Obituary: Sandy Robertson, Scottish international athlete and top-class coach

Sandy Robertson has died at the age of 73
Sandy Robertson has died at the age of 73
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Sandy Robertson, athlete and coach. Born 14 December, 1943 in Wishaw. Died: 24 July 2017, aged 73

Sandy Robertson, who has died aged 73, was one of the best known known figures in the world of Scottish athletics for over 50 years both as an international athlete himself and subsequently a top-class and highly regarded coach.

An excellent schoolboy athlete, he was Scottish senior champion over 400 metres hurdles in 1972 and represented his country three times in that event.

He became one of Scotland’s most decorated coaches, appointed by the British Amateur Athletics Board as a Master Coach in the 1980s, one of only five so honoured here, and later was a level 4 coach, the highest category, under the board’s successor, UK Athletics.

As National Athletics and Sport Coach in Malawi between 1972 and ’75, he enjoyed considerable success in a challenging post.

A great supporter of schools’ athletics, he was President of the Scottish Schools’ Athletics Association between 1987 and ’89 and managed and coached many of their teams in major competitions.

In doing so he touched and inspired lots of young lives, and although he coached many athletes who went on to be celebrated internationalists he also derived huge satisfaction in assisting the less talented. His enthusiasm, technical knowledge, capacity to encourage and sense of humour were the cornerstones of his credo.

He first competed internationally as a member of the Scottish Schoolboys’ team in its annual match against its Home Nations’ counterparts in 1961 in Cardiff. Teammates included well known athletes Hugh Barrow, Norrie Foster, Sandy Sutherland and future Lisbon Lion Jim Craig, then a long jumper. Fifty years later he was particularly pleased to be asked to present medals in the corresponding fixture in Cardiff.

He was a fixture on the Scottish scene for over ten years, specialising in the 400 metres hurdles in which he won the Scottish title in 1972 and placed among the first three on another five occasions. An accomplished all-rounder, he also competed well in the decathlon in which he was ranked fourth in 1968.

His first senior international was in 1968 when he won the B 400 metres hurdles against Wales and the English Regions. The following year he ran twice in his specialist event against the Home Nations, finishing second each time to the great John Cooper of England, the 1964 Olympic Games silver medallist.

He was part of a highly successful Edinburgh Southern Harriers’ team which gained promotion from the fourth to the first division in the British League in consecutive years. A member of their 4x400 metre relay team that set a Scottish club record, he also occasionally shared relay duties with a young Allan Wells.

Towards the end of his competitive career he developed an interest in coaching and at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh coached Scottish hurdlers. Then in 1972 he took on the Malawi appointment, which he found a very different experience but highly rewarding. During his time there he led the country’s team to the 1974 Commonweath Games in Christchurch where he was responsible for a variety of sports. His athletes set more than 20 national records in New Zealand. He also led athletics teams to the East African Championships in Dar-es-Salaam and to the All African Championships in Lagos. On his return he continued to concentrate on coaching and soon developed a first-class reputation, particularly with young athletes with whom he built rewarding relationships.

As an ex-decathlete he also did much to promote multi-events competition and took great interest in coach education, writing a number of texts on the theme and related athletics subjects.

He again coached Scottish athletes at the 1982 and 1986 Commonwealth Games. In 2008 he was Scotland’s “Development Coach of the Year” and till very recently continued to be a highly valued member of the Development Team at Scottish Athletics.

Born in Wishaw to George, a mechanic and Sadie, he was the third of four brothers. Brought up in neighbouring Overtown he attended a local primary school and then Wishaw High School.

After leaving school he studied PE at Jordanhill Training College and took up his first teaching post at Dalkeith High School. Having met fellow PE teacher Evelyn Finley from Ayr through athletics, the couple married in Corstorphine, Edinburgh in 1968.

They went on to enjoy almost 50 years of happy marriage together, bringing up their children Alasdair and Eileen. After returning from Malawi he taught at West Calder High School, where he was head of PE for 30 years. He and his family lived their whole married life in Penicuik, where Sandy was an elder in St Mungo’s Parish Church for 30 years and Session Clerk for about the last 15. In this capacity he made an important contribution to the church’s varied activities and was held in high regard.

In 2014 he was greatly honoured to be selected to run a stage from Blackness Castle to near Falkirk in the Queen’s Baton Relay prior to the Commonwealth Games, in recognition of his outstanding work with young athletes particularly.

An inspiring and popular figure possessed of many fine values, he was considered a “true gent” by all and his death has left a huge hole in his family and beyond. In tribute, the Scottish athletes competing in the World Championships in London have agreed to meet at the end of the competition to raise a toast in his name.