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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Geoff Capes talks about growing up in Holbeach, winning international medals and earning a place in athletics' hall of fame




Geoff Capes achieved legendary status as an international athlete back in the 1970s - now he has finally claimed a place in the sport's hall of fame.

Growing up with "absolutely nothing" in Holbeach, he became a household name through hard work and determination to be the best.

Today he wants the story to inspire more youngsters - particularly in his home county - and he plans to leave a legacy with Lincs Throws Academy.

Geoff Capes proudly shows off his England Athletics hall of fame award
Geoff Capes proudly shows off his England Athletics hall of fame award

At the age of 69, Capes was inducted into England Athletics' hall of fame following an incredible career which featured two Commonwealth Games gold medals and two European indoor titles as a shot putter.

The three-time Olympian was also honoured in the World’s Strongest Man hall of fame earlier this year.

World's Strongest Man
World's Strongest Man

However, it all began at Boston Road Junior School, George Farmer School and Holbeach Athletic Club where he met coach Stuart Storey.

Capes said: "Stuart was an Olympian in 1968 and he's only a few years older than me but we've had a lifetime together. It was great to have my coach there at the Commonwealth Games or other events when he was commentating as well.

"Last year, he was inducted into England Athletics' hall of fame but they didn't invite me to the ceremony and he was absolutely livid. I didn't even know about it.

Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame

"I'll hold up my hands and admit I got into trouble at school. I always wanted to be number one so Stuart said 'why don't you put all this into doing something else and turn it around?'

"I've asked him what he would put on my gravestone. He replies that it would have to say 'local boy done good'.

"I'll never forget the motto at my old secondary school about seeking higher things. Coming from absolutely nothing, I basically achieved everything that I set out to do so I hope that is an incentive to youngsters that they can do it.

"I had a lot of issues growing up but I have still achieved what I wanted in life. There are no barriers if you are put on the right road to reach your potential.

"I got into trouble every day as a boy in Holbeach. I was very proud to be brought up as a Fen Tiger which means I'm rebellious - even though I became a policeman!

"There were some great people who helped me - Stuart Storey, Tommy Clay, Mrs Dawson of Holbeach Bank, Stan Taylor and PE master Gary Cook all believed in me and stayed right behind me.

"One of the most important people was Tony Worth who has provided funds from the trust to help out locally.

"I wanted to be the best all the time. At the age of 11, I was throwing men's shots. I wanted to emulate the comic strip heroes and Tarzan by becoming like those characters.

"My dad was a gangmaster so I probably worked on all of south Lincolnshire's farms where I learned about strength and lifting.

"Our issues were all about where was the dinner money coming from. I went to school in dead men's clothes which my mum picked up at work and we couldn't even afford a pair of plimsols.

"I was proud to represent myself and Lincolnshire because of my background. It was important to represent your country but it meant more to me in terms of where I've come from.

Commonwealth Games champion 1974
Commonwealth Games champion 1974

"I loved beating the Russians and Americans to become number one in the world.

"The turning point came in 1974 and, although it just wasn't my day when I went to the Olympic Games, I went on to become the most-capped British male athlete of all time.

How the Lincolnshire Free Press reported Geoff Capes' gold medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games
How the Lincolnshire Free Press reported Geoff Capes' gold medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games

"I won so many medals, apart from at the Olympic Games. There are no regrets because I went three times in 1972 (Munich), 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow).

1980
1980

"I should have won the last one because I was ranked number two in the world.

"There were extra pressures and I had to make a huge decision over my career in the police force.

"Margaret Thatcher banned servicemen from going to the Olympic Games. So I had no option - I retired even though I had a young family and I had spent 12 years of my police career in Cambridgeshire.

"Sport should never be interfered with by politics but, unfortunately, it happened. I gave all that up when I only knew about sport and the police.

1980 Olympics in Moscow
1980 Olympics in Moscow

"I was a roofer by trade but I didn't see myself going back so I joined up with a partner for a national security company based in Dundee, working from Aberdeen to Bristol.

"It was very successful and gave me the opportunity to turn professional for the Highland Games and strongman events.

"After two years, I applied to go back to athletics as a professional but they wanted to know how much I had earned during that time.

"I was also getting money through sponsorship, advertising and TV appearances. I was a household name in athletics so the crossover was pretty easy on the commercial side.

"I was in my 30s heading to 40 but I competed until the age of 47 then retired after a lot of injuries. Now I can hardly walk very far so I've paid the price physically. I'd never change it, though."

Geoff Capes' medal haul
Geoff Capes' medal haul

Capes and his son Lewis are coaching shot put and discus for junior and senior athletes at Lincs Throws Academy.

The first of eight indoor sessions during the winter was held the morning after Capes collected his hall of fame award from Storey.

He added: "We started the academy nine years ago - it was my brainchild to give a little bit back and it's nice to actually go back to Holbeach where it all started for myself.

"We have athletes and coaches from Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Suffolk. Most of the throwers join Nene Valley Harriers.

"A lot of club coaches are really good at what they do but I can identify talent and transfer ideas. If we are going to have a really great champion, we have all got a part to play.

"I started at Holbeach at the age of nine and I've been coaching for 50 years.

"I try not to cross over the barrier between the coach and athlete. We encourage coaches to come along and we can pass on our knowledge to them as well.

"There is so much talent, particularly within Lincolnshire, but the roles have changed because other sports have become professional too. Everybody wants success and more money now.

"Throwing is all about hard work for a long time because of the weight differences through the age groups. I'm always learning and my best throws came after I retired.

"Lewis is an ex-international thrower and exceptional athlete. He also played rugby union and American football professionally.

"He's learning very quickly as a coach and I'm trying to pass on my knowledge and leave a legacy. Hopefully we can find a bit more funding to push on.

"I was a rough diamond and a bit different. I'm still looking to help other people.

"It's not just about being a coach in name and having those qualifications. I'm old school and I always give 100 per cent. You are a volunteer but you don't just turn up to coach - sometimes you have act like their parent as well.

"I'm coaching five days a week but everything is on a shoestring due to the costs of equipment and hall hire. There is a big cloud hanging over us all the time so it needs impetus.

"Kids want instant success. They must be prepared to work and earn everything.

"I was an amateur in the 1980s but I would still win medals today and collect £150,000 at a meeting. But a lot of people don't realise how much we struggle at grassroots level. There is hardship even now."

Lincs Throws Academy
Lincs Throws Academy

LINCS THROWS ACADEMY

Holbeach Youth Centre shot and discus training dates (all Sundays): October 28, November 11 and 25, December 9, January 13, February 10, March 10

Under-13 to 18: 10am to noon

Seniors: noon to 2pm

Cost: £5 per session

Graded indoor shot competitions: January 20, February 17, March 17

11 to 18 years: 10am (register 9.30am)

Seniors: 11am (register 10.30am)

Entry: £7.50

Website: capes3.wixsite.com/lincsthrows

Email: capes@talktalk.net

Twitter: @LincsThrowsAc

Trophies and photos on display
Trophies and photos on display


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