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Obituary - David Tomlinson, 1940-2012

As a key figure in school athletics, David Tomlinson was one of the first people to spot the potential of future Olympic champion Sebastian Coe. But despite the medals and glory that Lord Coe went on to achieve, Mr Tomlinson always remained convinced that teamwork was as important as winning.

David was born and grew up in Sheffield. His father was an insurance clerk and his mother was a housewife. He passed his 11-plus exam and attended King Edward VII Grammar, then regarded as the best in the city.

It was while David was at school that his love of sport blossomed. He competed in cross-country competitions, and continued to do so while studying economics at the University of Manchester. An accomplished athlete, he usually finished just behind the great marathon runner Ron Hill, who dominated the muddy tracks.

Mr Tomlinson had long held the ambition to become a teacher and studied for his teaching diploma at Sheffield College. He had met Gill, a nurse, at a church dance when he was 17 and they married seven years later. They had one son, Richard.

Mr Tomlinson's first job as an economics teacher was at Hinde House School in Sheffield. By this time, the grammar schools in the city had closed and comprehensive education had begun. After 10 years at Hinde House, Mr Tomlinson moved to Waltheof School, now replaced by Sheffield Park Academy. For a time he was acting deputy head, and colleagues remember him as steadfast and reliable.

Mr Tomlinson's love of athletics led him to organise teams and activities at both schools. Eventually he passed the exams that allowed him to become an international athletics referee, officiating at numerous events for elite athletes. But he always remained involved in grass-roots sport in Sheffield.

A life member of the Sheffield Federation for School Sports, he organised Saturday-morning cross-country events across the city from the late 1960s until 1991. Seb, now Lord, Coe was one of the pupils who attended these events. Mr Tomlinson immediately spotted his potential, but he felt it was just as important for children to enjoy themselves as to win competitions. To him, the team came before any individual. Even if one member came last he would tell them how important their contribution had been.

Lord Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012, said: "Dave was quintessentially what school sport should be about. He coordinated cross-country and track-and-field opportunities that enabled young people like me to understand the nature of competitive sport. He was an inspirational figure."

After retiring aged 62, Mr Tomlinson and his wife were able to spend more time with friends, going to the theatre and on day trips. He still enjoyed watching sport, but worried that it was being ruined by the huge sums of money now involved.

Mr Tomlinson died suddenly from undiagnosed heart disease on 5 October, while travelling to Italy for a holiday.

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