Olympic stars lead tributes to legendary Black Country athletics coach
A renowned Black Country athletics coach who was pivotal in the careers of Olympians Denise Lewis and Lisa Kehler has died at the age of 89.
Legendary coach Bill Hand, from Wolverhampton, passed away on August 29 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
His former students, now Olympic stars, have since paid tribute to the ‘popular’ mentor.
Bill’s affiliation with Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club began when he started volunteering there in 1974.
He used to coach 100 budding female athletes at a time during sessions throughout the week.
He was Olympian Denise Lewis’ first coach when she joined the club in 1981, aged nine, and Bill taught Denise until she was 13.
Born in West Bromwich, Denise went on to win the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 2000 Olympic Games, alongside a number of other World and European Championship medals.
Bill, who left the athletics club in 1991, also coached Lisa Langford, now known as Lisa Kehler, who represented Great Britain at the 1992 and 2000 Olympics and who also won three Commonwealth Games medals as a race walker.
Lisa said: “Bill was really great at encouraging me to try new sports and was the first person to push me into race walking.
"I’ve kept contact with him throughout my career and even kept up a tradition of visiting him on Christmas Day.
“I’ve also been told by the family that he kept all the news reports on me and kept up-to-date with my career and now the family are passing those on to me, it’s so lovely.
“The thing about Bill is that he would encourage anyone, no matter what their skill level.
"He encouraged me to move from his coaching to my first walking coach because he took me as far as he could but he always encouraged everyone no matter what. This is what made him so popular.”
From groceries to PoWs
Born in Wolverhampton in 1929, Bill was one of 12 children.
He helped his father deliver groceries to locals using a horse and cart before moving into a different profession, working all his life as an engineer after doing an engineering course at Wolverhampton College.
He went on to work for Chillington Tools in Willenhall and as a managing director at Munslow Precision Engineering LTD in Wednesfield.
The local legend also worked for the military police between 1947 and 1950, helping dealing with German prisoners of war after the Second World War.
He married Mary Green in 1951 and the couple were together for more than 40 years until her death in 1992 at the age of 59 after being diagnosed with cancer.
The pair had four daughters together as well as eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Bill’s son-in-law Paul Sparks said: “Every Tom, Dick and Harry of that generation knows Bill Hand. If you’re in your 40s onwards in athletics you’ll know him.
“He was so proud of his work in athletics and the two women who went on to the Olympics.
"They always stayed in touch. He also helped so many athletes who went on to get regional and national acclaim in their sports and that was a great thing for him.
“He was always involved with Denise and after Rachael Heyhoe Flint died, Denise visited Bill – they’ve always had a close relationship.
“He was never a show-off or a glory-hunter and just got on with it.”