It is with shock and great sadness that I have just learned of the passing away of my old friend, fellow coach and BMC committee member, George Gandy.
During the last 30 years or so it has been a great pleasure and privilege to have spent time with George at Coaching Conferences, Coaching Weekends, Olympic Games, World/Commonwealth/European Championships and many other athletics gatherings. More recently this has involved post event discussions, usually in the bar, after BMC GP Meets.
George has been a continuous member of the BMC since 1965. During this time he has given unstinting, loyal service and fulfilled many BMC executive roles. These have included Regional Secretary and more recently as Meet Organiser of the highly successful Loughborough BMC GP. In the early days of the BMC GP’s, the Wythenshawe Meet was often staged within a few days of George’s cherished Loughborough International Meet. This caused an inevitable clash of the endurance events and George and I would have to debate and negotiate the allocation of events for each Meet. Some of the earlier discussions, in the late 1980’s, could be quite involved but we always reached agreement and from that time our friendship developed.
It was during our time as fellow UKA National Event Coaches in the 1990’s that I really got to know and further appreciate George and his many qualities.
In coaching matters, George could be quite studious and analytical. The selection of training and preparation for his athletes at major competitions left nothing to chance. I remember a coach at one major Games wishing an athlete ‘good luck’ prior to their competition. George remarked that he never used such expressions because ‘luck does not play a part in a winners mentality or preparation. It is all about good organisation!’
The coaching achievements of George are well known along with the lengthy list of athletes whose careers he guided from novice to international level. Seb Coe, Jack Buckner, Lisa Dobriskey and Chris McGeorge are some of his athletes who have won medals at major Games. Jon Brown also achieved two 4th places in Olympic Games marathons. George was also awarded several national coaching honours including twice winning the BMC Coach of the Year Award in 1995 and 2008. Although we all recognise the achievements of his athletes in every endurance track and road event from 800m – marathon, George was particularly proud of coaching Steve Scutt to a pb of 45.97 in 1979 in a non endurance event, ie 400m. The fact that George and his athlete achieved such a high standard performance in a sprint event made George, the endurance coach, a rarity in our Sport. It made him different.
Although modest about his own coaching record, George was supremely proud and more vocal concerning the achievements of all past and present Loughborough University students in the endurance events. He can rightly be given a large amount of credit for these performances through his role as Director of Athletics at Loughborough University and his involvement with their endurance athletes since 1971 when he first moved to Loughborough. During the last few weeks, George had completed the assembly of an All Time Best Performance List of past and present students of the University in the 800m – 5k events. It makes impressive reading. He enjoyed nothing better than rejoicing and enthusing about this and recent notable athletics performances of Loughborough students. We can see why he became known as Mr Loughborough, although this may have to be modified to Dr Loughborough after the University recently awarded him an honorary Doctorate. His legacy is certain to live on for many years to come.
As a young coach in the early 1980’s I was very aware of George and his coaching achievements, particularly of his work with Seb Coe. George’s strength endurance circuit training sessions and the heavy weight training that he developed for Seb are now practiced worldwide. In recent years I mentioned to George that during the 1980’s he was up there on a pedestal in the view of most coaches. This brought a wry grin and laughter from him as he responded ‘pedestals are not for me, they are far too precarious and too easy to fall off!!’
George and I recently discussed the subject of the longevity of coaches and their careers. ‘I plan to be around for a long time,’ he remarked, ‘don’t write me off just yet.’
His poignant words further highlight the great loss we all feel at George, with so much still to offer, being taken from us.
George did not publish much on coaching matters. He was more comfortable offering his wisdom and knowledge in the form of lectures and presentations. He worked for organisations, such as the IAAF, on many occasions lecturing to audiences of coaches throughout the World. At major Games it was no surprise to witness George on first name terms with numerous Heads of overseas National Federations and their National Coaches.
This brings me to one of the most exceptional qualities of George. This is not George, the supremely high coaching achiever, but George the person.
George was a unique, charismatic personality.
To all who met him, he was outgoing, friendly and optimistic and made people feel at ease in his presence. I am sure that his exceptional inter-personal skills, and infectious sense of humour, aided his success as a coach. It also made him a very popular team member in the many international teams for which he was selected. With so much time to kill on international trips, George, the raconteur, was skilled at relieving the boredom for team members with his endless array of highly entertaining athletics anecdotes. He had the energy and enthusiasm for life of a much younger man. In all of the years I knew him, this was a constant and never wavered.
The many facets of George, the person and the coach were a genuine one-off and made him the ultimate coaching legend.
He will be greatly missed.
President of the BMC