Andy Butchart: Change in coaching set-up poses big questions

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Andy Butchart: Change in coaching set-up poses big questions

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

Only time will tell whether Andy Butchart’s switch in coaching set-up will prove a success

But the implications of his decision provoke quite a few more questions than answers.

The switch came packaged as part of the announcement that Butchart will be running in his first half marathon this autumn.

While the Great Scottish Run is billed as more a test of fitness following an end-of-season break than anything else, having a homegrown star in Glasgow is a coup for the event, without a doubt.

But isn’t it rather sad that another top British athlete is nailing his colours to a coach overseas?

It surely isn’t the case that Britain doesn’t have enough quality coaches or, indeed, anybody willing to work with an Olympic finalist.

Butchart would be an attractive proposition to anyone. Just why he has been advised to join Terrence Mahon, in particular, is anyone’s guess.

It’s yet another kick in the teeth for British coaches. It seems that, in allowing this move to happen, British Athletics are admitting their own failings.

There are many great coaches and former athletes with untapped knowledge to be picked at and unlocked.

We talk about improving British coaching – but as soon as we see a sniff of a decent athlete, home-grown coaches are bypassed and athletes are advised to go overseas. So, what’s the point?

Of course, Mahon used to be employed by British Athletics back in 2013 until, after only one year in the job, he left under unknown circumstances.

Now working for the Boston Athletic Association, Mahon is perhaps best-known to us for coaching Chris O’Hare. The Scot has gone from 3:35.06 to 3:33.61 over 1500m since he hooked up with Mahon three years ago.

He has also coached Commonwealth silver-medallist and world 800m finalist (and, coincidentally, Butchart’s girlfriend) Lynsey Sharp, since 2013.

It isn’t quite clear whether Butchart has been plucked from a successful system and transplanted to a coach overseas or that he genuinely feels his future fortunes rest on the Adidas-employed coach.

Butchart says he ‘started speaking to Terrence at Rio last year and we just gradually got to know each other a bit more.’

Which begs the question: is this ‘new’ coaching set-up only just coming into effect?

Or has Mahon had more input on Butchart’s career in the last twelve months than we otherwise knew?

Either way, it comes across as harsh on Derek Easton, who has played a pivotal role in taking Butchart from an average club runner to 6th in the Olympic Games 5,000m in the space of a few years.

It’s less than three years since Butchart described Easton as a coach who ‘has coached me pretty much since day one of my athletics career and knows what he is doing, so I trust him 100%. I think that is very important.’

Times change – but in a season that brought indoor bests, a Scottish 3,000m record and a top-8 finish at the world champs, Butchart’s upward curve shows little sign of faltering.

So why change now?

Which brings us to his association with Mo Farah.

The pair have been getting cosy of late – ever since Butchart jumped on Farah’s shoulder to impressively lead out the Olympic 5,000m last summer.

The chumminess continued with Farah handing over of his vest to his apparent heir after his final track race in the UK last month.

Butchart says he received advice from none other than Mo Farah when deciding to make the coaching switch.

And that may be the most surprising snippet of all.

True, Farah turned to Alberto Salazar at a similar point in his career and has since gone on to win title after title.

But can, or perhaps more to the point, should any athlete take coaching advice from a guy whose coach is still under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency?

Surely he should be the last person Butchart would consult with before making such a switch. The cosying up in the current climate seems naïve.

Whatever’s really driving the move and however it all now pans out, the rejection of the system here speaks volumes.

The state of coaching in the UK was a topic prised open and picked over during the summer.

Another talent being steered out of the UK coaching system should cause concern. The fact it doesn’t is perhaps more worrying.

Just why that’s the case and whether anybody has any urge to do anything about it remains to be seen.

Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Andrew Peat