You almost certainly know something about Jessica Ennis-Hill. Poster girl for the 2012 Olympics she secured her place in the hearts and history of the British people by winning the gold. She then went on to confound all expectations by winning her third world championship gold at Beijing following the birth of her son, Reggie, less than 12 months previously. She concluded her career by securing silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In short, Jess is one of the best-known and most successful athletes the UK has ever produced. From her early teenage years she has broken with all received wisdom and kept the same coach. That coach is Toni Minichiello.
There are a few things you might like to know about Toni. Firstly he doesn’t suffer fools. At all. Secondly, he views much of the world of Athletics as, well, on the wrong side of foolish. He is a lone wolf or, perhaps more accurately, a lone grizzly forcing his disgruntled way through swathes of bureaucracy, self-interest, drugs scandals and corruption. He vents his anger at all these things regularly, spewing profanities whilst fixing you with a stare that wavers between evangelical and lunatic.
I’ve seen him knock an outstretched hand away in front of onlookers because he felt the individual concerned lacked integrity. I’ve also seen him put his all into coaching kids that probably don’t stand much more chance of earning an Olympic Gold than I do. He studied law, worked for years at a job centre and learned his trade the hard way, working evenings and weekends of those early years looking after his group of athletes – with little or no financial reward. By his own assessment he’s been the worlds’ worst lifeguard (fortunately without accompanying tragedy) and the worlds’ best athletics coach. He kindles a burning hatred of Thatcherism, fantasises about singing like Frank Sinatra and finds it extremely challenging to resist a Turkish Delight.
I like him a lot.
But, for all his anger … Toni cares. He cares about his athletes and cares about a sport that seems determined to corrode itself from the inside out.
Above all he’s about his athletes, whether it’s Olympic Champions or grafters on the fringe. He pushes each and every one of them hard, challenging them to continually improve.
He’s at the track six days a week, every week. It’s always been this way.
Now you get to join in.