Roger Black on what Hampshire means to him, his sporting career and life after athletics

Hampshire's own Roger Black

Hampshire's own Roger Black - Credit: Archant

A successful athlete can be inspired by a hero of their chosen sport, pride in competing for their country, or the support of family. Roger Black is inspired by all of the above, plus his home county of Hampshire, as Bernard Bale discovered

Roger Black MBE has a vast selection of medals and trophies, the rewards of a glittering career on the athletics track. But success was achieved in the face of adversity which included serious injuries and health problems, including a career-threatening bout of glandular fever and the diagnosis of a leaky heart valve as a child. He is now passing on the determination and positive outlook he showed to recover from illness and injury to others, travelling the country as a motivational speaker with fellow Olympic athlete, javelin thrower Steve Backley. He cites his Hampshire upbringing as a factor in his success. Roger’s sporting prowess was first noticed at Alverstoke Church of England Primary, Gosport, and later at Portsmouth Grammar School, where he excelled at football as a lightning-quick forward. His athletics potential was spotted and nurtured in Hampshire, at Southampton Athletics Club.

Roger’s sporting career took him all over the world and for 14 years he was a Great Britain athlete, mostly in 400-metres. He won 15 major medals and perhaps his greatest and favourite was bringing home two silver medals from the Atlanta 1996 Olympics in the 400 metre individual event and relay.

Now 51, he is married to Julia Burgess and they have twin sons, George and Max. He also has a daughter, Isabelle, from his first marriage to French sprinter Elsa de Vassoigne.

What does Hampshire mean to you?

“Being born in and growing up in Hampshire made a huge difference to my life. I was born in Gosport along with my twin sister, Julia. My parents, David and Thelma, must have had a shock to find themselves suddenly having two children to care for, but since my father was a doctor, he was probably used to surprises. My childhood was very happy, all the more so because we lived near the sea.

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“When I went to Portsmouth Grammar School, I used to catch the ferry from Gosport every day and that meant that I saw HMS Victory as our boat went past. The sense of history and achievement was part of everyday life for me and that is something you can never take for granted when you are also growing up in the environment of the Royal Navy.

“Portsmouth is like an autobiography of the Royal Navy going back to Henry VIII, all the more so now that the Mary Rose is on show. It gave me a great sense of history and tradition but also it made you think of Nelson and the men and women through the years who have served their country. I remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in the summer of 1977. Part of the celebrations included the Royal Navy fleet taking to the Solent. It looked fantastic, something never to be forgotten. If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.

“I loved the sea and everything to do with it and Hampshire is an amazing county because it has beautiful countryside, great towns and villages and the most wonderful coastline which is not just breathtaking, but has a history which cannot fail to be inspirational.”

How did your sporting career start?

“I loved football and still do, so I had a pretty happy school time, I was keen to learn and to do sports. There was a bit of a problem though as it was discovered (aged 11) I had been born with a leaky heart valve, but as long as I had regular check-ups that didn’t stop me enjoying sport. I still have check-ups and so far everything seems to be still going well.

“We used to go sailing but I rarely went swimming in the sea, because I saw the film Jaws when I was young and it put me off. I was all right in a swimming pool though! One of my regrets is that I was born in March, 1966 and was too young to see England win the World Cup. I will probably upset a few people when I say that I am a big Southampton fan.

“I never thought about a sporting career. I was going to study medicine and sport was for recreation. I found myself getting into athletics and it started becoming the most important thing in my life. My father was pleased I was going to study medicine. He was a doctor and any father likes the idea of their son or daughter following in their footsteps. Neither of my parents put pressure on me though and when athletics won they were very supportive.

Tell us about life after athletics

“As well as motivational speaking and corporate guesting and hosting, I work in the media. In addition there is a range of Roger Black Fitness equipment and products. The psychology for success is the same, whether it is on an athletics track or turning up for work on a Monday. You have to have the right mindset and preparation and Steve (Backley) and I try to help people by relating their approach to work to our approach to athletics and everything else that we do in life. Hopefully it is motivational and inspiring. After all, not everyone comes from Hampshire!

“Julia’s a theatre director and she goes for a jog most days. I often go with her so I am not totally finished with running. I try to keep fit. Having two young sons helps. Health and fitness is not something we should take for granted. I like my Big Macs the same as anyone, but I learned a long time ago that you should not punish yourself to be fit but reward yourself for your efforts in physical and mind training. Those are the keys for a good lifestyle. Living in Hampshire also helps!”

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