Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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GREG RICHARDS (October 2012)

When I talked to Greg Richards and his wife Nina Anderson at their home in North London in late September I found Greg Richards very modest about his achievements as a coach and athlete, of that there was no doubt to my mind. About that I am sure his wife 'Star' veteran and coach Nina Anderson, would agree with. The UK would be that much poorer without him to guide the aspiring athlete.
   The  decathlon in the United Kingdom, as a multi-event, is not always given the support it richly deserves as a supreme athletic skill over ten events. It needs much more time spent on it in the day by the athlete rather than with a single discipline in the sport. Greg Richards belongs to a special group of Sports coaches/Mentors at the Tessa Sanderson Foundation.
   As a coach of the decathlon it is quite amazing how many 'Great' athletes he has coached. Erki Nool of Estonia , the 2000 Olympic Champion (8641 points); Dean Macey 4th to Nool in that Olympics with 8567 points (So close to a medal!). Dean was Commonwealth Champion 2006 and silver in World Championships 1999, David Bingham, Daniel Adwade ranked 4th UK all time with his 8102 points he achieved in 2012 and others like Bob Hazell, Sam Bishop and Willem Coertzen, the South African record holder with 8244 points and that is besides at least 9 single eventers!
   " I was coaching Dean Macey at the time in 1999. Erki was looking for a coach and Daley put him on to me. I asked Dean first, as we had been through a lot together and  it was 1999 when Dean made his breakthrough in the World Championships so, I did feel a loyalty to Dean. I asked him and he said " I don't mind." That was good to have two guys in Sydney"   When Greg told me that I realised what a great person, as well as an athlete Dean Macey was. Brian Taylor who came to Greg showed immense potential  but did not have the desire to continue. Greg said he  ran 13.9 for the hurdles, 10.3 for 100 and did  2 metres for the high jump. He had  been a National Junior Judo Champion. Greg feels you need so much time in the day to do the event successfully that a job might have to be secondary. However, there was one who bucked the trend William Coertzen. " A man who gets on with it.
He has a wife and child and works at night. He is an inspiration to all the others in the group.. He will do well next year. He is a really nice guy to coach."
   Greg Richards about technique said " It is easier to learn when you are young. The problem is that if your technique has not been that good, as you are going into being a senior you might change it a bit but when you get under pressure you would slowly revert back to your old technique. It is very difficult but if you do it right from when you are young where else can you go to but what you know!.'
   ' I have seen people explosive, really fast, strong and springy but I don't see the performance. They have not got the technique in certain things. Their technique starts from day one."
  Greg Richards has had  already a long life in athletics and one can  look back to the start.
His parents came over from Jamaica in the 1950's, which was a very hard time for them. Gregory ("Greg") Roy Richards was born on the 25th of April 1956 in Birmingham and then, after a year his family moved to London.
At school his passion was for soccer and he was a decent soccer player for a local team but even though he was inspired by watching a day of the Commonwealth Games of 1970 with names he can remember seeing Stewart, McCafferty, Sheila Sherwood and Howard and Rosemary Payne, he did not turn to athletics at that stage but kept on playing soccer. He can remember the first time someone said he was any good at anything was when a PE teacher at school named Richard Perry-Thomas, who eventually emigrated to Australia, made that remark.
Greg  remembers how he used to do the Western roll at the high jump and did 13ft for the long jump but that was not to his satisfaction at the time. In the Verlea club he joined he was told by a hammer thrower in the club in 1973 . "You must do the club decathlon, everyone is doing it'.
Greg soon learnt that points rather than winning was the thing to collect because, people can be experts at one individual event rather than have an all round ability. Gradually, as the years slipped by, he learnt how to do the high jump from the right side. After his first decathlon with the club he was then asked by Tom McNab to go to Crystal Palace, as Tom was in charge of the Five Star Awards.
   "At 17 years of age it never entered Greg's mind that He would be any good at the decathlon. However the passion for the event was starting to grip him, He  made his first junior international. He gave up his apprecnership as an electrician, which was a hard thing to do on the pocket but he had got the buzz. He went to Argos and bought some weights with a bench and did a little running. He won the South of England Championships in 1980 with about 7000 points but was only vaulting 3.80 at the time. However a couple of very good Polish National Coaches came over for a while to England and he got some very good training tips and  improved in a very short while from 3.80 to 4.70. (His life time best was 4.80).
' As a job I was working hard on surface ceiling work and roof work but felt entitled to a holiday at Easter but my boss at the time said that we had a big commercial  job on and  if I decided to take the holiday I would not be coming back so, to his surprise, I said OK! and left" The decathlon meant that much to Greg and nothing would stop his quest to concentrate on his athletics, despite even less money coming in. However when he was at his best several people would ask him about how to do certain events to improve themselves, especially with the decathlon and  that  was how his caching really took off, even though he was coaching when he was at the height of his powers as a decathlete.
              He won the AAA' title with 7456 points in 1985 and in 1986 again with 7336 and may have won his third in 2007 if it had not been that another competition was too close to that event for him to do it. His best ever decathlon was at Arles when he did 7740 on the 7th of June 1987.He did make the Olympics of 1998 in Seoul and was 30th of the 39 finalists with 7237 points. However he had injury problems right up to the Games. No one diagnosed his injury problems well enough until he spoke to North London AC coach John Sullivan, who suggested that he see Guy Ogden (Registered Osteopath,massager, naturopath. A coach and Ex national Veteran  cross-country and road Champion for the Highgate Harriers club). He sorted out his injuries before the Games but Greg had missed so much vital training.Eugene Gilkes was also one of the four in the running for an Olympic decathlon place also had injury problems and in his case did not make the team for Seoul.
   One thing Greg Richards appreciated when he was competing well was staying in Irvine, USA at Daley Thompson's place. He only had to find the money for food but even that was hard for him. On a Monday he would go to a restaurant 'Sharky's that said you could eat as much as you like for a four dollars!! Just what a decathlete needs!
   Who did Greg Richards think was the Greatest Decathlete then?
   "Obviously Daley Thompson is No.1 No one is going to beat him no matter what someone did, he would always raise his game and that is what a Champion does'
Regarding Erki Nool "He was such a fabulous athlete never, I think, achieved what he should have.The first time I saw him compete was watching TV in 1996, The thing with Erki was he was a great showman and the Estonians loved him for it."

Alastair Aitken

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