the real Michael Johnson, Sir Clive's mountain to climb at Southampton
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The Independent Online

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, has been wheeled out this week to deny that the current wrangle over contracts for building the Olympic Park to hold the London 2012 Games is a serious long-term worry. As someone who was involved in supporting the London bid, what do you make of the situation? I think it's inevitable. It's big business. This is a major challenge for this country, and for Seb Coe and his team. I think it's part and parcel of business. It's not sport, it's the business of the Olympics. Once it gets sorted out and we get to 2012, then it will be about sport.

What do you hope to be doing when the 2012 Games arrive in London? Most of all I would like to see one of the athletes I help to mentor fighting for medals there, such as Tim Benjamin and other athletes in Tony Lester's group. It would be marvellous to think I had played some part in their success. I will probably be there from a corporate point of view, because that is where I earn my living now I don't work for the Beeb. I'd quite like to be there doing some sort of telly, of course, but you never know what's going to happen in that world.

You spend a lot of time on corporate speaking engagements these days. What do all these businessmen like to hear best? One of the things I try to stress is the importance of having the right attitude. For example, when you think of the two best known cooks in this country, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, forget the cooking, what they have in common is passion. Daley Thompson and Seb Coe had the same passion as athletes. If you have it, you will succeed, because when things go wrong, you won't give up. Kelly Holmes didn't battle through all those injuries and get to the Athens Olympics at the age of 34 without that same passion...

Surely you tell them about the time Britain whupped the US 4x400m team at the 1991 World Championships when you switched to earlier in the running order and Kriss Akabusi took on the last leg? I do use that as an example of what you have to do sometimes to achieve success. Sometimes you have to change a winning formula, take a risk.

You were twice European champion and once Commonwealth champion, but you were denied Olympic gold by Michael Johnson in 1996. Do you think of yourself as a winner or a loser? If I had won every race I ever ran, I don't think the people I talk to could relate to that. People can relate to the fact that I have had lots of injuries, and come through adversity, and regarded second place in the Olympics as being like a winner because I knew I had done the best I could do. If you define winning as always coming first, then 99.9 per cent of people are losers. But that's not the case.

You're a Southampton FC fan. Clive Woodward and Harry Redknapp: what's that all about? Watch this space. I can't believe Clive would be there if he didn't have a long-term aim. But rugby players and footballers are very different, and I'm not convinced that he will be able to get through to most footballers. I think he struggled on the Lions tour because he was outside the England environment in which he had grown up and where he had become respected. Getting the respect of people he doesn't know is one of Clive's strengths, but if he manages it at Southampton he will have done very well.

What is your favourite saying? Part of the Olympic motto: "It's not the victory, it's the struggle." I have had to struggle at various stages in my life, whether it has been against injury or when things have happened to me elsewhere in my career. When I got my first injury, I remember saying to Daley Thompson "This isn't easy." And he said to me: "Roger, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it."

What is your proudest achievement outside of athletics? That would have to be my relationship with my wife, Jules.

If you could have been any other sports person, who would you like to have been? Being captain of Southampton when they won the FA Cup in 1976 would have been nice, but it would probably have to have been a tennis player. Boris Becker would have been good - winning Wimbledon at 17 and then staying at the top for so long. I would have liked having the biggest occasions more regularly rather than having to wait every four years for an Olympics. Then again I'd like golf for the lifestyle, travelling all around the world in luxury.

What are you favourite films? The Great Escape would have to be up there, and Finding Nemo - I love any of the Pixar films.

Will anyone ever beat Johnson's world 400m record of 43.18sec? All records can be broken, but I believe this one will be around for a very long time. The Olympic champion, Jeremy Wariner, is good, but to run 43.18 you need to be capable of running 200 metres in 19.5sec, and he can't do that. So I think he could become the second fastest 400m runner in history.

You worked with Johnson for BBC Sport after you had both retired from the track. Was he as you expected him to be? No. When he was an athlete he didn't have any interaction with people. He was very insular. But when he retired you saw the other side of his character and he was a much more relaxed, fun guy. I think it surprised a lot of people who expected him to be quite difficult and surly. But in hindsight it's probably not so surprising because to achieve to the level he did you have to be so absolutely focused on your athletics.

Did you change after quitting the track? It's hard sometimes to see yourself as others see you, but I have learnt that a lot of people used to feel I was quite detached when I was an athlete. I didn't mean to be like that. I'm a lot more relaxed now, I think.

What are you reading at the moment? I pick up a lot of sports books but I tend to skim them and put them back down again. The Da Vinci Code was good - but everyone's read that. I prefer reading about people who have achieved things outside the world of sport, often in business. I've just finished the biography of Steve Jobs, the man from Apple.

Have you got an i-Pod? I haven't, actually, because I listen to music either at home or in the car. I like to listen to a lot of music that I heard at important times in my life, stuff like Aztec Camera, Gomez, The Clash and Van Morrison. But I've got a 14-year-old nephew who tries to keep me up to date with what's happening now. It doesn't always work.

How important are clothes to you? What would you spend on a shirt? I'd spend £100 on a shirt. If it's something you wear often, it's worth spending some money on.

Why are black sprinters faster than white sprinters? I don't believe it is a physical thing because if that was all it was, it wouldn't continue to happen but then again, I'm not a biochemist so I couldn't say for sure. Kriss Akabusi and I were very similar in the way we both gave 100 per cent to our athletics. But he still says it was harder for me than him, because he didn't perceive other options in life when he was younger. He still thinks that if he was me, he wouldn't have left university to concentrate on running. Most white lads tend to believe in the idea from a very early age. I think part of it is a belief system.

Strictly Come Dancing: what are your best and worst memories of taking part, and who do you think will win the current series? I'm following the current series with interest, and Jules and I are going up to watch it next week. Obviously Colin [Jackson] can do well. He's a bit too bloody good, isn't he? He hasn't been really tested yet, but he must have a good chance. Zoe Ball is good too. I was never going to be a great dancer - I was always in the middle. But the proper dancers took things so seriously. My best moment was week five, when I was dancing at Blackpool and I was sure I was going out because I had danced like crap, but we didn't even feature in the bottom two. I was completely gobsmacked. My worst moment was the initial photo-shoot, when I was suckered into wearing a see-through sequinned top, which I have never lived down. They told me everyone was wearing the same kind of thing, but I was the only one.

Attachment: The Roger Black lowdown

* Born: 31 March 1966, Portsmouth.

* Education: Portsmouth Grammar School. Began reading medicine at Southampton University but left after first term to focus on athletics.

* Record: 1986: Commonwealth and European 400m gold. 1990: European gold. 1991: World Championship, silver; 4x400m gold. 1994: European silver. 1996: Olympic silver; 4x400m silver.

* In 1986 as a leggy 20-year-old - nicknamed Bambi - he won the Commonwealth Games and European Championship 400m.

* His career was interrupted by injury, but he had an Indian summer in 1996, regaining the British record and reducing it to 44.37sec, then taking the Olympic silver medal.

* Now earns a living as corporate motivational speaker. Numerous TV credits, most recently Strictly Come Dancing.

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