I wish I could find the right words; Charlie Francis is impossible to sum up neatly. I still can’t believe how generous and kind he was even to people like myself who are still on the very early part of the learning curve. He always seemed to give just the right amount of information, and never made me feel stupid for asking (sometimes admittedly dumb) questions. I also loved that dry sense of humour (“The swiss ball is excellent as a flotation device!” LOL).
I grew up in Scarborough, right near where the Optimists trained at Birchmount Park. Ben was my childhood hero. I still have trouble comprehending the sheer scope of Charlie and the Optimists accomplishments; they literally took on the world and beat them without the money, technology, and resources of the Eastern Bloc, and without the volume of athletes and the sheer political clout of the USA’s enormous TV contracts. I remember even as a kid thinking, “Wow, the fastest man in the world comes from MY suburb. That is amazing!”
With all Charlie’s friends worldwide, I don’t know if you can quite understand how unheard of it is for a guy who grew up in wealthy, white Rosedale with a Stanford degree no less, to be hanging out in working-class Scarborough coaching a bunch of poor Caribbean kids- and for no money!
There are only a few, most notably former running great and current academic Bruce Kidd, who have said some negative things about Charlie this week, accusing Charlie of being motivated by ego, among other things. Well there is obvious jealousy there- but I would also note a subtle undercurrent of racism in many of the comments- it’s as if the people Charlie coached, being largely Caribbean and first generation immigrants, should have known their place and been happy being decent international runners, and shouldn’t have reached for the stars.
It’s a very Canadian thing, expecting people (especially immigrants of colour) to know their place and not stand out too much.
It seems pretty clear that Charlie had no time for academics who fired potshots from the safety of their ivory towers. He was too busy working for free, hustling for funding, giving massages, and later in life helping athletes and his coaching brethren from around the globe to bother with the likes of ass-sitting academics like Kidd.
Charlie was the David that slew the Goliath’s of the track world, and it gives me great pride to know I was able to learn from, and interact with, the greatest athletics coach of all time. I look forward to learning more from those he mentored in the future.
My deepest regrets go out to Angie and James. Seeing Charlie, Angie, and James at the track, I was always aware of how much they loved each other. What a lovely family.
Also seeing the way Charlie, Ben and Angella Issajenko and his other athletes remained close was incredible. They remain so loyal to him. Seeing them sharing laughs at the track just a short time ago was a beautiful thing.
Thank you Charlie for everything, you will eventually be seen by the masses as we see you- a gentleman, an athletics genius, and a coaching prophet. Of course, you know better than to fault the masses- you were simply ahead of your time.