The sudden passing of Carol Ford on the morning of 27th April 2017 brings to a close a wonderful period in Men’s Artistic Gymnastics in London and British Gymnastics. Carol was one of those few people (Mostly unknown now), but a woman with determination and drive who set into motion the actions that have led to the incredible success that our Men are having in the world today.
Carol was, for her time a rare and unique coach – a female who coached “Men’s Artistic Gymnastics” of which she did to the highest possible level. Indeed, she was the first ever female to head the coaching team of a MA International team. Carol was very passionate about the sport, always willing to give her time and expertise. Her ability to pass knowledge onto the boys she coached was excellent.
Carol’s first involvement in gymnastics was where she took her son Simon Ford to a gymnastics class at Elmbridge Leisure Centre. After Simon won the boys NDP’s he was invited to go along to St. Mary’s college in Twickenham for extra training. This is where Carol met Bill McLoughlin and through his inspiration Carol opened a gymnastics club for boys at St. Mary’s. She enrolled onto a Club Level Coaching Course at Slough College of Higher Education where in those days coaches attended every Monday for a year to really learn their craft under the direction of Jan Perry and Jim Powell. This is where Carol met Jackie and a bonding friendship was formed.
Once qualified to run a club Carol started running her own club for boys in St. Mary’s when Simon reach 12 years old Carol knew he needed to progress his talent and they both moved onto the famous old Hendon GC in Algernon Road in 1984. Carol then was offered a position of head coach for MA by Len and Yvonne Arnold at Harrow SoG. There she continually produced excellent male gymnasts. Her prodigy was “Kanukai Jackson” who became British Champion twice and became the All-around Champion for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. At the age of 16 at a national final, Kanukai was the first ever junior to perform a Handspring Double Front Somi Vault which he performed with incredible power blowing the ceiling of the junior code at the time. He actually scored 11.10 for that vault but 10.00 was the highest score anyone could be given. This meant the code had to be revaluated – an incredible achievement at that time.
For many years’ Carol ran and organised the MA discipline in the London Gymnastics Federation. The Technical Committee she chaired was made up mainly, of herself, Barbara MacDuff (another great figure in the sport) as treasurer and Jackie Lewis who was the competition Organiser. Carol persuaded June Tatch to join this very successful trio to act as Secretary. So, at a time when London’s Men and Boys were having considerable success in the sport – there was an all-female committee running it. Carol, Barbara and Jackie made a very formidable and extraordinarily knowledgeable technical committee. All three ladies were involved working full-time in the sport, but gave up their extremely rare ‘spare’ time to act as volunteers on this TC. With little money coming in, somehow this trio managed to organise and run one of the most prestigious competitions in the Men’s calendar the London Open – under them introducing for the first-time monetary awards to medallists, regular Regional Training, Regional NDP’s, London Regional Championships and the London Youth Games to name a few! Committee meetings were held at Jackie’s home, also where all regional uniform was kept. Other than travel expenses, no committee member received any sort of financial reward – love of the sport was sufficient.
Carol was also an extremely able coach in General Gymnastics, inspiring love of the sport and excellence basics for many hundreds, probably thousands of young boys in her time. She also got involved with the Men’s National Disability Squad training with Jackie Lewis and Dave Balmer passing on her knowledge and expertise to these fabulous young men.
Carol also headed a very successful London Boys Regional Squad which met 6 times a year. It was a meeting where coaches and gymnasts came together at all levels to share knowledge and help those coaches new into the sport to get hands on experience learning spotting techniques and to gain further knowledge within the sport. She was an excellent mentor and always had time to encourage new coaches to join her team. Carol was a worthy recipient of the British Gymnastics Master Coach award, and also the London Gymnastics Gross Award.
Carol and her husband Ken retired to Albufeira – Portugal in 2005 – They fell in love with the place having spent every year for over twenty years holidaying. Sadly, shortly after the move Carol was diagnosed with Lupus and was unable to go out into the sun which she so loved. She did enjoy her retirement but there were periods when she was very unwell.
Current London Gymnastics Men's Technical Committee Chair, Mark Westley said: "I received some sad news today at the competition. Our mentor and coach and previous London MTC Chair Carol Ford recently passed away. Many of use owe her so much for her support and encouragement during our younger years. Myself and Graham O'Sullivan now stand in the roles she once held and we wouldn't do so without her guidance and knowledge back then. My condolences go to all her family."
Her contributions to our sport were so many, yet she was very much an unsung and largely unrecognised hero. For those of us who had the good fortune to have worked along beside Carol during the many years she gave to the sport we know how much we all owe her and how much we will miss our dear friend and colleague.