British Athletics named Christian Malcolm as new Olympic Program Head Coach. Stuart Weir wrote this piece about the new position, the second in a short time, by new CEO Jo Coates, and helps put the decision in perspective.
New head coach
Christian Malcolm has been appointed as the Olympic Program Head Coach. His appointment follows that of Sara Symington as Performance Director, a second significant appointment under new CEO Jo Coates’ leadership.
As an athlete, Malcolm won silver medals at the 2010 European Championships and the 2001 World Indoors and silver and bronze at the Commonwealth Games (1998 and 2010), all at 200m. He was also in the British 4 by 100m relay team which took bronze at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. He retired in 2014.
Malcolm had previously been British Athletics technical lead for sprint relays, a position he held from March 2015 to December 2019 and Head of Performance and Coaching at Athletics Australia since January 2019.
Christian Malcolm said: “Words can’t describe how excited I am to have the opportunity to take this role on and be part of a new start for British Athletics. As an athlete I knew I wanted to give back to the sport when I finished competing.
“In all my coaching and advisory roles so far, I have wanted to help athletes avoid the errors I made and support them and their coaches to get the best out of themselves. I’ve worked with some world class coaches throughout my career whilst competing, as part of the GB relay set up and whilst at Athletics Australia. They’ve all helped me to grow in various ways, but I know my first coach Jock Anderson would have been the most pleased to see me take this role and use all that he taught me about helping athletes prepare.”
“I’m very excited to be re-joining British Athletics at this time. Jo (Coates) and Sara (Symington) have a great outlook as to what the sport can achieve from playground to podium. There is a new energy and drive and I’m looking forward to helping athletes and coaches towards success in Tokyo, Paris and beyond.”
Joanna Coates, CEO at British Athletics, said: “I am really pleased to appoint Christian to this role. His credentials are numerous but most impressive was the energy and vision he had for the Head Coach role during the recruitment process. The panel was incredibly impressed by both his technical knowledge and approach to high performance – putting the athlete first, championing welfare and also a change in culture that will really enhance the World Class program. But Alongside Sara, Christian will bring a fresh new approach to the performance team as we head towards Tokyo and future Olympic cycles.”
We understand that three candidates were considered for the post, Malcolm, Stephen Maguire and Peter Eriksson. Eriksson had served as both Performance Director and head coach at British Athletics 2009-2013.
Maguire who currently combines being Director of Performance and Coaching at Scottish Athletics, with a role as Head of Sprints, Relays and Hurdles at British Athletics, was the clear favorite for the role. At the 2012 Olympics Britain’s women 4 by 100 did not qualify for the games while the men failed to progress from the heats. Maguire is credited with being the major influence who turned the sprint relay squads into serial winners.
The phrase “Christian will bring a fresh new approach to the performance team” in the Jo Coates comment seems significant, indicating her desire to draw a line under the past and appoint her own new people. Having two external new appointments strengthens Coates’ position.
At her recent press briefing, Coates said of the role of the Head Coach: “You won’t be surprised to hear me say that [the person for this role] has to come from an athletics background. You’re not going to take someone from a different sport; they will have an athletics background. There are things which mirror [the PD] there: absolutely culture and behavior, the whole piece around ethical success.
“The Head Coach absolutely has to understand that and fit into the organization that I want to run, moving forward. It’s key those two roles gel. That’s why we’ve run the two processes at the same time to allow at the Performance Director to be part of the final Head Coach interview so that you get that pairing absolutely spot on. I know from my previous experience how important the Head Coach role is. Head coach is not there to do the Performance Director job. It’s not about building performance systems. The Head Coach is there to manage a group of coaches, to work with coach education to see what a British way might look like when it comes to athletics coaching. They are two very different roles. They need to work together but they are very different roles. The Head Coach will not be coaching – that is something people need to understand. It is not a one on one coaching job”.
Christian Malcolm, significantly the youngest and least experienced of the three, has certainly a lot to offer. Whether he will implement a better coaching structure and achieve a higher medal count, than Maguire would’ve done – time will tell. But I do wonder if British Athletics will live to regret losing Stephen Maguire and all that he has brought to the organization over the past six years.