Woodford’s legendary coach, 88-year old Ron Bowden, sadly passed away at home in South Woodford on the evening of Saturday May 12th, survived by his wife Jose', and their three children, Philip, Stephen and Yvette.
Ron had been coaching for over 70 years, 65 of those with Woodford. His initial interest in coaching began whilst undertaking National Service in the Royal Navy, and then with Loughton AC, where his interest was primarily in the running events. He joined Woodford Green AC in 1953, and brought with him two of his young charges at Loughton, David Stearns and John Baker, both of whom went on to become fine Woodford middle distance clubmen under Ron’s guidance, with David going on to gain international honours at 3000m steeplechase.
Ron eventually coached across all distances and disciplines, and indeed guided athletes to international level in most, if not all. His range of expertise was prodigious and the many hundreds, if not thousands of athletes he guided over the years included, on the track, one of Britain’s leading sprinters of the early and mid-1960’s David Jones, through to Woodford club marathon record holder Colin Moxsom, to multi-events in which he guided Kim Hagger to Olympic heptathlon representation and Gladys Taylor (Bird) to European Cup pentathlon representation, prior to two Olympics (400m, 400mH and 4x400m). He guided a Woodford men’s 4x100m team to a national Club title.
However, it was in the throwing events, notably the hammer, that Ron might be best remembered. A modest hammer throwing proponent himself, who won an Essex County title, his expertise in the event increased, and he organised a clinic at Ashton in 1965 with the then world record holder Gyula Zsivotzky of Hungary. He was heavily involved in the formation of the Hammer Circle, including later serving as its Chairman and, under the BAAB, Ron became a Senior Coach and later the national event coach for the hammer. He produced and guided numerous good hammer throwers, many over 60m, and some very good ones over 70m, such that by 1990 three of the top six on the UK all-time lists (Martin Girvan, Matt Mileham and Paul Head) had been guided by Ron. Decades before the phrase “strength and conditioning” became fashionable parlance amongst the more recent and current Track & Field coaching fraternity Ron had already embraced such techniques, and his technical knowledge was sought after by ITV as an expert commentator on both athletics and weight lifting in the 1980’s. Recognising his contribution to the Club, Ron was awarded Life Membership of Woodford Green AC in 1968.
But Ron’s interests were far from restricted to helping those who had the potential to reach international level. He was equally keen on helping the average athlete get the most out of themselves. As long as they were prepared to agree and then commit to the time they had available to better themselves, Ron would do likewise and more. His 65 years coaching with Woodford saw him at Ashton Playing Fields certainly more than any other individual. He would be there not less than four days each week and sometimes more, and often more than once a day. He would only be absent for a very occasional holiday (usually to France), or to attend athletics meetings.
There can be few individuals within our sport who have given such dedication and commitment over such a long period. Ron’s legacy is huge both to Woodford Green Athletic Club with EL and the sport more generally. He will be sorely missed. It can only be hoped that part of that legacy can live on through some of the athletes and ex-athletes that he guided, and through some of the other coaches that sought his expertise.
Below: In 2008 many of Ron's former charges came together to celebrate his 60th year in coaching.