The news, which was announced by UKA alongside a brief statement from his family, triggered an outpouring of emotional tributes from athletes past and present who worked with Black, with Farah among the very best to have benefited from his work after claiming consecutive 5,000m and 10,000m doubles at London 2012 and Rio 2016 during their time together
“I have lost a good friend!” Farah wrote on Twitter. “Known him since I was 14 years old. Neil supported me all the way in my career since I was kid!! My heart is broken ... I wouldn’t be where I am today without Neil Black ... no one knew me like he did!! We lost a great man.”
Black’s death came as a shock to all of those who had worked with him, given he was last seen in the public eye at the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Doha last October. The disappointing tally of five British medals proved Team GB’s worst performance since 2005, and that combined with his support for controversial American trainer Alberto Salazar – the former trainer of Mo Farah who has been banned from athletics for four years by the United States Anti-Doping Agency for numerous drugs-related offences – cost Black his position.
However, such was the regard for his contribution towards the sport, UKA continued to use Black in an advisory role ahead of the postponed Tokyo Olympics.
The former UKA boss was described as a man who dedicated his life and passion to the sport after achieving his “dream job” and who was “like a second father” to budding young sportsmen and women making their way in track and field, with dozens of athletes posting messages of condolence on Twitter along with Farah.
Three-time Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton said: “He came everywhere with me and made sure I was held together physically and mentally. So many things I want to say... I’ll miss you forever Neil Black.”
Chris Tomlinson, a former British long jumper, also tweeted: “Such sad news to hear of the passing of Neil Black. He was both my physio and team manager for many years. RIP.”
British middle-distance runner Laura Muir said: “Such sad, sad news to hear of the passing of Neil Black. He was always incredibly supportive and a lovely caring man. Thoughts go out to his friends and family. RIP Neil you will be sorely missed.”
Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who won heptathlon gold at the World Championships in 2019, paid tribute to Black’s work with British athletes. “Devastating news to wake up to. He was a thoughtful, passionate, kind-hearted man who helped so many athletes. He will be missed by many. Rest in peace Neil.”
Five-time Paralympic champion wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft wrote: “Such a great guy, always made time to come chat to me and see how I was getting on when he passed me, and always took a true interest in my training and in my sport. RIP Neil, you’ll be missed.”
Sprinter Adam Gemili added on Twitter: “I am shocked and devastated and can’t stop crying. It doesn’t feel real. I spoke to Neil just two weeks ago and now he’s gone. Life is too fragile. Neil was like a second father to me. He shaped a lot of my athletics career and will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Former sprinter Katharine Merry, who won bronze in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, tweeted: “What sad news to wake up to. The passing of Neil Black is truly a shock to the world of athletics and to all that knew him for so long… Blimey ... I can’t believe it.”
Three-time Paralympic club and discus champion and six-time medallist Stephen Miller added: “Just reading the sad news about Neil Black. I’m shocked. I knew Neil for many years and we had some good conversations. Whatever you think of his decisions, he loved athletics, it was his passion and being PD (performance director) was his dream job. Thoughts are with his family #RIP.”
A statement on UKA’s website announced: “British Athletics is shocked and saddened to confirm the loss of our friend and former colleague Neil Black who passed away suddenly at the weekend.
“Neil loved the sport of athletics and dedicated his life to supporting athletes – as a world class physiotherapist, as head of sport science, and then in recent years as Performance Director for British Athletics.
“Since leaving the role of UKA Performance Director in October 2019, he had been continuing to support a number of athletes and coaches as an advisor.
“Neil will be hugely missed by those that knew and worked with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”
Black’s family said: “We would like to thank people for the wonderful and heartfelt messages we have received. So many people have been in touch, it is clear to us how loved Neil was and this is bringing us some comfort at this time.”
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