My best teacher

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Llanederyn high school in Cardiff was a new comprehensive with 1,600 pupils and every possible sports facility, apart from a swimming pool. There were about four acres of playing fields, tennis and badminton courts, cricket, football and rugby pitches, a track and a well-equipped gym. And we had some great PE and sports teachers, most of whom had competed at international level and really knew their stuff. I owe a lot of my success to those teachers who spotted my talent early and nurtured it.

I remember my first day clearly. I felt so uncomfortable in my spanking new black blazer, which was a size too big so I could grow into it. I also had a grey jumper, white shirt and a red, white and black tie, which I'd spent much of the summer learning how to knot. It was the first time I'd worn uniform. I was lucky because my sister was already established in the school. She was quite a swot, so the teachers had high expectations of her little brother and were well disposed towards me.

Immediately I established myself as a sportsman and was put into the rugby and football teams. I'd played cricket for the county and had been in the school football team at Springwood junior. I won my first athletics trophy in the 60-metre dash when I was four.

Bob Dyer, who taught athletics at Llanederyn, lived on my street. He was captain of the Welsh rugby team. He was a very fair teacher who immediately spotted my potential and enthused and encouraged me constantly. Chris Morgan, who taught PE, had been in the Welsh Commonwealth Games diving team and I enjoyed hearing her stories about what it was like to compete internationally.

Gwyn Williams was a trained FA football coach who now teaches and coaches football at universities in the United States. He was involved with the school teams and drove us to away matches in the school minibus.

The problem with the school year starting in September was that you go straight into winter sports and I was predominantly a summer sports athlete. If you were in a school team you had half-an-hour's practice every morning and another hour at lunchtime. I was in the basketball, football, rugby, track and throwing and cricket teams. I put a lot of effort into training for rugby and football, but when the summer came around I really came into my own with cricket and athletics, which I enjoyed much more.

It was Sue Kenseg, another PE teacher who was particularly involved with summer sports and athletics, who encouraged me to join Cardiff Athletics Club. In those days nobody thought of sport as a career (I was planning on being an electrician), but Sue realised how serious I was about athletics and knew I dreamed of turning professional. Once I was there, Mike Jones spotted my talent and nurtured it. He was my coach from 14 to 16, then Malcolm Arnold took over and coached me for the next 20 years.

But if I had to choose just one special teacher from all those I remember, funnily enough it wouldn't be a sports teacher. It would be Mrs Hyatt, who taught me biology. She had a reputation for being a tough disciplinarian, but she was a great teacher who explained things in a logical way that made sense.

Every three weeks she would give us a test, and if you did well she gave you a Mars bar. It worked. She got great results. I was good at the sciences and got plenty of Mars bars.


1967 Born in Cardiff

1971-84 Attends Springwood junior school, and Llanederyn high school, Cardiff

1982 Takes part in schools international competition and wins first international title, Welsh 110m hurdles

1984-85 Business studies at Rumney technical college

1986 Wins gold medal in the 110m hurdles at world junior athletics championships

1988 Silver medal at Olympic Games, Seoul; first British record (110m hurdles)

1990 Awarded MBE. Wins gold medals at Commonwealth Games and European Championships. Retains both titles in 1994

1993 Breaks world record to take gold medal in 110m hurdles at World Championships. Record still stands

1998-2002 Wins two further European golds and second world championship

2003 Retires. Awarded CBE; comperes BBC1 sports programme Born to Win; publishes autobiography

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