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David Moorcroft on why Ann Packer, Sir Christopher Chataway and volunteers are his sporting heroes

David Moorcroft is a former 5000m world record holder and Commonwealth gold medallist. He was chief executive of UK Athletics from 1997 to 2007 and is now Director of Sport at Join In, a charity helping grassroots sports clubs find volunteers. Here, he remembers his sporting heroes, including Ann Packer, Sir Christopher Chataway and his volunteer coaches.

My Sporting Heroes

'David Coleman was commentating and went slightly ballistic'

“I loved sport as a kid. My first really strong athletics memory was from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo when I was 11. I’d just joined my local athletics club Coventry Godiva Harriers and I watched Ann Packer win the 800m in Tokyo. She came from right towards the rear to win and that had a massive effect on me.

“I didn’t know much about the Olympics but David Coleman was commentating and went slightly ballistic. Ann Packer was well-known as a 400m runner but she got silver in the 400m and was relatively new to 800m. She was a young, attractive athlete, so there was an element of boyhood admiration but mainly it was ‘My God, that looks fantastic. I’d love to do that.’

“Not every family had a television but we did. It was all black and white and it was the first Olympics delivered by a satellite. I watched it as much as I could – I was allowed to stay up very late or we got up very early. British athletics was very successful. Lynn Davies won the men’s long jump and Mary Rand won the women’s long jump but it was Ann Packer who captured my imagination."

British athletes were denied medals by Eastern Block drug abuse

“Most of the sports I grew up on – rugby and football – were male dominated and one of my first heroes was George Curtis, the captain of Coventry City back then. But athletics has always been inclusive and I was always equally impressed by an athlete’s performance regardless of their gender. I’m kind of glad that my first and most powerful memory in athletics is of a female athlete.

“A host of British female athletes – Kathy CookSheila Carey and others – were deprived of Olympic medals in the worst days of Eastern Bloc state-organised [drug] abuse.

“[Sir] Chris Chataway was also one of the most inspirational people for me. He broke the 5,000m world record in October 1954 at White City in a London versus Moscow contest. I’ve seen many races on YouTube and television and that’s the one moment in sport – above all others – I wish I’d been at. But I was only one!

“It was a classic event and he beat a guy called Vladimir Kuts, who was the European Champion. If you watch it on YouTube, there’s a floodlight that comes on just the two of them and I can only imagine what the atmosphere must have been like."

'Chris Chataway had a hugely powerful life and was incredibly humble...'

“It was the same year as Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, for which Chataway was one of the pacemakers. Ironically that was the first year of BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the award went to Chris Chataway, not Roger Bannister.

“When I was nine or ten Chris was a junior minister and visited our primary school to talk about life as an MP. But I was fascinated when he talked a bit about running and breaking the record.

“In later years I got to know him very, very well. He was not only a great runner but had a broad influence in many different areas – journalism, politics, aviation, fighting apartheid, raising awareness and money to improve water sanitation in Africa.

“He had a hugely powerful life and was incredibly humble. He touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and he touched mine, initially, through his running."

When sport was a pastime - and even elite athletes didn't train that hard

“I never saw him run live – Bannister and Chataway both retired in their early 20s. Sport was something you did as a pastime and the most important thing was a career, particularly for people who had been so successful academically.

“They didn’t even train that hard really and it was inevitable that they had to earn a living. I was part of the generation that started off as amateurs but by the end of our careers, it was professional. That has meant people can compete for longer at a higher level.

“I was able to continue into my 30s, as did Steve OvettSebastian Coe and Steve Cram and now you’ve got the likes of Jo Pavey running at 41.

“But sport wouldn’t exist in this country and my career wouldn’t have happened without volunteers. My first club coach Mick Crossfield and then John Anderson, my coach for the rest of my career, both did it as volunteers, were never paid by me and were brilliant.

“Volunteers are the backbone of sport and many of my most powerful memories and strongest heroes are volunteers who helped me at critical times in my life.”

Coming soon: David Moorcroft remembers his finest moment – breaking the 5,000m world record in Oslo in 1982.

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