The Olympic and world medallist spoke with AW about what has kept him busy since hanging up his spikes
Roger Black’s Olympic 400m silver in 1996, plus world individual silver and 4x400m gold from the 1991 World Championships, have given him a platform to enjoy a varied life since retirement.
Today he thoroughly enjoys juggling the management of BackleyBlack – a motivational speaking and leadership development business he co-built with twice Olympic and twice world javelin silver medallist Steve Backley – alongside spending time with his wife and children.
“I do not miss the athletics, but I do miss the people,” explains Black, who also claimed two 400m and three 4x400m titles at the European Championships, together with Commonwealth 400m and 4x400m gold, plus Olympic relay silver and bronze and a belated 4x400m gold from the 1997 World Championships after the United States was disqualified.
However, before getting too sentimental, he adds, “The key people are all still in my life. When the 4x400m team meets up it is just like the old days, I speak to Steve Backley every day about our business, I see a lot of Kriss Akabusi, Jon Ridgeon and their families, Daley Thompson and Fuzz Ahmed – Fuzz being the one who should be credited for me even being in the sport!”
Prior to BackleyBlack, Black had worked for BBC Sport from when he retired until the Worlds in 2003. Disappointed when that came to an end, Black was popular with the viewers in the second series of Strictly Come Dancing, ultimately winding up fifth after a particularly strong performance dancing the Foxtrot.
Showing his diverse range of talents, he later reached the final of Celebrity Masterchef and also created Roger Black Fitness, where he sells fitness equipment through Argos.
Reflecting the loyalty that often goes hand in hand with being part of a relay squad, Black, who turned 50 earlier this year on March 31, is quick to emphasise how he values his 4x400m medals just as highly as his individual silverware.
Speaking of his best moments in the sport, he says: “I have two. Winning Olympic silver in 1996 is my greatest achievement. Sharing a piece of history with Michael Johnson has connected us for life. However, winning the 4x400m relay at the 1991 Worlds in the manner we did is equally special and arguably far bigger than anything we did individually. I feel very lucky that I was able to experience a special moment individually and as a team.”
That team ethos is still going strong too, as the 1991 British quartet recently marked 25 years since their moment of making history with a celebration at the Dorchester Hotel. “We relive it everywhere we go. The bond between the four of us is closer now than it was as athletes, simply because we are so intrinsically linked due to sharing that piece of history,” reveals Black, referring to his Tokyo 4x400m relay-winning team-mates Derek Redmond, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi.
However, it is clear that the quartet are also really good friends and enjoy spending time together to not only reminisce on their glory days but also to relive some of the banter they enjoyed together as young men.
Black reveals with a laugh: “When we get together, we rip each other to pieces as much as ever. I think in 30 years’ time, if we are all still alive, we will be four old men with pipes and slippers, all thinking we ran a bit faster than we did! We have always had a lot of fun together, and I think that is down to us being not only four established athletes, but all strong characters too.”
Not surprisingly, Black feels these experiences have shaped not only the opportunities he has had since retiring from athletics, but also his outlook on life. “You learn so much through athletics that transfers usefully into life,” says Black. “However, you spend every day doing something you are born to do. You are good at it, you love it, you have a talent, you have a focus. When you retire, that goes. You never have as much clarity in your life again, as real life isn’t like that. Many elite sportspeople find that hard. They feel a significance as an Olympian, but don’t know how to replace that.”
Black is proud that all his former 400m colleagues including Iwan Thomas, Mark Richardson and Jamie Baulch have gone on to be successful in retirement, but he knows that it’s not been easy. He reflects: “I was lucky in that I achieved enough to have choices in retirement. I did some TV work, I do motivational speaking and now Steve and I have channelled what we learned through our sporting experiences into our business. However, I was still upset to lose that focus in life that I always had as an athlete. I have done many things since retiring, but still nothing that has presented quite that same clear end goal that I was always striving for as an athlete. It is challenging at times.”
One of the reasons Backley and Black set up BackleyBlack eight years ago was to overcome the challenge associated with that potential hole in life, when athletics is over. Through being an elite athlete, Black had become interested in the psychology surrounding success and the extent to which natural talent and hard work are not enough.
Through motivational speaking at dinners and conferences, together with leadership development workshops to improve employee engagement and trigger changes in the workplace, Black transfers what he learned through sport into a corporate environment.
“I really miss being around athletes, so setting up the business with Steve has meant I get to spend a lot of time with someone who can relate to that and has had very similar experiences to me,”he says. “We share our Olympic experiences alongside an experienced business coach. This partnership has given me that clarity that I have always had in my life through my sport. I love the variety that the business presents and the opportunities I have to engage with so many different people all over the world.”