Ron Roddan: 1931-2023

England Athletics are sorry to hear the passing of Ron Roddan on 10 February 2023. The 91-year-old had dedicated himself to the sport for several decades both at club and elite level. In addition to guiding Christie to his major triumphs, he also coached Darren Campbell and Katharine Merry, and had input with athletes such as Frankie Fredericks, Bruny Surin, Joice Maduaka and Jamie Baulch.

Our thoughts are with his, friends, family, Thames Valley Harriers (his club for life) and the athletes he helped to develop. We reproduce his citation from 2016 when he was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.

As an athlete with Thames Valley Harriers, which he joined in 1947, Ron Roddan was a decent club sprinter who was a medallist at the Middlesex Championships and whose best result was a 50.2 quarter-mile. But as a sprints coach Ron Roddan became a legend. Since he began coaching in 1964 he has guided more than 30 athletes to international status, the most celebrated of course being Linford Christie.

Born in Crewe, Roddan was aged six when in 1937 his family moved to London. As a runner he started at the middle distances, dropping down to the sprints in his early twenties. His transition to training other sprinters was not planned. His own coach retired due to health problems and Roddan, then in his early thirties, was urged by his team-mates to take over. “Initially, I carried on with what my coach had taught us, but then I went on courses, met other coaches and began to put my own ideas to work.”

He was not a professional coach. He worked as an engineer for 15 years, with two years out for national service in the Army, and then was a Geological Society laboratory technician until he was made redundant in 1990. But he always found time to coach, initially at Alperton, then at West London (later Linford Christie) Stadium, and he derived as much satisfaction from helping the less talented to improve as with those who reached the top. “My athletes getting PBs or just running better than they thought they were capable of… those moments make me feel that it is all worthwhile.”

A quiet man, Roddan was always respected by those he advised – a father figure to them. “I’m not pushy. I’m the opposite to what most sprinters are. They’re brash, loud and extroverted. I don’t know what it is but I just seem to be approachable.” His first major successes were Mick Hauck, who developed into a 46.75 400m performer, and Dick Steane, who set a British 200m record of 20.66 at the Mexico City Olympics. Many more followed before that day in 1979 when a 19 year old by the name of Linford Christie approached Roddan. He had placed second in the English Schools 200m and his best times were 10.7 and 21.8. Christie had talent but in those early days lacked self-discipline. “He just wouldn’t come training and only did when he felt like it,” Roddan recalled.

Following the 1984 season, by which time Christie’s PBs were 10.44 and 21.38, Roddan gave him an ultimatum on the lines of “either work seriously or don’t waste my time.” That was the turning point. In 1985 he clocked a wind assisted 10.20 and early in 1986 he won his first international title, the 200m at the European Indoor Championships. Later that year he succeeded Allan Wells as UK record holder for 100m and the rest is history, a brilliant career climaxed by Olympic (1992) and World (1993) titles. The Roddan legacy lives on as, having learned so much from his mentor, Christie is himself a highly successful coach these days.