The respected coach was a master of his craft and guided 1:44 800m runners through to 2:11 marathoners

Tributes have been paid to respected coach Gordon Surtees, who has died.

One of Britain’s finest distance running stalwarts, Surtees coached 1:44 800m runners through to 2:11 marathoners and was considered a master of his craft.

The former national marathon and steeplechase coach also guided athletes including 1976 Olympic steeplechase finalist Dennis Coates, 1:44.65 800m runner Ikem Billy, 3:51.31 miler Tony Morrell, Great North Run winner Steve Kenyon and more recently current international Jonathan Taylor.

In 2014 the Teesside-based coached received the British Milers’ Club (BMC) lifetime achievement award for outstanding services to coaching.

BMC chairman Tim Brennan said: “The BMC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Gordon Surtees. Many generations of athletes, particularly in the North East, have benefited from Gordon’s knowledge and wisdom.

“In his coaching career he guided numerous internationals such as Ikem Billy and Tony Morrell. Gordon was recognised by the BMC as winner of our Coaching Lifetime Achievement Award. He used the occasion of his award to present his analysis of the state of athletics in an inspiring speech full of common sense and wisdom. In it Gordon related his own career as an engineering apprentice to the needs of an athlete to learn the sport.

“He was an ever present at our Grand Prix meetings. His knowledge and original thinking will be greatly missed.

“The BMC would like to express our deep sympathy to his family, friends, and athletes past and present.”

Norman Poole, the BMC president, said: “It was a great shock to hear of the very sad loss of Gordon.

“He has been a dedicated coach for more than 50 years and I first came to know him in the early eighties at BMC meets in the North West.

“During these years Gordon has coached numerous athletes from youngsters and relative novices through to major Games. His great breadth of knowledge can be seen in the number of athletes he has coached in the UK all-time lists across such varied events as 800m, steeplechase and marathon. Some of these top athletes include Tom Hanlon, Dennis Coates, Colin Walker, Tony Morrell, Ikem Billy and Steve Kenyon.

“It was as fellow GB team coaches at the major Games that I got to know Gordon far better and he gave me some insight into his coaching philosophy: ‘We might be coaching at the Olympic Games but remember we are here for one thing and that is the care of the athletes and to help them to be in the best possible shape on the start line. And nothing else matters.’

“This dedication to the athletes occasionally caused the ruffling of officialdom feathers but Gordon would be unrepentant. He was a man of principle and for this he was much respected.

“Many will remember his carefully worded critique of the state of UK endurance at the 2015 National Endurance Conference. Gordon pulled no punches and pointed to the many areas of coaching and training methods which required change if standards were to improve. On this occasion Gordon spoke in amazing factual detail without the aid of slides or overheads for about 60 minutes.

“His powers of oratory and recall were something I have never seen in athletics before.”

Such was Surtees’ passion for the sport, one of his last acts was to send a lengthy, hand-written critique of the British endurance running scene to AW. “A good shake-up,” he wrote, “is required for all concerned.”

Poole continued: “Gordon’s sense of self-deprecating humour are also legendary. Occasionally when kit is handed out to the teams, mistakes will have been made with oversized or undersized items. On one occasion as kit was being offered, Gordon gleefully announced ‘Look, this tracksuit top fits me’. One arm of the top was longer than the other and amazingly it suited Gordon’s needs – he had one under-developed arm from birth. Needless to say that Gordon was rewarded with much laughter from the team, an asset very much needed in successful teams.

“The legend that is Gordon will be very much missed by his athletes, friends and coaching colleagues within our sport.”

Among those to pay tribute on social media was 1991 world 10,000m champion Liz McColgan, who wrote: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Gordon Surtees. A great guy and coach who was alway willing to give advice and calm your nerves. RIP Gordon.”

Frank Dick, the British Athletics director of coaching through the 1980s and early 1990s, wrote: “Very sad news of Gordon Surtees passing. Huge influence in marathon coaching and true ambassador of learning life’s values through athletics.”

While former UK Athletics head of endurance Norman Brook wrote: “Sad to learn that my friend and British Athletics coach Gordon Surtees has passed away. A most passionate and dedicated coach. RIP Gordon.”

Coach and England Athletics national coach mentor Neville Taylor remembered Surtees as an avid Middlesbrough Football Club supporter and said: “He was a great guy, a great coach and great company.”

Two-time Olympian Helen Clitheroe‏ commented: “So sad to hear this. Always an amazing support to me. Had some brilliant tales to tell. RIP Gordon.”

While GB international Matty Hynes‏ said: “Really sad news about Gordon Surtees. Forgotten more than most people know about athletics. Fantastic coach and character. RIP.”

Former sprinter Allison Curbishley‏ wrote: “One of the sport’s greats. Watching him coach Tony Morrell, Colin Walker and many greats was a vivid memory of time training at Clairville.”