Skip to main content

The path to greatness

Training athletes for the 13th Olympic Games, the legendary coach Malcolm Arnold shares his philosophy of making a great hurdler with Digital Editor Miao He.

Andrew Pozzi and Malcolm Arnold talking
Malcolm and Andrew Pozzi in the training session

It was a cloudy and foggy morning in June. I met Malcolm Arnold OBE for the first time on the indoor track at the University's Sports Training Village.

Malcolm is the Head Coach of the British Athletics Regional Performance Centre, based on campus. He has spent the past 18 years here training the nation's top hurdles athletes, including Eilidh Doyle, Andrew Pozzi and Lawrence Clarke.

Athletes started walking onto the track at 9.45am. After dropping their training gear and putting on their favourite tunes, they began warming up.

When Malcolm walked in, athletes naturally gathered around him for quick catch-ups about their training, upcoming competition or progress of injury recovery.

'First Olympics is always the memorable one'

After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in Physical Education, Malcolm spent the first five years of his career as the Director of Coaching in Uganda and attended two Olympic Games.

'It was all new for me. In March 1968, I was a schoolteacher and haven’t travelled much. But in October the same year I was at the Olympic Games.

'I coached John Akii-Bua, who is an Olympic champion and held a world record time. Being able to work with top athletic coaches and athletes in Uganda has definitely been a development experience for me.'

'Train correctly. That's the key'

'What makes an outstanding athlete?' I jumped straight into the question I am most curious about.

'Physically talented, having a good brain, working in disciplined way', Malcolm said without a moment's hesitation. 'They must have their own brain power, do the right work, listen all the way through, and don’t overreach. Train correctly. That’s the key.'

Reaching the zone

We often hear sportspeople speaking of the 'zone', a state in which top athletes reach their peak performance. How to reach such a physical and mental state can be the trickiest question for both athletes and coaches. How can we achieve it? I couldn't help but raise this question to Malcolm.

'One of the most important thing in the athlete’s makeup is the ability to compete. It’s all about producing the right performance at the right time. Some people can raise that game psychologically. Some athletes are very good physically, but they cannot control their emotions.

'The ability to compete is a precious gift. It’s natural, although some sports psychologists suggest the lack of such ability can be corrected. Working hard is the way to conquer physical weakness.'

'No two athletes take the same path to greatness'

Is there a formula for success? For Malcolm, the short answer is no.

With a coaching career of more than four decades and countless gold medals won by his athletes, Malcolm has developed his own theory of how to bring out the best in them.

'Athletes are developing in their own different ways. Very few are outstanding. I deal with each athlete's physical condition on a case-by-case basis. They present their own talent and I mould that into the race.'

'How do you help them conquer weakness?' I asked.

'I deal with practice, not the theory. You radicalise the weakness and push for the strength. Being physically fit is a good start, then progress to a higher level with powerful mental strength.'

As the interview came to an end, I went outdoors with Malcolm and Andrew to start their one-to-one training. Malcolm checked with Andrew about his recent treatments and recovery. Two weeks later, Andrew won the Men's 100m hurdles at the British Championships 2016 and confirmed his place at Rio 2016.

‘It’s all about producing the right performance at the right time.’
Malcolm Arnold OBE


If you have any questions, please contact us.