When Roger Black stood on the start line at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, he knew his moment had arrived.
With Britain expectant and the world watching, he went up against sprint king Michael Johnson, the American who would go on to win four Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals.
All the technology in the world wouldn’t have helped him win that day. “I let him go,” Black told BusinessCloud at the PT19 tech conference. “I concentrated on what I had to do – and I ran my perfect race.
“This silver medal is, in my eyes, my gold medal.”
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Many people would agree as Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time. However Black, now 53, does wish he had been able to tap into tech throughout his career.
“I was just at the end of the old-school era. It was starting to come in because we didn’t even have phones in my day,” he said.
“Nowadays athletes are measured for their diets and all coaches are videoing them in slow motion so you can see yourself. We had none of that. I never saw myself run in training.
“I wish we had because I wouldn’t have been as injured if my body had been managed throughout my career through technology and the data it brings.”
Acknowledging his relatively privileged background, Black says he had to work hard to whip up the hunger and desire to win against athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds around the world. More than a dozen Olympic, World and European medals – including two golds in the World 4x400m relay – are testament to his success in that regard.
“You can have all the technology in the world, but when you stand behind that line with 100,000 people and you know it’s the Olympic final, that technology isn’t there to help you. It’s got to be your heart,” he explained.
“Look at [British boxer] Anthony Joshua’s recent loss [to Andy Ruiz Jr]: Joshua was clearly highly prepared, but if someone smashes you, you’re in there on your own.
“The danger is if young athletes become so dependent on the technology that they say ‘if I just do this, I’m going to win’… it doesn’t go like that in sport.
“Tech is probably the biggest reason for improvement in performance in sport nowadays, but it can’t do it on its own. The talented athlete with the right attitude is always going to beat the athlete with less talent, but with technology behind them.
“If you can use technology in sport to aid performance, fantastic. If you depend on technology to aid performance, I think you’re going to struggle.”
Black now runs a business with multiple Olympic and World Championship javelin medallist Steve Backley. Guildford-based BackleyBlack’s tagline is ‘Olympic performance in the workplace’ and it also has a property portfolio.
“We run the whole business on our phones,” said Black. “We used to have an office and we don’t any more. Wherever I am, I am growing my business. That’s incredible.
“For younger generations that normality – but not a day goes by that I can’t believe that: I can run my whole business from my phone!
“When you retire from the one thing you’re born to do, you ask yourself a really important question, which is what is success for you? As an athlete my success was winning Olympic medals, a process which was clearly defined by track times. In the real world, it’s not as straightforward.
“As a businessman, my success is to grow our businesses and brand, but work-life balance is a real success for me – so I make choices that make sure I am around for my [13-year-old] twin boys.”