Wilf Paish: Tributes pour in for athletics coach

Yorkshire-based Wilf Paish - one of athletics' best known coaches and, arguably, its most knowledgeable across the whole range of events, sadly passed away on Friday morning.

Coach of javelin aces Tessa Sanderson and Mick Hill to name but two, Paish had been battling ill health for some time.


Paish came from Gloucestershire and never lost his accent nor his love of the county cricket team.

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As a boy he wanted to play cricket for his county and to be a vet.

Neither of these happened although he was a decent cricketer and a useful middle distance runner.

Instead he trained to be a PE teacher at Carnegie College and then took a teaching post in Essex, coincidentally following another great coach, Ron Pickering.

His passion for athletics led to his appointment as National Coach for the North, based in Leeds, where he moved in the early sixties and he has been an adopted Yorkshireman ever since.

His most spectacular coaching success was javelin thrower Tessa Sanderson.

After a disappointing Olympics in 1980, Sanderson moved to Leeds to train with Paish at Carnegie and that kick started a glittering career which saw her win the gold at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Paish had another athlete at those games, Peter Elliott, a regular visitor to Carnegie from his Rotherham home.

Under Paish's guidance Elliott beat Sebastian Coe in the 1500 metre trial that year but Coe was controversially selected ahead of Paish's athlete.

As it turned out, it was the right decision as Coe won in a new Olympic record.

Elliott was selected for the 800 and reached the semi final only to withdraw due to injury.

Elliott said: "Wilf coached me from the age of 16 until the Seoul Olympics where I won a silver medal.

"I thought very highly of him, he was a great coach and motivator.

"He may have been short in stature but he was huge in character and personality.

"And he was so diverse with middle distance runners, javelin throwers, long and triple jumpers all training at the same time. He will be greatly missed by the sport. His death is a huge loss."

Also training with Paish, initially under the shadow of Tessa Sanderson, was Leeds youngster Mick Hill who went on to win numerous awards for the javelin including a World Championship medal and a UK record.

Because of the achievements of Sanderson and Hill, Paish built up an

enviable reputation as a javelin coach and yet he was equally proficient in all disciplines, backed up by a sound knowledge of physiology and bio mechanics. He was also a tremendous motivator whatever the ability of the athlete.

In the early days, the role of National coaches was to coach at all levels from elite to grass roots as well as training new generations of club coaches and Paish was happy with all aspects of the job and particularly enjoyed going into schools where his innovative techniques were a huge success.

Paish eventually left the British Athletics Federation to return to academia as a lecturer at Carnegie but his coaching output increased in an effort to help as many developing athletes as he could.

After leaving Carnegie, which became Leeds Polytechnic and then Leeds Metropolitan University, he was in demand as a writer, mentor and lecturer and had a rewarding spell as chief coach to the South African Olympic team.

He also helped football and rugby teams with fitness coaching and at one time was fitness advisor to Yorkshire cricket team.

He was awarded an MBE in 2005 for services to athletics and was recently awarded a lifetime services award by England Athletics, an honour that he rated highly.

Paish had been in poor health for some time but continued coaching until the end.