Former head physiotherapist promoted into newly-created role is tasked with appointing replacement for Charles van Commenee
Less than a week after head coach Charles van Commenee publicly announced that he would not be renewing his contract with UK Athletics, the national governing body has appointed former head physiotherapist Neil Black into the newly-created role of performance director.
Black, a former middle-distance runner, has been a key figure in the sport for 20 years. Initially as a physiotherapist and, since 2009, as the man in charge of performance support services, science and medicine at UKA.
The lead up to 2012 has seen him coordinate all support elements for British athletes, and he personally managed the support programmes for Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.
Dave Collins was the last person to hold the title of performance director, and although Van Commenee took over Collins’ role in 2008, the Dutchman was given the title head coach.
Having already worked closely alongside Van Commenee and Paralympic head coach Peter Eriksson as part of UKA’s Olympic and Paralympic task force, Black will assume his new duties with immediate effect.
One of his first tasks will be to appoint Van Commenee’s replacement, with many expecting Kevin Tyler to be given the role.
“It’s an honour to be given the chance to lead the Olympic and Paralympic task force and be asked to lead colleagues with whom I have worked hand in glove for the last four years,” said Black.
“The performance team has worked hard to change the structures and cultures of our sport and I very much look forward to working in partnership with colleagues to build on the success of the last four years as we continue on our journey to 2017.”
Outgoing Olympic head coach Van Commenee is in no doubt that Black is the right man to lead the sport through the 2017 London World Championships and beyond.
“If I were ever CEO of a national athletics federation or even Olympic association, Neil Black is the first guy I would call and try to hire,” said Van Commenee. “I am one hundred per cent happy that he is the right man, within the right structures, to push on with the next phase of the ten year plan we devised together back in 2008.”
Known to many within the sport as ‘The Wolf’, several athletes on twitter expressed their joy as Black’s appointment within minutes of the news breaking.
“Very happy to hear Neil Black has been appointed new performance director of UK Athletics,” said marathon runner Alyson Dixon. “Great man, respected by many. Good times ahead!”
“So happy that Neil Black has been made the new UKA performance director,” tweeted 400m runner Andrew Steele. “He is a great, great man.”
“Really really happy for The Wolf!!” added Steele’s fellow 400m runner, Martyn Rooney.
“Never saw that coming but congratulations to a lovely guy and awesome physio Neil Black,” said steeplechaser Hatti Dean. “Although I’m sure lots of legs will miss him!”
800m runner Emma Jackson added: “Really pleased for Neil Black, he will be a great performance director of UK Athletics. He is well liked by all and a great guy.”
But former heptathlete Kelly Sotherton warned that Black has a tough side too. “Neil Black is tougher than a conker soaked in vinegar!” she said. “I think he’ll shock some athletes who think otherwise!”
“Neil Black assuming the role of performance director is the culmination of succession planning we began when Charles first signed up as Olympic head coach on a four-year deal in Beijing,” said UKA chief executive Niels de Vos. “Moving him from head physiotherapist into a general leadership role four years ago was done very much with this outcome in mind.
“He has been the ‘glue’ in the Olympic task force system I created, ensuring the right people, places and performance culture was in place to support the head coaches of the Olympic and Paralympic teams.”