Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Mike Baxter (March 2016)

Nobody to Somebody!

MIKE BAXTER, born near Leeds on the 28th of May 1945, was the most prominent athlete to compete for Leeds City Athletic Club in the earliest days of the clubs history although, Ron Pannell, Richard Musgrove and John Lunn, were there at the start of the club as were a few others. The reason Baxter’s name had such resonance was because he would finish in the first two in local and area races. In 1968 he was fourth in the AAA’s 5000m and it was in the winter of 1968/69 he had his breakthrough when he came 2nd to Trevor Wright in the Northern and sixth in the National at Parliament Hill, behind the winner Mike Tagg. It was in the Winter till the Summer of 1970 that Brendan Foster moved to the area with his studies and trained with Mike and Lindsay Dunn. They used to run together, 3 or 4 times a day.

Certainly before 1969 Mike Baxter had not been considered as an international class track runner, but then, quite suddenly, later in the year that all changed. As Mike Baxter explains himself about his race in the 1969 European Games, in the hot weather in Athens. “It was a complete disaster” (It was his first race on tartan.) “Before that I was not in contention for a place in the 5000m. It was at the very last minute Dick Taylor decided he did not want to double up. He was just going to do the 10,000 and it left a spot in the 5000m. ‘British Athletics’, organised a trial race with such athletes as McCafferty, Mike Tagg & John Caine and all these guys and, I won it. Because, I was a NOBODY and the fact I had won it as a trial for the team, they said ‘Oh! No’ we will have another trial. For the next trial they put me in my first International against France, at the White City Stadium, along side Dave Bedford & Allan Rushmer, for another run off for third spot and, I won that race (13:50.4). They could not leave me out then!
The trouble was I had that many races at such a level and, I was wrecked. When it came to the European in Athens I was past my ‘sell by date’ I had just gone and, just faded (He had an early lead then fell to the back of the field for a 14:19.0 - As a matter of interest he was chosen for the Commonwealth 5000 in Edinburgh in 1970 and was 7th in the heat in 14:9.8 and 14th in the Final in 14:03.0). Earlier than the Commonwealth Games in 1970, he had run his best ever time for 5000m of 13:35.2. That was in June of 1970, then after the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he had a blood test which showed he had been suffering with glandular fever so obviously, that was why he was not a serious challenger in the 5000 race.
It was in 1971 he was 11th in the European Final in Helsinki over 5000m in 13:43.2 that was after he won the AAA’s 5000 Final at Crystal Palace in 13:39.6.

Going forward to 1974. That was the time Mike Baxter ran to a personal life time best for 10,000. It was on the 23rd of May. “I ran 28:16 as my best ever race. It was my first race of the track season. There was a huge field. I won it with a last 800 in 1:59. I was absolutely flying” (First Six:- 1 Mike Baxter (GB) 28:16.0; 2 Ewald Bonzet (RSA) 28:16.2; 3 Mark Smet (Belgium) 28:18.2; 4 Wolfgang Kruger (West Germany, GFR) 28:20.8; 5 Leon Schots (Belgium) 28:23.2; 6 Frank Grillaert (Belgium) 28:23.4).
“10 days later our first child was born. My training just went down, as you just don’t get any sleep. My wife Jill was brilliant and looked after my daughter Carolyn.
I just went over the hill that year and did not make the European, even though I had run 28:16. From then my running went down hill because I got a job working for Adidas at trade shows so, could not train properly.

Having looked at his interesting comments about his track racing, that appeared a roller coaster, I wondered what surface and event he preferred most.
“I came from a cross country background so I have to say cross country.’

