FORMER UK Athletics Performance Director Neil Black has died at the age of 60.
British Athletics confirmed Black – who was axed as the boss of the track-and-field squad last October – “passed away suddenly at the weekend”.
Black served as the top boss of the athletics squad for seven years, taking over after the London 2012 Olympics and covering the Rio 2016 Olympics and four world athletics championships.
The 60-year-old was found dead in his flat near Loughborough after not responding to scheduled meetings on Monday.
Devastated Mo Farah led the heartfelt tributes to his mentor and former masseur.
The four-time Olympic champion said: “I’ve 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’ve lost a great man.”
Black, whose dad played for Newcastle United reserves, had a trial for Middlesbrough as a defender and was involved in county rugby and athletics growing up.
The Northumbrian was a former middle-distance runner – he once beat Seb Coe in a Gateshead cross-country race – until injury curtailed his prospects in his early 20s.
Black spent almost three decades involved in elite athletics, primarily as a physiotherapist.
Throughout his career, he worked closely with Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, Roger Black, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson.
After the London 2012 Olympics, Black took up the biggest job in the sport in this country, overseeing the seven medals won by Team GB in Rio four years ago.
Nicknamed The Wolf after the fixer in Pulp Fiction, he had hoped to continue until the Tokyo Olympics.
Yet he was axed as head coach last October after the Doha World Athletics Championships in which they achieved just five medals.
In recent years, Black was heavily scrutinised for his close links to disgraced coach Alberto Salazar, who was banned last year for four years for doping offences.
Salazar, who is appealing the decision, is a controversial figure in the sport and Black’s continual support and loyalty drew significant criticism.
A statement said: “British Athletics is shocked and saddened to confirm the loss of our friend and former colleague Neil Black.
“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.”
A relative of Black, who was divorced with no kids, 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.”
Sprinter Adam Gemili, 26, said: “I’m 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.”
Dina Asher-Smith, the reigning 200m world champion, said: “Incredibly sad and shocking news. I really can’t believe it.
“He was a genuinely lovely, caring and kind-hearted man whose sense of humour and positivity would light up a room.
“Rest in peace Neil. You’ll be dearly missed by all and my thoughts are with your family at this time.”
Paula Dunn, who runs the British Paralympic athletics said, said: “A great boss and an even greater man, condolences to all his family and friends. RIP boss!”
Former 400m sprinter Iwan Thomas said: “Truly devastated – helped me greatly in my career as my personal physio, we shared many a laugh and a cry trying to keep me in one piece, thanks for putting up with my craziness will miss you ‘Blackster.’”
Source: Athletics - thesun.co.uk