BRITISH Athletics has lost one of its great characters, with the death of former Tipton Harrier and national Cross Country champion Andy Holden, over the weekend of 4th and 5th of January.
Chris Holloway of Tipton Harriers alerted the Bugle to Andy's passing, and paid him a personal tribute.
"Andy was an inspirational man to many generations of athletes and runners from the 1970s through to the present day," he told us.
"He was a good man across all spheres of his life. His coming to Birmingham to study and then joining the Black Country club of Tipton Harriers was the catalyst for the innumerable titles the club has won and the great fun had on and off the road.
"Andy's contribution cannot be underestimated and will be appreciated for many years to come. He knew the value of hard work in his athletics, and the many benefits it brought across all facets of life – an example to us all."
Born in 1948, Andy Holden grew up in Leyland, Lancashire, and was a member of Preston Harriers Athletics Club as a young man. He became the mainstay of many Lancashire cross country teams during his early racing years.
He once said that his simple creed was 'to beat the guy that beat me last week', but added that the standard in the Lancashire team was so high at the time that you virtually had to be of national class to qualify.
Andy won the National Junior Cross Country Championship in 1969 at Parliament Hill Fields in London ahead of Olympic runner David Bedford. He then set a UK record for 3000m S/C in 1972 of 8m 26.4s.
"Andy was a multiple Great Britain international over the roads, cross country, fells and on the track, both indoor and out, during the 1970s and '80s," said Chris. "He was one of the rare few who competed as an international at junior, senior and veteran level.
"He competed at the Commonwealth Games in 1970, European Championships in 1971 and the Olympics in 1972. He won gold with England teams during the 1970s at the World Cross Country Championships.
"He would race over any distance, from the humble mile up to ultra distance events such as the 36 Mile Two Bridges Race in Scotland, where he set a course record."
Andy moved to the Midlands in 1968, to study Dentistry at the University of Birmingham, and represented the university with distinction. While there he helped establish the annual 'Past vs Present' races.
Once qualified as a dentist, Andy worked at a number of practices around Birmingham and the Black Country.
"When Andy joined Tipton Harriers, so began a competitive club record that remains to this day," Chris continued. "His presence persuaded other top runners to throw their hat in with the club.
"He enjoyed his sport and enjoyed the company that it brought. Andy could be found racing anywhere from a lowly Midland track and field league meeting at Tipton, up to the international glare of a televised meeting at Crystal Palace.
"He simply enjoyed the thrill of running and racing. He had a long career, occasionally interrupted with injury, but enjoyed success well into the veteran ranks during the 1990s.
"Athletics will not see the likes of this great man again – a true legend.
Olympian and athletics commentator Brendan Foster, who ran against Andy many times over the years, paid tribute to him on hearing of his death:
"He was a great bloke as well as an outstanding athlete who had the respect of all his contemporaries. He will be sadly missed."