This is part 1 in a 3 piece on Christian Malcom, by Stuart Weir.
Meet the new head coach of British Athletics, Christian Malcolm
We have featured Jo Coates, new CEO of British Athletics a few times as she reshapes the structure and personnel of the governing body. See for example
Little by little Coates, former CEO of English Netball (a game like basketball played exclusively by girls and mainly in the former British Commonwealth countries), has been assembling her team.
Under Coates four of the five senior posts have been filled by new appointments:
Mark Draisey as Chief Finance Officer – previous at the Solicitors’ [lawyers’] Regulatory Authority
Mark Munro as Development Director (joining end of January/early Feb) from Scottish Athletics.
Sara Symington as Performance Director previously Performance Director at English Netball and Archery
Ryan Murphy as Commercial Director, who has been at UKA 12 years and was previously General Manager, Commercial
Competitions and Event Director – vacant
Under the Performance Director, Paula Dunn remains Head Coach for the Paralympic programme and Christian Malcolm has been appointed Head Coach of the Olympic programmes. In the Olympic programme there is no one in post as Head of Sprints or Endurance. We understand there may be “some extra restructuring at some point” in the performance department.
Having lamented, at her early press briefings, the lack of black and female staff in senior positions in sport in the UK, that her first two appointments were a woman as Performamce Director (Sara Symington) and a black head coach (Christian Malcolm) may not have been a big surprise.
Some concern has been expressed by observers that neither the CEO nor the Performance Director have a track and field background nor a deep understanding of how our sport operates. Christian Malcolm does have that background but is relatively inexperienced and have never been a personal coach to an athlete.
As an athlete Malcolm, 41, was 5th in the 200m in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics. He won the World Juniors 100m and 200m in 1998 as well as individual medals in the World Indoors, European Championships and Commonwealth Games plus various relay medals. He was part of the GB sprint relay coaching staff before spending 18 months as Head of High Performance and Coaching at Athletics Australia.
A consequence of Malcolm’s appointment was the departure of Stephen Maguire, who had been head of sprints, relays and hurdles on a full-time and part-time basis at British Athletics since 2014 and who is generally credited with masterminding GB’s relay successes in recent years. Equally surprising to some observers is that there was no place in the new team for Cherry Alexander.
I have had the opportunity of a one-to-one interview with Christian (December 2020) as well as participating in a media briefing with him. Rather than giving you my opinions, I am letting his words speak.
1. What was your greatest achievement of an athlete?
I get asked that question a lot. And honestly I don’t know. I think a lot of my senior achievements are on a par – European gold, Commonwealth silver, World Championship bronze in the relay. Coming fifth at the Olympics twice. Winning the double at World Juniors was special. A special moment for me was getting silver at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 because I never thought I would be able to win a medal as a young kid. Because I won the World Juniors, I had won a competition, an all-expenses-paid trip so my mum and my then girlfriend – now my wife -were able to go. And on my lap of honour I got to give my mum a big hug, which was special because my mum has encouraged me so much since I was a young kid. She used to walk with me to training and it would take an hour. So for her to be there when I won my first silver medal, made it my greatest achievement.
2. British Athletics has had an unsettled period in recent years, will that make your job difficult?
I take on the challenge with optimism. I know it’s a big job, being head coach of British Athletics. It’s going to take a bit of time rebuilding. But I think we got the talent in the athletes. In the short term I think it’s just making sure we’re focused for Tokyo. Particularly in these challenging circumstances.
3. There has been a disconnect between some athletes and British Athletics – will it take a long time getting everyone back on side?
I definitely recognize that. As you know I’ve been an athlete through the system since I was 17, 18 years old. I fully recognize that we’ve had some good times in the past and some bad times. I do recognize there’s been a bit of a disconnect and I’m trying to bridge the gap. It is for us to be focused on the athletes for now.
4. Eight months to Tokyo and you have to find an endurance coach, sprints coach/relays coach – not ideal?
That’s something I’ve been looking at and will be looking at over the next month. With regard to relays we still have people in place who worked with that over the last 4/5 years who can maintain it. But I do recognize there’s a gap there and something I am trying to fill soon.
5. How much will the lack of coaches impact on Team GB in Tokyo?
I do think it’s unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation now but the team that is in place have tried to do their best to fill the gaps and have connections with our key athletes. We have been focused on our key athletes, making sure they have everything you need in place. All we can do is add to that.
6. Some people think you are very young and this job has come early in your coaching journey, how do you respond?
A former British head coach or performance director gave me some advice about going for the role. Is it too soon? Perhaps a year or two too soon but you could go for the job in four years and you could be waiting 7/8 years for the job. You’ve got the right character and the right personality and with the right people around you to support you, you’ll come through this. I put myself in a position of working with the assistant, going to Australia and now coming back I got the opportunity to make those changes and really drive the sport forward.
7. How significant is the appointment of a black head coach ?
I don’t see myself as a trailblazer and I feel I got selected because I was the best man for the job. I think I’ve been picked for my abilities and what I can do and not for the colour of my skin. That’s what you want for minorities to have an opportunity to go out there and do a good job, especially if you’ve got the skill set to do it. I don’t look at it as me being the first black head coach but I’ve been given the opportunity as a young coach to drive the sport forward.
8. Christian you are a nice man with obvious charm and kindness – do you have the steel to go with it?
You can’t be a sprinter and not have a bit of a steel behind you, Don’t be fooled by the smile!
I am going to have to say ‘no’ to some people and they won’t like it, but it’s about the way you communicate it. It’s not just a ‘no’ and that’s it. It has got to be a reason for why you’re saying no. I would have no problems with saying that.
Some people might say I’m a nice guy but they don’t realise that I’ve turned up to say ‘no’ about something but I’ve just explained it in the right way. And that’s how I would go about things. I am certainly aware that I will have to make decisions that will be very challenging and that some people won’t like. It’s the nature of the job and it’s what I’ve signed up to. But I have no issue with that and it’s just about communicating it in the right way.
9. Who are your mentors? Who are you most like as a coach?
I’ve tried to take a little bit from all my coaches from Dan Pfaff, from Linford Christie. Jock Anderson was my first coach and I learned so much from him. Rana Reider, I was fortunate to train under and Stuart McMillan at Altis as well. Charles [van Commenee] is someone who’s been very supportive as well. Charles has always been at the end of a phone. Also Malcolm Arnold to whom I’ve spoken recently. And Paula Dunn. I am quite fortunate that I have quite a few people I can call on.
In part 2 Christian talks about the role of head coach and what he hopes to achieve.