The sport looks forward to the 1986 European 5000m champion applying his gritty racing style to the sizeable task of getting the governing body back on track as its CEO
As an athlete, Jack Buckner was one of Britain’s finest middle-distance runners during the golden era of the 1980s. Coached by the great George Gandy, he out-kicked Italian Stefano Mei and GB team-mate Tim Hutchings to win the European 5000m title in Stuttgart in 1986. Then, one year later at the World Championships in Rome, he again used his enviable speed endurance and tactical acumen to earn a brilliant bronze in a race won by the mercurial Saïd Aouita of Morocco.
Small in stature but running with his chest puffed out and a distinctively bouncy stride, he was the archetypal ‘plucky Brit’ who did not give his rivals an inch. During his early years in the sport he finished a distant second to Steve Cram over 1500m at the 1979 English Schools Championships in Nottingham, yet seven years later Buckner won European gold in Stuttgart on the same night as Cram took the 1500m title ahead of Seb Coe.
Now, aged 60, if media speculation is correct – and it usually is – then Buckner is poised to become chief executive of UK Athletics. Some would call the role a poisoned chalice following a difficult few years for the governing body, but Buckner has never shied away from a challenge.
He has also accrued considerable experience as a sports administrator since hanging up his spikes as an athlete. Most recently he has worked as chief executive of British Swimming. Before that he headed up British Triathlon. On each occasion there was considerable success and his reputation has grown accordingly.
Prior to this he cut his teeth in sports administration at the turn of the millennium when he was a key player during a period that saw the “Foster Report” of 2004 where Sir Andrew Foster conducted an independent review of athletics in the UK. One of Foster’s recommendations was the creation of England Athletics to effectively replace the AAA of England and Buckner was critically involved in the process before going on to work for Sport England as the organisation’s strategic lead.
Buckner’s experience does not end there either. After his track career finished in 1993 he worked for adidas for the best part of a decade and held senior positions in the UK, Germany and the United States. Briefly breaking away from sport, he also had a spell in New Zealand where he tried to set up an apple orchard business.
With UK Athletics trying to get back on track following the disruption caused by the pandemic and the controversial reign of Jo Coates as chief executive, Buckner appears to be the right man in the right place at the right time. While Coates brought plenty of experience from the world of netball, Buckner is a lifelong athletics man – a two-time Olympian who, despite his elite achievements on the global stage, never lost his connection with the grassroots clubs scene.
READ MORE: Jack Buckner on his greatest race
Likeable and popular, there are unlikely to be many critics of his appointment, which is expected to be made on Thursday (March 31). If the decision had been made by a nationwide vote among athletics clubs, he would surely have been the overwhelming No.1 selection. The people’s choice, in fact, in a sport crying out for astute and strong leadership.
Reporting on Buckner’s appointment, Matt Lawton in The Times wrote: “Buckner will be a strong leader, who will bring some much-needed marketing expertise to a sport that has endured financial difficulties in recent years, as well as a broad knowledge of athletics.
“He is sure to have a close look at the performance side of the sport, not least after such a poor showing in Tokyo. Great Britain finished 24th in the medals table for athletics, winning only three silver and three bronze medals.”
It has been a good week for UKA when it comes to staff signings. Steve Vernon, the former English National cross-country champion, has been appointed as British Athletics endurance manager and now Buckner is poised to take the hot seat.
Since the departure of Coates last year, interim chief executive Mark Munro has done a splendid job in steadying the ship. Now Buckner must use his vast and varied experience to take the sport forward to the next level.
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