The news of Neil Black’s death was the first text that I read when I woke up this morning. I could not believe it. Neil Black, the former Performance Director of UK Athletics, had died suddenly over the past weekend, per a release by UK Athletics.
I had a casual acquaintance with Neil, seeing him mostly at British events and global championships. He was always smiling and involved with athletes. It was quite obvious that the athletes loved him. His chatter with me was jovial and relaxed, indicative of a man who loved his profession.
The following is a thoughtful piece on Neil Black, by Stuart Weir.
The news of the death of Neil Black, former Performance Director of UK Athletics, was announced today. A UKA statement said:
“British Athletics is shocked and saddened to confirm the loss of our friend and former colleague Neil Black who passed away suddenly at the weekend.
“Neil loved the sport of athletics and dedicated his life to supporting athletes – as a world class physiotherapist, as head of sport science, and then in recent years as Performance Director for British Athletics.
Since leaving the role of UKA Performance Director in October 2019, he had been continuing to support a number of athletes and coaches as an advisor.
“Neil will be hugely missed by those that knew and worked with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time”.
Further Comment from Neil Black’s family:
“We would like to thank people for the wonderful and heartfelt messages we have received. So many people have been in touch, it is clear to us how loved Neil was and this is bringing us some comfort at this time.”
People in the sport were quick to pay their tributes:
Laviai Nielsen: “Incredibly sad news. Neil, always had a smile on his face and never failed to make a room erupt into laughter”.
Incredibly sad news. Neil, always had a smile on his face and never failed to make a room erupt into laughter.
RIP Neil ðŸ’” https://t.co/6Au11qGln1
— laviai nielsen (@Laviai) April 21, 2020
Jo Butterfield: “What a shock to wake up to this news this morning. Thoughts are with his loved ones right now. One of the most genuine caring men….. always made time for everyone”.
What a shock to wake up to this news this morning. Thoughts are with his loved ones right now. One of the most genuine caring men….. always made time for everyone. ðŸ’– https://t.co/iwAdJXWUyP
— Jo Butterfield MBE (@Jo_shuni) April 21, 2020
Hannah England: “Devastated to hear about Neil Black passing away on Sunday. One of the most passionate, dedicated and hard-working guys around, and I’m so glad to have known him”.
Devastated to hear about Neil Black passing away on Sunday.
One of the most passionate, dedicated and hard working guys around, and I’m so glad to have known him.
— Hannah England (@hannengland) April 21, 2020
Holly Bradshaw: “An incredible person who did so much for myself and athletics”.
Just heard about the passing of Neil Black. Helped so many athletes in his career. Massive shock & cant believe it. RIP pic.twitter.com/RyJ2T0GIl1
— TOM BEDFORD (@Tom_Bedford) April 21, 2020
There is a reason why Neil Black is trending now … he wasn’t a celebrity, he wasn’t known by millions .. but he was respected and liked by so many …. the outpouring of shock and sadness of his passing sums up how much he was thought of. I will miss you Neil .. #RIPNeil pic.twitter.com/0wmUyhOpz8
— Katharine Merry (@KatharineMerry) April 21, 2020
Everyone at the British Olympic Association is shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the loss of Neil Black.
Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this extremely difficult time. https://t.co/XRaKdgQCye
— Team GB (@TeamGB) April 21, 2020
Neil Black was a compassionate, funny and hard working man that was influential in so many athletic careers including mine. May he rest in peace ðŸ’” pic.twitter.com/yUZczKTFMU
— GRICEGRIND (@CharlieGrice1) April 21, 2020
I am shocked and devastated and can’t stop crying. It doesn’t feel real. I spoke to Neil just two weeks ago and now he’s gone. Life is too fragile. Neil was like a second father to me. He shaped a lot of my athletics career and will always hold a special place in my heart ðŸ’™ https://t.co/7RjaJh4nJa
— Adam Gemili (@Adam_Gemili) April 21, 2020
. I have lost a good friend…! Known him since I was 14 years old… Neil supported me all the way in my career since I was kid..!! My heart is broken.. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Neil Black.. no one knew me like he did..!! We lost a great manðŸ’” pic.twitter.com/hhNhpmZm9h
— Sir Mo Farah (@Mo_Farah) April 21, 2020
Black was effectively dismissed from his post last year in the wake of the Salazar affair. Black had defended Mo Farah’s involvement with Salazar – an error of judgment but not, in my view, a firing issue. See https://www.runblogrun.com/2019/10/2019-doha-diary-some-thoughts-on-neil-black.html
As someone who writes for a “mere” blog as opposed to a national newspaper, I was often marginalised by the “important” British athletics writers but never by Neil. He was always friendly. He once commented to me that wherever the event was in the world, I had the uncanny knack of the being the first person he saw on arrival.
My last long conversations with him were at Bydgoszcz in Poland at the European Team Championships. I was struck by the enthusiasm and positivity in his assessments. https://www.runblogrun.com/2019/08/2019-bydgoszcz-diary-the-european-team-championships-gbr-takes-fifth-place.html
British Athletics is the poorer today.
Neil Black with Stephen Maguire, Bydgoszcz 2019, photo by Stuart Weir