‘Heartbroken’ Sir Mo Farah leads tributes to Neil Black

By PA Sport Staff
PA Media: Sport

Sir Mo Farah has led the tributes to former UK Athletics performance director Neil Black, who has died aged 60.

He helped mentor Farah between 2011 to 2017, during which time the distance runner won four Olympic and six World Championship gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres.

Farah tweeted his “heart is broken” and credited Black, who also worked with him as a physio, as a major part of his success.

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He wrote: “I have lost a good friend…! Known him since I was 14 years old… Neil supported me all the way in my career since I was kid..!!

“My heart is broken.. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Neil Black.. no one knew me like he did..!! We lost a great man.”

London 2012 heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill also remembered how Black helped her after a stress fracture in her foot saw her miss the 2008 Olympics.

She wrote on Twitter: “Completely shocked to read the news today about Neil Black. Very very Sad. I’ll always remember how supportive Neil was straight after my injury horrible injury 2008.”

Black left as UKA performance director in October 2019, after seven years in the role, following Great Britain’s disappointing showing in the World Athletics Championships in Doha and amid controversy over his support for banned US coach Alberto Salazar.

A statement on UKA’s website read: “British Athletics is shocked and saddened to confirm the loss of our friend and former colleague Neil Black who passed away suddenly at the weekend.

“Neil loved the sport of athletics and dedicated his life to supporting athletes – as a world class physiotherapist, as head of sport science, and then in recent years as Performance Director for British Athletics.

“Since leaving the role of UKA Performance Director in October 2019, he had been continuing to support a number of athletes and coaches as an advisor.

“Neil will be hugely missed by those that knew and worked with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Neil Black coached Sir Mo Farah (Mike Egerton/PA)
Neil Black coached Sir Mo Farah (Mike Egerton/PA)

Black’s family said: “We would like to thank people for the wonderful and heartfelt messages we have received. So many people have been in touch, it is clear to us how loved Neil was and this is bringing us some comfort at this time.”

Tributes began to pour in from a number of athletes Black had worked with during his career.

Former heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton tweeted: “He came everywhere with me and made sure I was held together physically and mentally. So many things I want to say… I’ll miss you forever Neil Black.”

Chris Tomlinson, a former British long jumper, also tweeted: “Such sad news to hear of the passing of Neil Black. He was both my physio and team manager for many years. R.I.P.”

British middle-distance runner Laura Muir tweeted: “Such sad sad news to hear of the passing of Neil Black. He was always incredibly supportive and a lovely caring man. Thoughts go out to his friends and family. RIP Neil you will be sorely missed.”

Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who won heptathlon gold at the World Championships in 2019, paid tribute to Black’s work with British athletes.

She tweeted: “Devastating news to wake up to. He was a thoughtful, passionate, kind hearted man who helped so many athletes. He will be missed by many. Rest in peace Neil.”

Five-time Paralympic champion wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft wrote: “Such a great guy, always made time to come chat to me and see how I was getting on when he passed me, and always took a true interest in my training and in my sport. RIP Neil, you’ll be missed.”

Sprinter Adam Gemili added on Twitter: “I am shocked and devastated and can’t stop crying. It doesn’t feel real.

“I spoke to Neil just two weeks ago and now he’s gone. Life is too fragile. Neil was like a second father to me. He shaped a lot of my athletics career and will always hold a special place in my heart.”

The full list of athletes Black worked with in his career includes some of the biggest British names in athletics, including Sally Gunnell, Linford Christie, Colin Jackson, Roger Black, Iwan Thomas, Jonathan Edwards, Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Steve Backley and Greg Rutherford.

Black took up the UKA performance director role in September 2012 after Charles Van Commenee left his position as Olympic head coach.

He had been a physiotherapist at UKA before moving up the ranks to take the top job.

A tweet on the official Team GB account read: “Everyone at the British Olympic Association is shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the loss of Neil Black.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this extremely difficult time.”

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