David Hemery

There's a spark of greatness in all of us

In the perfect world, when you finish your run for the day and you were just about to describe it as slow (or worse!) to yourself, you’d have a world record holder tap you on the shoulder, praise your achievement and send you on your way with a spring in your stride.

David Hemery, the 1968 Olympic 400 hurdles champion and former world record holder is that person.

We met him at the 2020 National Age Group indoor championships where he was watching a few of the youngsters in action with their coach - someone he described as "far more qualified than me." But that’s how he works. In reality, he is more than qualified to help given he helped our very own Sally Gunnell and Australian Debbie Flintoff-King use visualisation to assist their results prior to their Olympic 400m hurdles wins.

But he’s all about understanding what makes us tick and more importantly what can help us be more effective in running, or indeed life. "Praise effort rather than telling them they’re good,” is his simple philosophy. So, when you finish that run, you don’t hear the words “that was amazing” when deep down you know it was far from that.

Instead David is ready and waiting with “you looked as if you really tried hard there, well done!" It’s something that has long fascinated David. "I have a huge interest in the power of the mind. Indeed, his book, Sporting Excellence - what makes a champion introduces us to the skill and importance of questioning and listening, to balance the traditional 'telling' style of management.

I refer to it as 'the coaching dance', as both asking and telling is needed. It has been my passion ever since, to have parents, teachers, coaches and managers recognise the benefits and need for adopting this balanced style." he says.

In fact, his philosophy is perfect for the lockdown world we are just emerging from [Lockdown 1]. By default, the past few months have been all about discovering yourself, vital when it comes to becoming a better runner. As a coach, he says, "If we only tell and solve the performer’s problems and do the thinking for them, they become dependent, which is the opposite of what we want when they compete on their own. If we only ask questions, we frustrate them and undervalue our own experience and insights."

David uses GROW to help us understand.

G: Goal. What do you really want to achieve.

R: Reality. What is happening now.

O: Options. What could you do?

W: What will you do?

"Remember", he says, putting his own philosophy into practice. "There is a spark of greatness in everybody. If I could ask for a legacy gift it would be that adults recognise that effective questions unlock choices and these can release the potential and magic that sits in every young person." For those of us who need reminding, take a look at his incredible world record, gold medal winning run. Relaxed, controlled and full of running David turned that internal belief into a run that even today is one of the greatest you'll ever see. Mind you, don’t think it came without hard work! At one point as he prepared for the 1972 Olympics he would do 500 press-ups and 500 sit-ups every day, and run a total of five miles in between, divided into 800m intervals between each 50. But that perfectly sums up what he’s all about. Discovering what you can do and pushing the boundaries.

Ask yourself these questions and you won’t go far wrong:

Like David Hemery, Olympic champion, world record holder, coach, owner of four degrees from Boston, Oxford, Harvard and still more than half a century later - very much a runner.