Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Mike Smith Revisited (March 2017)

Mike Smith was one of those genuinely modest coaches, who was not a person who promoted himself in the media, as a lot of people do. Obviously he was known in the Southampton area but, was not really recognised for his massive contribution to the sport till, late in his life.
Certainly he was thought of very highly by the internationals he coached like, Donna Hartley; Iwan Thomas, Kriss Akabusi; Roger Black and Todd Bennett.

Mike sadly died in early March 2017 at the age of 88.
What here, I would like to do, for people who read this site is, to be able to look a little further into Mike’s start in the sport. Mike Smith will let us know here about that and, his son Bob Smith, who is a great motivator and Manager of Newham & Essex Beagles teams, will be able give his opinion of his Father.
In both these cases I was privileged to have had the comments first hand.

How Mike Smith came into athletics
“I was a competitor myself; at club level I hasten to say. I joined the Trowbridge club, represented Wiltshire and ran in the Southern Championships, and when I went into the Air Force I had a reasonable degree of success without ever being brilliant. Then I started teaching in London and I was getting rheumatic trouble, although I did not realise it at the time. That cut back my competitive athletics, so I took the old AAA coaching award for jumps, which at the time meant high jump, triple jump and long jump. I started doing a bit of coaching and from there it built up. My wife and I moved to Southampton with my teaching job, and really things just went from that. I found that I enjoyed coaching, and I have been very lucky because I have found people who had ability and have managed to bring that ability out.’

‘I suppose the first athlete who really did have it was David Dear who was a little bit before Donna Hartley. He was a 100/200m man and went to the 1972 Olympic Games in the relay team. David was a very good sprinter. He did not always work quite as hard as he might have done, but had tremendous ability. Donna was a Stringy little girl of 13 when I first saw her and started helping her. Donna had everything: she had tremendous natural ability, she was relaxed, flowing in her running, very definitely feminine and she wanted to do well. But what was wonderful was that she was the original clay, very prepared to be moulded into a good athlete. It became a very close, friendly relationship between Donna and me, my wife and my children.’
About Kriss Akabusi, who was on the last leg of the relay team that beat the United States in the Final of the World Championships 4x400 in 1991
‘Kriss is exactly the man to have around nobody is dull and nobody is down. You don’t have time to be with Kriss, and again I would regard Kriss very much now as a friend. He is a really lovely man that is where I have been so lucky with the athletes’

How interested in athletics was his family
‘I am extremely lucky in as much as my wife and my family have always been as interested as myself. Both my children are still in athletics, Janet is 26 (In 1984) is a long jumper/sprinter, very much involved with the Southampton & Eastleigh team. Bob, who’s 28 (In 1984) is a member of the same club, he is a high jumper and he achieves reasonable success. They both enjoy their athletics.’

BOB SMITH “My earliest memories of athletics meetings was when My Dad took me to cross-country races and track matches when I was six or seven years old. My First  memory of television was seeing Bruce Tulloh  barefoot, winning the European 5000 in 1962 in Belgrade. So, it was in my blood, as I was taken to athletics meetings when I was small. When I started competing and training I saw what he was doing and I knew, obviously, he was a good coach. It just became clear to me he was more than a good coach, a superb coach and a great enthusiast.’

'You remember Donna Murray (In 1978 she ran 22.75 and 51.2 200/400) who became Donna Hartley. I was practically the same age as her and so, when we were about 13, I watched her and, how she then developed and the amount of time and effort that he put into coaching her. She was a great natural specimen and very easy to coach, as she did what she was told. She worked damn hard and it was after all that hard work she made the Olympics at 17 years of age and, went on to have a really good athletics career but, what I think was fantastic about my Dad is that  he is not in it for those elite athletes.’

‘I think a number of coaches today come into coaching and coach internationals but they have not served their time and learnt. They have not worked with a lad running 54 seconds for 400 and getting them down to 52 seconds. They just take proven athletes and just fiddle around on the outside! Donna moved away from Southampton and, he coaches club standard athletes. It did not matter to him. If people wanted to put the time in and do it seriously he gave them the time.”

Alastair Aitken

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