Roger Black

Here at Hoops we’re all about helping you to get into sport and fitness. But as much as we’re working to take the effort out of organising your sports life, you need the inspiration to get out of the house and into a changing room. So we’ve gone out and spoken to high-profile figures from the world of sport and fitness, to find out what motivates them. 

This week, we meet Roger Black, 400m silver medalist at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, plus a member of the gold-winning relay teams at World Championships in 1991 and 1997.

 

On 29 July 1996, Michael Johnson set a new Olympic record of 43.49 seconds to win gold in the 400m in Atlanta, two days before he would smash the 200m world record in the final of that event to claim an unprecedented double.

The self-proclaimed “fastest man in the world” had written himself into the history books – a feat he would repeat four years later in Sydney, when he became the first man to defend a 400m Olympic title.

On that night in July, Johnson was in a league of his own, almost a second ahead of the rest of the field.

But the man leading the race for silver was chasing history himself. Roger Black was aiming to become the first British man to win a 400m Olympic medal since Godfrey Brown came second in Berlin, 1936.

And while Johnson may have been in “a league of his own” on the day, in proving himself the best of the rest, Black secured a peak to a career that for a long time hadn’t seemed like an option to him.

“My story’s not your normal story really,” he told Hoops.

“Most people assume when they watch someone at the Olympics that they’ve been coached from a very young age and that was their life. That wasn’t the case for me.

“I’ve always loved sport, as a kid at school I was always playing sport, but I was more interested in football, rugby and cricket. I was very fast, the fastest kid in the school, the fastest kid in the county.

“But I never saw sport as a career, I was just a kid who enjoyed playing. And I never joined an athletics club, running was never a passion – I happened to be fast and I didn’t really know how good I was.”

 

“It was a great life – I loved it”

Black insists that it would be impossible to stumble into a career in most sports, but that “natural talent” is a large part of the battle in running events.

Even so, few Olympians could have found such a haphazard route into the world of competitive eventing as the Hampshire-born 50-year-old.

“In those days you didn’t go to a grammar just to play sport, you went to get an education,” he told us.

“I was going to be a doctor, but I messed up my A Levels! I had to retake my maths A Level because I got rejected from university.

“So because I suddenly had this year off I went to join Southampton athletics club, training alongside guys like Kriss Akabusi and three months later I got to an international event, and that was it.”

Black may not have known how good he was before he joined that club, but it became obvious pretty soon after.

“It was a privilege and something that I was very lucky to have a chance at”

He was crowned British and European Junior champion and British junior record holder within a year, Commonwealth and European champion a year later.

In the years that followed he would add to his tally, with silver at the 1991 World Championships, and Olympic and World success as part of a stellar 4x400m relay squad that were world champions in 1991 and 1997.

“I was very lucky, the fact that I trained with people like Kriss Akabusi and Daley Thompson, it was great fun, it was a great life and I really loved it,” he said.

“What I thought was an individual sport really isn’t, it’s really sociable, a team effort for us to be the best we could be.

“I was hanging around with two of the greatest characters in the sport’s history in Kriss and Daley, and it was brilliant. It was such a privilege.

“I have no sympathy whatsoever for anybody who uses the word sacrifice – anybody who has a career in sport is very, very lucky, just look at how many people would love that job.

“It was a privilege and something that I knew I was very lucky to have a chance at having a go at.”

 

“The struggle will carry on forever”

What makes Black’s story all the more remarkable is the fact that his career could have been stopped before it had even been hinted at.

A heart problem – a leaking aortic valve – was diagnosed when he was 11, and 39 years later he still requires annual check-ups on the condition’s progress.

However, Black refused to allow the condition to hinder his enjoyment as a child. And he is concerned that the current generations are missing that same initiative to get out and get active.

“I think one of the problems with the way we sell sport is that we always take about the physical health benefits, but the psychological benefits outweigh them,” he said.

“There are two reasons why we need to get children into sport. The first and most obvious one is because of the physical benefits. But I think that the social, psychological benefits are more important.

“Children learn so much about teamwork, cooperation, winning and losing just by taking part in sport. These are great life skills.

“Kids’ attention spans are so short now because everything is just instant. When I was 11 you couldn’t get me inside. My kids now – why would they go outside? Everything they need to stimulate them is inside.

“The difference between my kids’ life and the life I led as a child is huge. It’s really hard as a parent to get our kids outside, and incredibly frustrating.

“I think it’s a struggle that will carry on forever now.”

 

“Events like GoFest are so important”

We may be set for a long struggle to persuade our children that football involves playing on grass, not FIFA, but what is the solution?

Aside from using Hoops, of course…

“We all know that there’s a problem. But we live in a country where we’re free – we have the facilities, if you want to play sport, you can do,” said Black.

“So this does start with the parents. If you want your kid to do sport you can do it.

“It may cost a bit of money to join a club, but on the whole there are no barriers to sport in this country. Just look at running – it’s completely free.

“What more do we need to do? It’s more of an attitude thing. Parents are too busy and kids are too occupied with other stuff.

“And that’s why events like GoFest are so important.”

GoFest is a festival that introduces families to sport (which you can read about here) that Hoops will be partnering with this summer.

Black has been involved since its first outing in Guildford in 2015, as he knows founder Paul Farris due to their sons attending the same school –”I’m the local Olympian,” he joked.

“It gives kids who aren’t obsessed with sport the opportunity to just mess around, try things out and find something they like,” he said.

“I like that, I think it’s really good. I admire what the festival is trying to achieve.

“The variety is great, kids can just try anything they want or whatever takes their eye. My kids have been for the last two years, and they’ll be there this year as well.”

 

What’s next?

Hoops is now available in app stores, so you can use us to find opportunities for any sport or fitness activity you can think of. Simply click here to download the app for Android, and here for iOS – or search for Hoops Connect.

Just because Hoops is out, it doesn’t mean that our work ends. In fact, it’s only just beginning. So, if you want to keep up with how we’re driving the app forwards, click here to subscribe to our emails, and follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, PinterestLinkedInMedium and even on Spotify. We’re everywhere, and hopefully we’ll be on your phone soon too!

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