George Sinclair, athletics coach and one of the heroes of grassroots sport

Born: 17 November 1928;

Died: 5 August 2021

George Sinclair, who has died aged 92, was one of Scotland’s most dedicated and successful athletics coaches who over six decades made an enormous contribution to the sport about which he was passionate. Very personable and popular, he combined people skills with technical knowledge to enable athletes to maximise their potential and enjoy doing so at the same time.

He gained equal satisfaction training unheralded youngsters as working with international athletes. According to fellow coach Bill Walker, “George was always willing to help any athlete and an easy guy to get on with.” He also mentored other coaches with whom he was generous with his knowledge.

George was very well qualified. He was designated a Master Coach by British Athletics as an Olympic level coach, was a Level 4 coach in Scotland, the highest tier, for sprints, hurdles, middle distance and relays and a Scottish Athletics Staff Coach in these events. In the 1970s he was sprint relay coach to the British women's team while domestically he was most associated with Edinburgh Southern Harriers Ladies team (later Edinburgh Woollen Mill A.C.) who became very successful with him as head coach, winning Leagues and Cups at Scottish and UK level and producing many internationalists.

He was also a co-founder in 1962 of Edinburgh men's athletics club, Octavians A.C., which was one of the country’s strongest, and helped develop several internationalists.

An important contributor to the administrative side of the sport, he was a national team manager and also acted as stadium announcer, memorably at Murrayfield Highland Games.

Although the consummate professional as an accomplished coach, George was a true ‘amateur’ as he was never paid for his services, nor did he wish to be. It was fitting that in 1974 his input was recognised by the award of the Torch Trophy in London, for the unsung heroes of grassroots sport, the Torch symbolising Olympic ideals. Further recognition followed with the award of honorary life membership of Edinburgh Athletic Club and Scottish Athletics.

George William Sinclair was born in Pathhead the only child of Bob and Elizabeth. He was initially brought up there before moving to West Calder and then to Bangholm Terrace, Edinburgh where his parents ran Goldenacre Post Office.

He was educated at Pathhead Primary and George Heriot’s where he played rugby but football was his favourite game, playing on Saturday afternoons after morning rugby. A lifelong Hibs fan, he often attended matches with son Robert.

After leaving school he was initially a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries before undertaking national service with the Parachute Regiment in Germany for two years, an experience he enjoyed.

Once demobbed he worked as a commercial traveller with Kay Cards and became a leading light with Heriot’s Athletics Club whom he represented as a sprinter while occasionally assisting the Rugby Club with fitness training at Goldenacre.

By the mid 1960s he had taken over his parents’ Post Office and expanded his business interests by opening several card shops in Edinburgh, which he ran till retiring in 1992.

As his interest in coaching grew, he began an association with Edinburgh Southern Harriers Ladies whose team he developed, later clinching a valuable sponsorship with Edinburgh Woollen Mill with consequent name change. George secured this through his relationship with Woollen Mill director David Stevenson, a former Olympic pole vaulter whose fledgling career George had encouraged when David was a schoolboy in Dumfries.

This enabled the club to develop a strong financial base to feature on the UK stage and win National Leagues and the British Pye Cup. Prominent among the club’s many internationalists George coached were sprinter Helen Golden, an Olympian in Montreal 1976, a multi Commonwealth Games and British internationalist and middle distance runner Anne Clarkson-Purvis who won silver at 800ms at Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982, later taking the oath on behalf of athletes in the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

In 1955 George married Netta with whom he had children Robert and Jan but they later divorced. In 1971 he married former athlete Pat Brown with whom he spent many happy years and had two daughters, Fiona and Lorna.

Outwith family and athletics, George fulfilled two long held ambitions, owning a Jaguar and a sightseeing trip to the Rockies. Despite a leg amputation in 1991, his zest for life remained undimmed. He played a full part in family life, supporting his children's and grandchildren's many pursuits and was a welcoming host at home. Grandson Allan Hamilton’s recent Scottish championships 100ms sprint success would have pleased him tremendously.

Family holidays included trips to Tenerife and Majorca as well as Melbourne to visit Fiona while George maintained his musical interests, latterly a fan of Andre Rieu. A sociable individual, he enjoyed stimulating conversation accompanied with a fine wine or malt whisky.

The onset of dementia made life difficult but thanks to Pat with support from Edinburgh Homecare and others, George was able to remain at home.

Celebrated coach and old friend Frank Dick fittingly stated in a tribute, "George lived the concept that coaches not only prepare the athlete for their sport but through sport for their lives.”

The presence of many athletes at his funeral was testimony to his success on and off the track.

George is survived by his wife, children and many grand and great grandchildren.