His name is probably one of the most well-known names on the Loughborough campus, and in the athletics world he is a coaching icon. Having guided almost 100 athletes to senior international honours, George Gandy is to British endurance running what his namesake is to Indian independence.
With a coaching career spanning over 50 years, what is it that keeps Gandy going?
“I enjoy it! The best element is probably the close and influential involvement in the successes and failures. Whether that’s personal development or performance, I love working with enthusiastic, committed, and frequently gifted young athletes.”
Having been a successful athlete and team captain himself both on the track and cross country, his leadership qualities were always evident, so perhaps the man from the North East was destined for coaching even before he embarked upon that career path. Having achieved top marks in all subjects at the London University Institute of Education in 1964, Gandy went on to spend five years as Head of Physical Education Departments in schools, which is where his coaching career took off.
Few would be aware however that one of this first English Schools champions would be a 100m sprinter. It was this experience that made him realise he wanted to work within sport, and he decided to dive in head first.
“I left school teaching to work as one of two full-time administrators for the Amateur Athletic Association, where I sat on the National Coaching Committee and managed the work programmes of three national coaches. At the same time I managed the Northern Counties central office, their coaching system and their general functioning, so it was pretty full on.”
Two years later it was back to education, as Gandy decided it was time to complete his studies, and Loughborough has been his home ever since.
“In 1971 I moved to Loughborough to become a lecturer in Athletics and Sport Biomechanics at Loughborough College of Education, whilst completing an MSc in Human Biology at Loughborough University. From then on I fulfilled a dual function as an academic member of staff and as a Director of Athletics. University life was a wholesome one, as I was a Towers Hall resident tutor and Athletic Union treasurer.”
After coming to Loughborough, Gandy started gaining more recognition and success as a coach, which eventually led to him being appointed National Coach for the endurance events, being responsible for athletes running anything from the 3000m upwards. Gandy made the most of this role, and re-instituted the use of altitude training camps as well as being involved in the emergence of new stars such as European, Commonwealth and World champions Jon Brown, Rob Denmark and Paula Radcliffe. After two spells in this role and a couple more with the University, he decided it was time to leave full-time employment, however that decision did not last long.
“I retired from full-time University employment in 2006 but continued part-time as Director of Athletics before taking up a full-time post again as UK Athletics National Endurance Coach, where I was responsible for athletes running the 800m all the way to the marathon. My responsibilities embraced international team duties, including the 2012 Olympics, management of leading UK coach-athlete pairings, and memberships of funding and selection panels.”
After leaving this role in 2013 George decided to return to employment with Loughborough University:
“My current role is that of Lead Coach for endurance at Loughborough University. This involves very strong personal and group coaching commitment, alongside overseeing, facilitating and co-ordinating the work of five club endurance coaches. I’m also heavily involved with the three BUCS Championships, Loughborough International Athletics meeting and organising any annual pre-summer altitude training camps overseas. I also recently accepted and invitation to re-join the national committee of the British Milers Club.”
When asked about the hardest part of coaching, he says:
“The hardest thing is to change athletes’ mentality from that of emerging juniors into that of Olympic medal contenders. Without that change in mindset, success at international level is very unlikely.”
Gandy seems to have been able to instil this mentality in many of his athletes, as some of his greatest coaching achievements include working with the likes of Seb Coe and Lisa Dobriskey as they won Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles. The Loughborough stalwart has overseen in excess of 100 British University victories and he has been coach to athletes and teams at an astonishing 10 Olympic Games.
Now in his 54th year as a coach. Gandy’s services to endurance running in the UK go above and beyond, and his success rate is nothing short of extraordinary. Surely it’s only a matter of time before he is inducted into the Loughborough Sporting Club Hall of Fame?