‘Not everyone is doping, I know that 100 per cent’

Irishman Stephen Maguire is head of British sprinting and well versed on the ins and outs

Stephen Maguire (left) and Christian Malcolm (centre) receive the coach of the the year during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017 at the Liverpool Echo Arena. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Stephen Maguire (left) and Christian Malcolm (centre) receive the coach of the the year during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017 at the Liverpool Echo Arena. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

 

Now may not be a great time to be championing global sprinting, particularly if you’re beating the Americans and the Jamaicans. And it does take some proper insider knowledge to say “not everyone is doing it, I know that 100 per cent”.

Stephen Maguire can now lay claim to that: following in the recent footsteps of Claudio Ranieri, Paul McGinley and Warren Gatland, amongst others, Maguire may have been a surprise choice for coach of the year at the BBC Sports Personality awards on Sunday night. Only until his record spoke for itself.

A record too which might have spoken differently – a case of Ireland’s loss being Britain’s gain, as Maguire first learned his trade and earned his reputation in Irish athletics, particularly with Paralympics sprinter Jason Smyth, before being lured away on the promise of better opportunity.

Since 2014, Maguire has been British Athletics head coach for sprints, hurdles and relays, and at the World Championships in London last August, helped deliver a record four relay medals: a first World Championship gold in the men’s 4x100m, silver in the women’s 4x100m and 4x400m, plus a bronze in the men’s 4x400m – the first time Britain secured a medal in all four relay events.

The BBC award was jointly shared by his two assistants, Benke Blomkvist and Christian Malcolm, proper recognition for the success Maguire has brought to the position since taking over three years ago: not that he’s forgotten his athletics roots.

“I’ll always consider myself very Irish, from where I’m from, so the plan was never to go away,” says Maguire, a native of Strabane, in west Tyrone, where he’s still based, commuting to the British Athletics centre at Loughborough. “It has been a massive opportunity for me, we’ve been very successful, thankfully, and hopefully that continues.

“But it is a tough performance environment, particularly in sprits. At this level, it’s non-negotiable. It’s about medals. People say it’s Britain, there’s big money and all that. But it’s also about attitude. The culture is about winning, not turning up for the t-shirt.

“And those four relay medals in London were the accumulation of three years hard work. But it’s a team philosophy, the technical coaches, the sports scientist, psychologists, all working on the one project. It’s probably a team of about 15, all working towards the same goal.”

The men’s 4x100m gold was classic relay material, Usain Bolt pulling up injured on the last leg, at which point the Jamaicans already looked out of contention; still, Britain held off the Americans, by .05 of a second, a team which included a certain Justin Gatlin.

This week’s investigation by The Daily Telegraph, which alleges that both Gatlin’s coach Denis Mitchell and his former agent Robert Wagner offered to supply performance enhancing drugs for an actor training for a film, cast yet another shadow over the athletics world, particularly sprinting.

“It’s extremely sad, if that is what’s going on, because it does tarnish what we’re all trying to do,” admits Maguire. “But not everyone is doing it, I know that 100 per cent, and that’s important to say. There is that element in every sport, when some people will push the boundaries with drugs, and when that’s the case then we need be to be very clear that it’s not acceptable, and there should be life bans.

“But it doesn’t put me off either. You can’t let that negativity creep in. We have to be 100 per cent that what we’re doing is right. My biggest challenge is that we’ve had four relay medals, I need to repeat that, and get more individuals onto the medal podium as well. There’s no room for negativity.

“I know from our perspective, we work extremely hard to compete with the Americans, the Jamaicans, and in relays, try to make sure the baton gets through that zone as quick as it possibly can. We can’t rely on the depth of athletes that they have. We need to make sure that all the other stuff is in place.”

British Athletics, he says, provided that opportunity when they came calling three years ago, and Maguire was easily swayed. An Irish schools’ triple and long jump champion, and junior international, he actually began coaching in his late teens with Strabane AC, and first earned his stripes with Smyth, coaching the Derry man from his schoolboy days through to his international breakthrough at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

“Then in 2009 we spent some time in American, with Jason, because I realised at the time for Jason to fulfil his potential, we needed to surround ourselves with better athletes. I then went full-time with Jason, and after that moved to the Scottish Athletics, in 2012, spend did years there, before British Athletics asked me in.”

Maguire did briefly serve as interim director of coaching at Athletics Ireland, but says, diplomatically, the opportunities weren’t being maximised: does he believe things are better know?

“I suppose if the proof of the pudding is in the results, you would have to say no. But that’s not saying we don’t have some fabulous coaches at home, and I do think the application of the coaches is really, really good. But if I was to give any advice I think the exposure they’re given by the governing body needs to be greater.

“There’s no point in putting world class parameters around an athlete who is still developing. It’s important that coaches recognise where the athlete is at, and work on a long-term plan. You have to invest at the appropriate level, because certainly if you look at what’s going on at underage athletics in Ireland, it’s probably the best it’s ever been. The difficult thing is making the transition.”

Something Maguire knows all about.

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