Obituary: John Macdonald, sprint coach

Born: 11 May, 1927 in Inverkeithing, Fife. Died: 16 July, 2016, aged 89.

Father of 1980 Olympics teenage medal hero dies aged 89. Picture: Contributed
Father of 1980 Olympics teenage medal hero dies aged 89. Picture: Contributed

The athletics world first heard of him in 1980 when his younger daughter Linsey reached the Moscow Olympic 400 metres final and won a relay bronze medal at the tender age of 16.

But there was so much more to John Macdonald, the widely -respected Scottish sprint coach whose sudden death at the age of 89 has been greeted with sorrow but also a wave of tributes from the many on whom he had made an impact.

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“He will be a massive loss,” said Norman Gardiner, who is the former Pitreavie AAC president and club coach.

Unable to travel to Moscow because of visa problems, Macdonald went on for more than 35 years to give back selflessly to the sport which had brought unexpected fame to his family, beloved club and to Dunfermline.

“He never coached me – he didn’t started till I was finished – but he was always there for me,” said Linsey, now a doctor in Hong Kong.

“He loved seeing his athletes doing well and after his retirement even stepped up his commitment to five or six times a week – he loved travelling to watch them, going with Jack Lawrie to Sweden only last year.”

British junior hurdles representative Lawrie, double Scottish sprint champion Ryan Oswald, Scottish sprint and hurdles champion Francis Smith and British Olympic sprinter Ian Mackie all came under his wing as well as many younger and less well-known athletes.

Macdonald took on Mackie from the age of 13 and took him right through to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, where he reached the semi-finals of the 100m event.

“He totally shaped my life,” said Mackie.

Macdonald’s coaching exploits were eventually recognised and among the awards he received were Scottish Sports Hero (2012) and Scottish Coach of the Year (2012) and Fife Coach of the Year (2016)

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An accomplished angler –he represented Scotland in both Italy and New Zealand – Macdonald, if not quite a fitness fanatic, was always “very active”.

His pursuits included cycling, golf, swimming, free weights and “Munro bagging”.

For a long time a member of a walking group of former work colleagues, he would happily provide friends with, according to one, a “not always perfect” route map.

Born John Alexander Wood Tarrel Macdonald in Inverkeithing, Macdonald left school at the age of 13 and saw service with the RAF at the end of World War Two, including three years in the desert in Egypt, where he was in charge of prisoners of war. Indeed his family once received disturbing news when a telegram arrived to say he had died.. but thankfully for them it turned out to be an elderly uncle of the same name.

Later he joined the Merchant Navy as a Chartered Engineer and visited many parts of the world including Hong Kong.

Coming back to dry land, he took up a post with Scottish Power at Hunterston Nuclear Power Station in Ayrshire, where he became a “trouble-shooter”.

He continued to live in Dunfermline, first at Witch Brae, then close by in Townhill where he moved with his late wife Helen when she became ill.

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Macdonald is survived by two daughters, Rhona, the elder who lives in Dunfermline and has two children, Neil and Kerry and Linsey, who has two boys, Hamish and Fergus.