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Miklos Simon 2007-2017

Miklos Simon: GB Canoeing 2007-2017

 

It was with great sadness that I read of the departure from the UK of Miklos Simon, firstly because he was a good friend and mentor and secondly because it is very bad news for GB Canoeing.

 

I would like to run through an short history of the time Miklos spent with GB Canoeing, the highs and lows and perhaps from this we can all learn a few lessons.

 

(For those with a short attention span you can flick through to find some bullet points at the bottom of the piece.)

 

Miklos arrived in the UK in quite bizarre circumstances. At the end of 2006 two job opportunities in GB Canoeing were offered for technical coach for the senior women's team. There were three applicants. Coach One who had coached in the UK for some time with mediocre (at best) results, Coach Two from Australia who had not done much coaching at all and was from a different sporting background, and Miklos who had already coached women for several years and had a couple of World Championship titles in his bank. GB canoeing in its wisdom rejected him and chose options 1 and 2 (obviously).
Soon after, he heard that there was another position opened up and they did want him after all.

 

January 2007 saw him get a development coach role and he teamed up with Jess Walker, and shortly after, Anna Hemmings neither of whom was in the senior squad. Jess was too young and Anna had been ill the previous season. Both made good progress, and after just 3 months of working together Anna became an A Finalist at European Championships (EC) and Jess won Junior EC Gold.

 

2008 saw Jess and Anna qualify ahead of the Senior National Squad athletes coached by Coaches 1 and 2. 

In K2 500 they qualified for the Olympic Games. Jess also gained a Junior World Championship (WC) silver medal. So far so good!

 

2009-2010 Miklos is now assigned to the senior women’s team, the previous coach, as is the norm with faltering coaches was promoted to Head Coach 2. Miklos was to coach the best 5 athletes, Coach One was assigned to the next group. Often training together, within one year of being in charge the GB Women’s team reached its highest ranking of 4th in the World behind Hungary, Germany and Poland. GB Women were now regulars in championship finals and we gained, with Rachael Cawthorne, our first World Sprint medalist at an Olympic distance.

 

2011 Olympic Qualification year, and Rachael Cawthorne struggled with health. 

Despite Rachael’s K1 form faltering though the women's team reached an all time high and were 4th in the qualification event the WC in Szeged. Leading at 200m, 2nd at 300m and 4th in a photofinish it was the first (and the last) time our crew was truly on par with the big guns. As BBC commentator for the event I announced that not only are they now a shoe in for a medal in 2012 with their current trajectory, this crew was a serious contender for a Gold. It was possibly the most excited I have been by a GB Performance.

 

Now…...this is where things begin to get a little strange. 

Miklos’ reward for this phenomenal achievement was to have his role reduced. Some of the women, it seemed, were unhappy and the management and support staff backed them. Head Coach 2/Coach 2 returned to take the two best women into 2012, Miklos had the other two from the K4 and Coach One had the rest of the group. Yes three coaches for one team!! Training fragmented and the overall loss of cohesion and communication led to a gradual and inevitable decline in morale and ultimately performance. With just 8 weeks to go until London 2012 it was evident something serious needed to be done and management reinstated Miklos as the sole coach for the K4. He had 8 weeks to turn around an entire year of decline.

 

Things ended with a respectable 5th place in OG final for the K4 and a 12th for the K2. It was not ideal but it looked a lot better on paper than it would have if things had been left as they were. Essentially Miklos spared the blushes of GB Canoeing who had promised so much in the lead up to the event.

 

His thanks for saving the day?……..you guessed it, demotion to the development girls squad. The squad he had created over the past 3 years was taken over by Coach 4 who had never had a senior role in the sport and had only been coaching for a couple of years.

 

One of my most interesting conversations at this time was with Head Coach 3, (installed after Head Coach 2’s sudden departure) who had been in his job for a matter of days. On discussing Miklos, who I had suggested was one of our best coaches, he disagreed and went on to tell me all the faults Miklos had. I asked if he had actually spoken to Miklos or watched him coach, he hadn’t! But he had already been briefed by management…………!

 

 

Management promised Miklos a return to the senior women's team in two years but 2013 and 14 were spent building a large and strong development team. All his athletes finished in the A Finals at EC. Two medals at WC and 9 athletes in WC or EC finals!!

 

Despite this management reneged on their promise and installed Coach 5 for the women's team from 2014-2015 as Coach 4 was, unsurprisingly, not getting the results. 

Coach 5’s history is different depending who you speak to, certainly he had never coached women before, he had also not worked as a coach for 16 years, prior to that though the jury is out on whether he had ever really been a coach at all!

 

 

2015, the most important year of the whole Olympic Cycle was left to Coach 5 and not surprisingly results faltered through the year, prior to the WC at which qualification was essential (there is only this opportunity to qualify a K4) things were looking certain that we were not going to qualify.

