Obituary: Jim Bradley, runner and sprint coach

Jim Bradley, former runner who became one of Scotland's greatest ever sprint coaches. Picture: Contributed
Jim Bradley, former runner who became one of Scotland's greatest ever sprint coaches. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 17 May, 1917, in Edinburgh. Died: 2 July, 2015, in Melbourne, aged 94.

Jim Bradley, who has died in Melbourne aged 94, was one of Scotland’s greatest ever sprint coaches whose training methods were to prove highly influential in Allan Wells’ gold medal success in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Among the reams of top-class sprinters he produced, the most outstanding was Tranent’s George McNeill, world professional record holder and dual Powderhall Sprint and Stawell Gift winner, considered by many to be at least the equal of Wells but barred from competing against him because of the then amateur/professional divide.

Because of that divide, which, in terms of public perception, cast professional sprinters into a form of lesser athletic netherworld populated by dodgy betting coups and concealed identities, Bradley, as a professional himself, never received the recognition commensurate to his proven coaching success.

Between 1963 and 1971 he coached five Powderhall Sprint winners – the Blue Riband of pro sprinting here – Ricky Dunbar, Dave Deas, Tommy Dickson, McNeill and Wilson Young. After emigrating to Australia in 1972 where pro sprinting had a higher profile, he also enjoyed considerable success, coaching two winners of the Stawell Gift, the country’s most prestigious race, Steve Brimacombe and Glen Crawford.

He remains the only coach to have trained multiple winners of each of the world’s four top sprints, Powderhall, the Stawell, the Bay Sheffield in South Australia and the Burnie Gift in Tasmania. Once settled in Melbourne he developed a successful sports goods business and was a fitness trainer to Aussie Rules football clubs, Essendon and North Melbourne.

According to George McNeill, Bradley had “total enthusiasm for running; it was his life’s passion. He also had utter belief in his training methods. And because he had a record of success he soon had the athlete believing in him. He was innovative – he introduced the boxers’ speedball as an essential training tool to build up the sprinter’s arms and shoulders.

“He thought a well-developed upper body was essential for maximising leg speed and reasoned that from infancy we had all developed our legs through walking but our upper bodies had not been correspondingly developed.

“Six three-minute ‘rounds’ on the speedball with a minutes’ rest in between was fundamental to his programme and was followed by punishing exercise circuits using bodyweight resistance only as he did not advocate weights.”

McNeill added: “To begin with, you’d spend months in the gym before he let you on the track; he wanted you to feel in superior physical condition that would carry over on to the track.

“His training was all quality high-intensity work. Similarly, on the track, he had me doing series of punishing 60-to-80-yard sprints, often resulting in my being sick. I never ran further than 170 yards in training. He was also one of the first coaches to use film as a training aid. We would sit in his house in Silverknowes and analyse film he had taken of myself and others running, pointing out my faults and identifying weaknesses in others. He earned his living as a tyre salesman and it came as no surprise to learn he regularly won awards for being top salesman in his company.”

Reflective of his era in pro running when pseudonyms were common, Bradley was not his real name. He was born James Stott in Edinburgh, where he grew up in Broughton Street in some hardship.

Bradley was the running name he adopted after the war for his journeyman career as a pro sprinter. After the war, during which he served in the Middle East and Europe, he became interested in sprinting and was a “trial horse” or training partner for the great Eric Cumming, the Australian who won Powderhall in 1952.

His interest in coaching gradually took hold and by the early 1960s he had his first “star”, Edinburgh’s Ricky Dunbar, who won Powderhall in 1963 before going on to break world sprint records and continue his running career in Australia, to where he emigrated.

Bradley transformed Dunbar from a mediocre youth into a world-class sprinter.

After Dunbar came Dickson, Deas, McNeill and Wilson Young of Elphinstone as Powderhall winners. Young would go on to coach Wells and introduced him to the Bradley speedball training method which played a big part in Wells’ conversion from average long jumper to Olympic 100 metres champion.

McNeill continued: “Another key factor in his approach was his attention to detail. In the days before photo finishes, he had his athletes wearing red silk vests and shorts which were specially made for us. This outfit would catch the judges’ eye in tight finishes and give us an edge, he reasoned.

“Another example was shortly after I became a member of his ‘school’. He instructed me to place my feet on a piece of paper while he carefully traced their outline to send to Melbourne where specialist sports shoemaker Hope Sweeney would make me a handcrafted pair of lightweight kangaroo skin spikes.

“These, according to Bradley, who called them my ‘roos’, would gain me a yard but he would not allow me to wear them till it was time to run a trial for Powderhall. And when I won the Centenary Powderhall Sprint in 1970, he rented a flat next door to the stadium where I could rest up between rounds of the sprint so I was at my freshest for the final. Absolutely nothing was left to chance.”

Bradley was a bachelor who remained passionate about running throughout his life, writing a book on the subject with a foreword by Ron Clarke. He continued his coaching involvement till a few years ago.

While in Scotland his dream was to emigrate to Australia, conscious of the higher profile and the greater opportunities his beloved running offered there.

He succeeded in fulfilling that dream and his name will endure in the annals of outstanding coaches both here and over there.