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Roger Black

Roger Black

Date of Birth:1966

Born: Portsmouth

Club: Southampton & Eastleigh, Team Solent. 

Coach(s): Mike Smith, Mike Whittingham.

 

Black Magic

When Roger Black ran his final race, a 400 metres in 1998, it did not matter that he finished third. In a career showing a remarkable resilience alongside a clever judgement of his ability, he had won two Olympic silver medals, a World Championship gold medal from one of the greatest 4 x 400m relays of all time and on two occasions he was the European champion.

 He brought glamour to the sport, with his good looks promoting banners such as ‘Sex On Legs’ across the arenas of Britain. On this Sunday evening of his finale in Sheffield, he did a lap of honour and was then greeted to a send-off of mammoth proportions. He agreed to sign autographs when the meeting finished and the queue to say farewell stretched alongside the main stand, underneath the seating and snaked around the car park. Roger Black was as popular a British athlete as there has ever been. 

 

Glorious Beginnings

Black made a brilliant start to his international career with six gold medals, both 400m and 4 x 400m relay, in three international championships: European Juniors 1985 and European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 1986. The success came after his first notable performance had been to finish third in the 1983 English Schools 200m.

In 1987, after a close second to Thomas Schönlebe. of West Germany, in the European Cup, he had to miss the individual 400m at the World Championships, but won a silver medal in the relay. Originally his plan had been to be a doctor, but he abandoned his medical studies to concentrate on athletics; some irony then in the amount of treatment he needed during his time at the highest level because of foot problems.

 His victory at the Europeans in Stuttgart was a glorious foundation, but then he was forced to spend two years out of competition while he was recovering from injury. He was determined to retain his crown - if for nothing else to earn the sponsorship, promotional and race rewards that would come with gold again so he could pay back Eddie Kulukundis, one of the sport’s great benefactors, who had helped support him financially during the bad times.

He returned to earn a place on England’s 1990 Commonwealth Games team in Auckland, but he was denied the chance of a relay medal by officious disqualification. That was at the start of the year, but by the time of the European Championships in Split, he was on top of the podium, showing the depths of his recovery power to win both the 400m and 4 x 400m titles again.

Tokyo's World Championships of 1991 beckoned, and after winning silver in the 400m, he was the lead off runner in 44.7 in the famous defeat of the USA in 4 x 400m relay. It was exhilarating stuff, and difficult to believe that Black had been through so much mental pain just years before as he battled back from injury. As his close friend Kriss Akabusi led the team home, the celebrations by the finish line were of ecstatic proportions because they had, at last, beaten their great rivals from the USA. 

 

Silver Service

A serious foot injury and a virus illness further affected his career, but he came back again in 1994 to add another European relay gold after being thwarted by Du’aine Ladejo in his bid to win a third successive 400m title; his five European gold medals equals the men’s record of West Germany's Harald Schmid. He won the AAA 400m in 1994 and again in 1996, when he ran superbly for a time of 44.39 that regained the British record 10 years after his previous record of 44.59.

 That was some summer because the 400m gained huge publicity after Black's public spat with Ladejo before the trials and then during an extraordinary press conference after the pair had finished first and second in Birmingham. Ladejo said he would take the British record off of national champion Black, who promptly bet him £1000 he would not. Black won, because not only did he improve the time to 44.37 in Lausanne, his rightful place as British No 1 was confirmed during a momentous Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Worldwide, the 400m was the domain of Michael Johnson. The American was in a different class and Black accepted that. He knew he had two ways of running against him - either to ‘go for it’ in an attempt to try to beat him and probably end up out of the medals or to run his own race. He chose the latter, and as Johnson stormed away to win gold in 43.49, Black was second in 44.41, and on the podium it was difficult to tell who was the happiest such was the huge smile of the face of the Briton.

 Experience became essential again in the 4 x 400m relay when he was the elder statesman of a quartet made up of Mark Richardson, Jamie Baulch and Iwan Thomas. Black ran the anchor leg, and it worked, as Britian finished second behind the USA, in 2:56.60, a European and Commonwealth record. Afterwards, Baulch revealed how Black had called all the team together in his bedroom before the race and provided them with glorious words of inspiration. It was another sign of what Black would do next. 

 

Black Dropped

In 1997, after a viral illness, he ran just the relay at the World Championships in Athens, helping Britain to a silver medal, but there had been incredible controversy about his non-selection for the individual 400m. To such an extent that it was the main story on television sport’s bulletins and even discussion issues on Breakfast TV.

 There was much less criticism when Solomon Wariso was preferred for the 1998 Europeans. Wariso had beaten him, 44.68 to 44.71, for third place at the trials, but such a time showed that Black, with his superb competitive record in major events, would have been a strong challenger for a medal. Black announced his immediate retirement, not taking up his relay place. It was a sad way to bow out, but Black could look back on a superb career, a triumph against repeated illness and injury.

 He was awarded the MBE in 1992, he became the main presenter of athletics on BBC Television and now works across the world as a motivational speaker.

 

International Championships

1985: 1st 400m & 4x400m European Juniors

1986: 1st 400m & 4x400m Commonwealth Games; 1st 400m & 4x400m Europeans

1987: 2nd 4x400m Worlds

1990: 1st 400m & 4x400m Europeans, disq. ht 4x400m Commonwealth Games

1991: 2nd 400m & 1st 4x400m Worlds, Won Grand Prix 400m

1992: sf 400m & 3rd 4x400m Olympics

1994: 2nd 400m & 1st 4x400m Europeans, 1st 4x400m World Cup

1995: 7th 400m & 4th 4x400m Worlds

1996: 2nd 400m & 4x400m Olympics

1997: 2nd 4x400m Worlds

European Cup 400m: 1987- 2nd, 1991- 1st, 1994- 1st, 1997- 1st; 4x400m: 1987- 2nd, 1991- 1st, 1994- 1st, 1995- 1st, 1997- 1st.

National Championships

Won UK 200m 1987, 400m 1990, 1992; AAA 400m 1994, 1996. AAA Junior 400m 1985.

 

Records

UK junior 400m 1985. UK 400m records 1986 and twice 1996. Four European & Commonwealth 4x400m records 1987-96. European 300m best 1986.

 

Personal bests

100m 10.48 (1996), 10.4 (1987); 200m 20.56/20.5w (1996), 300m 32.08 (1986), 400m 44.37 (1996), 600m 1:16.2 (1991), 800m 1:52.1 (1990)

Indoors: 400m 46.82 (1986)