In this situation, as before, the management turned to their best option. Miklos was called in with 6 weeks….yes 6 weeks! of a three year build up period….to go. Every knowledgeable person outside the system agreed he was stupid to take the task on, he should walk away, the job he had been given was impossible and he would be the scapegoat when he failed. We all believed he had no chance.

 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, the PD was on the line so Miklos was allowed to be dictatorial in his athlete selection, against the rules of selection 

Many were unhappy and rightfully so. The PD though knew they only had one chance and as they had done four years earlier turned to the only man they knew who had a chance of retrieving the dire situation they were in.

 

The outcome just 6 weeks later, 5th place at Worlds and automatic qualification for 4 women to Rio just 0.7seconds behind Bronze, this allowed us not only to race the K4 but also the two K1 places which we had failed to qualify under Coach 5! Without exaggeration this was frankly a miracle and the PD breathed a sigh of relief.

 

2016 and Miklos was promised anything he wanted/needed for preparation for Rio. It was not to be though. Coach 5 was still allowed to coach half the group. 

With this fragmented training group, not for the first time Miklos was pressured into making compromise to keep the women's team together

It is a compromise he regrets. It is a compromise that cost him dearly and ultimately the K4, though making the A Final in Rio, (which was way better than the majority of events that we failed to even qualify), the 7th place was the first time in 10 years that Miklos had coached a squad that did not reach it’s potential. The Coach 5 crew, who had sacked their coach shortly before the Games performed even worse and were lackluster at best. The results suffered from a lack of direction and a lack of strength from the management team who allowed motivation beyond simple results colour their actions.

 

GB qualified only 6 people automatically for the Rio Olympics in just 2 events from a possible 12. Four of those athletes were qualified by Miklos, against the odds. It was a sad end to a good fight.

 

On their return the squad were told that they would not be on funding for the new season and Miklos, as his results were not good enough, would not have his contract renewed. He was sacked for poor performance.

 

A potted history of his time in GB Canoeing is below

 

  • In his career in GB Canoeing Miklos worked with 18 athletes across senior, junior, and U23. All 18 reached EC or WC A Finals.

 

  • Miklos athletes won 4 WC medals and 4 EC medals

 

  • He never had a season where his athletes failed to reach EC or WC A Finals

 

  • He created the best series of Women's results we have ever seen in this country and came close to the first Olympic Medal for Women.

 

  • In 2011 his team made A finals and medalled in virtually every world cup event.

 

  • His athletes won the first ever Senior Women's World Sprint medal and the first ever senior Women's Gold medal at a sprint event. 

 

  • He was the man BC called upon twice when the stakes were at their highest to salvage a situation that looked hopeless. He succeeded both times.

 

  • He is now the man who has been sacked for underachieving.

 

  • The thanks for this work?…..to be assigned a paragraph in Alex Nikonorov testimonial article on the BC website. A factually inaccurate paragraph that suggested he had chosen to return to his native Hungary to coach there. 

 

  • The truth is, a management who could not cope with his failure to comply sacked him.

 

If Miklos had chosen anything, it would be that he could remain in the UK, take his women's team through to 2020 and see them reach the potential he knows they have.

 

He is without doubt a phenomenally successful coach with a depth of knowledge and understanding rarely seen. Even if the PD don’t think he is the man to coach the senior women it would have been great to have him stay here and put together a coaching template for up and coming and club coaches, a task that he had always said he would love to do. To lose him is a waste and a missed opportunity. If BC could swallow some humble pie and contact him, to fit back into our system it would a big step on the road to a better future for GB athletes. 

 

Incidentally 

Coach 1 who has not figured in any results in living memory continues to work with BC, 

Coach 2 jumped ship unannounced after 2012 leaving the programme with no head coach. 

Coach 4 returned to coaching development athletes and continues to get good results at that level, 

Coach 5 was let go and returned to his home country.

 

I am under no illusion that any coach does not have their faults and failures but ultimately coaches, provided nothing illegal has occurred, can only be judged on results. If athletes have issues with them then that is where management should step up to sort out the situation to protect results. 

 

We have had the best group of women I believe we will ever see in this country and one of the best coaches in the world available to work with them. If there has been a failure at any level it has to be with the management who have failed to get the most from their employees.  

 

For British Canoeing to assign this man to a footnote in someone else’s piece is both shameful and rude. This is my attempt to make amends. 

Miklos you will be greatly missed by all those athletes who you helped to reach their true potential, by the club coaches who benefited from your knowledge and experience, and by the sport as a whole who will find you hard to replace. 

It is my genuine hope that we will see you back here doing what you do best in the near future.

 

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