Now for some of his outstanding cross-country performances and there were quite a few.
Remembering the ‘Old World Cross country’ was called ‘The International’ till 1973 when it then became a World cross country Championships.(However in those old days you still had countries like France, Belgium, New Zealand, Spain, Morocco; USA, Tunisia and Canada taking part)
In 1969 Mike Baxter was sixth in the National cross country in 49.29 behind the winner Mike Tagg who ran 47:47 but, ahead of some very good runners Mike Freary, Gerry Stevens, Gerry North and Ron Hill. England won the International team wise but the race was won by Gaston Roelants, the 1964 Olympic steeplechase Champion from  Dick Taylor, who was the first of the winning England six, all inside 17 of 107 that ran and, Mike was 32nd in that one in Glasgow.
In 1970 Mike was fifth in the National in 43:36 behind the winner Trevor Wright who ran 42:48. England won handsomely in the International that year at Vichy. Mike was 14th and the sixth scoring man
He explains “It was Trevor Wright, Dick Taylor, Mike Tagg, Ricky Wilde, Mike Turner and me. John Caine and Ron Grove, who were sixth and 7th in the National did not make the counting six that day or did the young Dave Bedford”

When did it all begin for Mike Baxter, who comes across as a really cheerful person?
“I was 11 at school. The games master found that I could run a bit rather than play rugby so; I took up running for 3 or 4 years at school. Then I joined a club called Leeds & St Marks Harriers. Back in the 1960’s there were three clubs in Leeds. Leeds St Marks and, we amalgamated in 1967 with Leeds athletic club and Hare hills. Then we became Leeds City Athletic Club.”

He was and is coaching  many talented runners. He has become somebody special, rather than a ‘Nobody’ when you realise who he did and, who he coaches now.
Andy Rodgers to multiple English Schools titles.
John Doherty from when he was 16 to nearly 23. He won the National Junior at Parliament Hill in 1981 and ran 13:14.17 for 5000 and was 9th in the Olympics at Seoul.
I coached John before he went to America. In those days there was no way of contacting people, No mobiles or skype. He decided then that he knew what he needed to do and continued to coach himself on the principals I coached him at. He was a ‘Star’. Mike then said “When I got early retirement from work I took on James Walsh, when he was 28/29 and got him down from 14:09 to 13.39 for 5000. “
There are others he coached like Phillip Aukett who is now retired.
He currently coaches Rachael Bamford, who got to the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Perhaps we will mention one interesting case about Claire Duck who Mike coaches now. She was 4th in the Cross Challenge Final/Inter-Counties and was 2nd in the National in 2016, as well as winning the Northern Championships and the Home international.
Mike comes in here “She is 30 now. I started coaching her 4 years ago. She retired from athletics in her mid 20’s. She had been to an American college and they crucified her. She came back totally disillusioned, drained, broken and packed in athletics for 18 months but, then about 4 years ago, she just jogged to keep fit. She got in touch with Lindsay Dunn. She said I want to start running again ‘Is there anyone in the Leeds area you can recommend’. Lindsey, who is a friend of mine, said ‘Get in touch with Mike Baxter. She had to spend a couple of years working through the time she was still broken. She managed to get her job sorted out and was able to then run after work as with her job, with the NHS, she was working in the Radiology department, doing night shifts and trying to train round that so, she never really fulfilled her potential. She qualified as a sonogropher in 2015. What that means is she now has no shift work and works the normal 8.30 to 5.30 job. She trains consistently and the result is at the age of 30 she was second in the National and fourth in the Cross Challenge Final. Now she has come on and has the confidence to challenge some of the better girls, even though she is 30, she will still be able to have another good three or four years”.

Does Mike really like coaching?
“I love it’ he says. All the 7 years I worked at adidas and 14 years at Nike and 4 at Fila, always travelling around with the companies I could not coach or could get involved which was disappointing in one respect but, I had to do it because it was my job’
‘When I retired I had nothing to do. I did not play golf. I still kept running a little bit.’
’I do all my  coaching at Leeds Met Carnegie. The atmosphere there it is not central with any club but good groups of athletes. We get on and all talk about sessions.
I had only been going up there for 2 or 3 weeks when one of the first coaches I met was, a guy called Malcolm Brown, who coaches Alistair and Johnny Brownlee and, he knew James Walsh. In only a couple of weeks he was letting me take the sessions he had prepared for Alistair and Johnny Brownlee. He would say ‘Go and do the session Mike set’ that much mutual respect there was. He said ‘I want to Look after the girls, you look after the guys’ James Walsh, Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee were in the group for the sessions I took.’

That shows Michael Baxter, as a coach is really somebody and certainly not a nobody in athlete’s minds as, he helps so many to reach their potential.

Alastair Aitken

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