Scotsman Obituaries: George Sinclair, Scottish athletics coach

George Sinclair, athletics coach. Born: 17 November 1928 in Pathhead, Midlothian. Died: 5 August 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 92

George receiving the Torch Trophy for Outstanding Contribution to Athletics

George Sinclair was one of Scotland’s best known, longest serving and most successful athletics coaches. Over six decades he made an enormous contribution to the sport which was his passion. Extremely personable and popular, he combined people skills with technical knowledge to let athletes maximise their potential while making the experience enjoyable.

His love of athletics underpinned his approach, George gaining equal pleasure and satisfaction from training unheralded youngsters as from working with international athletes. According to fellow coach Bill Walker, “George was always willing to help any athlete and was an easy guy to get on with.”

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Ever enthusiastic, George attended coaching conventions leading to a series of qualifications. He was honoured to be designated a Master Coach by British Athletics as an Olympic level coach, was a Level 4 coach in Scotland, the highest tier, for sprints, hurdles, middle distance and relays and a Scottish Athletics Staff Coach in these events. In the 1970s he was sprint relay coach to the British womens’ team while domestically George was most associated with Edinburgh Southern Harriers Ladies team, who became very successful under his guidance as head coach, winning Leagues and Cups at Scottish and UK level and producing many internationalists. He was also a co-founder in 1962 of Edinburgh mens’ athletics club Octavians AC, which was one of the country’s strongest with many internationalists, and George its first Secretary.

He held strong opinions on athletics and promoted the importance of clubs, views he shared with the District and National committees on which he served. Held in high regard, he was appointed national team manager occasionally and also contributed as a stadium announcer, memorably at Murrayfield Highland Games.

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Although the consummate professional as a dedicated coach, spending long hours trackside, George was a true “amateur” in that he did so for the love of athletics as he was never paid for his services, nor did he wish to be. It was fitting that in 1974 his outstanding contribution was recognised by the award of the Torch Trophy in London, instituted to honour the “unsung heroes” of grassroots sport, the Torch symbolising Olympic ideals. Further recognition came later with the award of Honorary Life Membership of Edinburgh Athletic Club and Scottish Athletics.

George William Sinclair was born in Pathhead, the only child of Bob and Elizabeth. He was initially brought up there before moving to West Calder and then to Bangholm Terrace, Edinburgh, where his parents ran Goldenacre Post Office.

He was educated at Pathhead Primary and later at George Heriot’s School. A Boy and Rover Scout with the Leith troop, he played rugby at school but football was his favourite game; he played on Saturday afternoons for Clark Road Rovers after morning rugby. A lifelong Hibs fan, he often attended matches with son Robert.

After school he was a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries before National Service with the Parachute Regiment in Germany for two years, an experience he enjoyed with the added bonuses of learning to drive and ski. Once demobbed he worked as a commercial traveller with Kay Cards and became a leading light with Heriot’s Athletics Club, whom he represented as a sprinter while assisting the Rugby Club with fitness training at Goldenacre. In the 1960s he took over his parents’ Post Office and opened several card shops in Edinburgh, which he ran until retiring in 1992.

His interest in coaching growing, he began an association with Edinburgh Southern Harriers Ladies, whose team he built up to be a force in the land, later clinching a valuable sponsorship with Edinburgh Woollen Mill with consequent name change to Edinburgh Woollen Mill AC. George secured this through his relationship with Woollen Mill director David Stevenson, a former Olympic pole vaulter whose fledgling athletic career George had helped when David was a schoolboy in Dumfries. This enabled the club to develop a strong financial base to feature on the UK stage and win National Leagues and the British Pye Cup. Among the club’s many internationalists George coached were sprinter Helen Golden, an Olympian in Montreal 1976, a multi-Commonwealth Games and British internationalist, and middle distance runner Anne Clarkson-Purvis, who won silver at 800m at Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982.

In 1955 George married Netta with whom he had children, Robert and Jan, but they later divorced. In 1971 he married former athlete Pat Brown with whom he spent many happy years and had two daughters, Fiona and Lorna.

Outwith family and athletics, George fulfilled two long-held ambitions, owning a Jaguar and taking a sightseeing trip to the Rockies. Despite a leg amputation in 1991, his zest for life remained undimmed and he played a full and much appreciated part in family life. He would have been proud of grandson Allan Hamilton’s recent Scottish championships 100m sprint success. A sociable individual, he enjoyed stimulating conversation fuelled by a fine wine or malt whisky. The onset of dementia made life difficult but thanks to Pat with support from Edinburgh Homecare and others, George was able to remain at home.

Celebrated coaching guru and old friend Frank Dick said: ”George lived the concept that coaches not only prepare the athlete for their sport but through sport for their lives.”

The presence of many athletes at his funeral was testimony to his success on and off the track.

George is survived by his wife, children and many grand and great grandchildren.

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