Roger Black: If you're good at sports it makes life a bit easier in every way
Athlete Roger Black MBE won Olympic silver medals in the 400m and 4x400m at Atlanta in 1996. Roger, 45, and his wife Julia live in Guildford, Surrey with their twin boys George and Max, aged six.
Roger Black says: 'Here I am aged about 12 at Portsmouth Grammar School in a rugby team picture'
Here I am aged about 12 at Portsmouth Grammar School in a rugby team picture. My twin sister Julia and I were born in Portsmouth and grew up in nearby Gosport. My father, David, was a doctor and my mother, Thelma, a nurse. I have two older brothers, Alastair and Nigel. Nigel is one of the world’s most famous French horn players and is now professor of brass at the Royal College of Music. We were always more of a musical family than a sporting family.
Julia and I hated the strict private school we were sent to at first. We made our feelings clear, and our parents thankfully moved us to Alverstoke C of E Infant and then Primary School. We loved it; they were my happiest schooldays. It didn’t feel like school – I just remember running around playing football every day and having a lovely time. I didn’t think I was learning anything, although I was, which is how it should be.
It all changed when I went to the all-boys grammar school. What a culture shock that was! School uniforms with caps, having to do homework and use a fountain pen, and being called by your surname. It was very different, but I slowly adjusted. I had a long journey to school too. I’d get a bus to catch the Gosport-Portsmouth ferry and then walk to school. But that taught me some independence, and my closest friends were the ones who shared this journey with me.
Olympic athlete Roger says: 'It was a rugby school so I learned to play the game, and I loved cricket. If youre good at sports it makes life a bit easier in every way'
The 400m runner had originally trained to be a doctor, but he gave up his studies to devote himself to racing
It was a rugby school so I learned to play the game, and I loved cricket. If you’re good at sports it makes life a bit easier in every way. I became head boy at 17, which astonished me. The headmaster was leaving and made the decision just before he left. I turned it down at first. I felt guilty because I knew I wasn’t as qualified for the job as other, more academic boys but maybe he chose me because I got on well with everyone.
Studying medicine wasn’t a passion, but in those days you were expected to go to university and become something, and I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. I was told I wasn’t clever enough to be a doctor and wouldn’t get the A-levels. But I decided to rise to the challenge and give it a go. Unfortunately I failed maths.
I was devastated, but that mistake changed my life. I took a year off and joined athletics clubs. I was a late starter with athletics, and loved it, but I still intended to read medicine. I re-took my maths A-level, got the right grade and went to Southampton University, but I left after three months, aged 19, because I just couldn’t do both medicine and athletics. My world had changed, you see. I suddenly had a passion and started to think I could win Olympic medals, and you can’t do that half-heartedly.
I always thought I’d go back to uni, but I never did. The next year I was the European and Commonwealth champion. Everything I do now is as a result of my athletics career – particularly winning Olympic medals. I’m very glad now I was born to run fast.
Roger is an ambassador for Scottish Widows and the 2012 London Olympic Games.