Interview: Forgotten hero Yates lifts the lid on a golden era of British miling (part one)
by Jack Corbett
Former British 800m and 1500m stalwart Matthew Yates is the last British athlete to be ranked in the top 10 for the 1500 (1993 & 1994) and one of a great line of milers preceded by the likes of Coe, Ovett, Elliott and Cram who no doubt motivated him but also shadowed his own individual achievements given the height of their success.
Some of Yates’ notable achievements include a European Indoor Title over 1500m in 1992 along with a surprise Commonwealth 800m bronze in 1990 where, just three days shy of his 21st birthday, he relegated the great Seb Coe to 6th place. Adding to that, victories in the prestigious Fifth Avenue Mile and near misses at both the European and World Champs (6th place in both), along with P.B.s of 1:45.05, 3.34 and 3.52.75 for the mile, it is easy to see how golden an era of miling and middle distance running it was for Great Britain given that the achievements of athletes of Yates’ calibre were often an afterthought given the outrageous times of Coe, Cram et al.
I caught with Matthew Yates for JumpingTheGun to get an insight into where he’s at now, his contribution to the sport today and his opinions on how we can get back to the heady heights of a time when British athletes held the running world to ransom.
Firstly Matt where are you now in terms of work, involvement in the sport etc. having finished your career in the late 1990’s?
I work in the gambling industry (sports book side) so am kind of involved in the stats side of professional sport and probability but since leaving athletics I have worked mainly in Banking and Gambling over the last 15 years.
How did you first get into athletics and who was your coach?
I got into Track purely because it was a time of major football violence and track was featured on TV loads because of Coe, Ovett, Cram, Elliot etc
My first coach was my junior school teacher Mike Rosbrook who took me to Basildon AC. Then my dad, Mike Yates, coached me and he went on to coach Bath, Saracens and England Rugby teams. I worked with Alan Storey who was (and still is) a massive inspiration to me; I try to talk to him as much as is possible. The late Bruce Longdon was another major influence who introduced me to a very different take to training. However the late Bob Mortimer who helped me though out my athletics career was the main inspiration.
What do you rate as your greatest achievement?
Enjoying the sport was an achievement and also all it brought and gave to me. To this day I am still the last male British world ranked T&F 1500 athlete, which is sad and I think two years, 93 and 94, in-a-row in the top 10 was a big deal given who I was up against. Also racing in the Europeans in 98 where I raced off 4 races to the champs and John Mayock, Anthony Whiteman and I should have emulated the spitfire moment of 86 (Coe, Cram and McKean clean sweep Euro 800 1986) if the testing was any good*.
Result 1998 European 1500
1st Reyes Estévez Spain 3:41.31
2nd Rui Silva Portugal 3:41.84
3rd Fermín Cacho Spain 3:42.13
4th Anthony Whiteman Great Britain 3:42.27
5th John Mayock Great Britain 3:42.58
6th Matthew Yates Great Britain 3:42.63
*this is Yates’ opinion. None of the first three athletes have ever officially failed a drugs test
Were you satisfied with your career as a whole and if you could go back and change anything with your approach racing etc. what would it be? (Knowing what you know today)
I would change everything and would definitely have a number of medals if I did. The sport isn’t just about training and racing it has so many other things added to it that will equate to success like having the right lifestyle and objectives. Without doubt you must run yourself as a business to be successful and also be very selfish to succeed. I didn’t do any of that and lived on talent and late nights which was stupidity to the highest order.
What was it like having competed against legends such as Cram, Coe, and Ovett Elliott etc? Did this have much of an impact on you in terms of motivation to reach that level etc?
They were idols of mine like Eamonn Coghlan and the Irish lads were to me growing up. I think the 1983 worlds had a huge impact on me growing up. Coe Cram and Elliot were awesome to me as a kid and I couldn’t have had better people to aspire too but I wish I could have said the same about Ovett who I idolised as a kid “they say don’t meet your heroes!!!”
Motivation wise they were key figures for me but so was Rob Denmark to me as a kid because we were at the same club and he pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. Also one huge motivator was John Gladwin because he showed these great idols could be beaten in the late 80s. But when Crammy and Elliot retired it left a big gap for me because they were always targets of greatness as was Coe who I beat in his last race in Auckland. I think that had a bigger impact on me than I realised and affected my career a lot with regards to motivation.
You can watch Yates’ race for bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland here