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02 Jul Down and out in Basildon and Cambridge: Clutterbuck and Yates toe the line for Rio

“I remember looking over on the green at the start and thinking “who’s that wanker with all the tattoos from TOWIE? Is he a bodybuilder or something? Who’s that div?” and my mate replied “that’s Dale.”

Matt Yates’ first impressions of his out-of-shape opposition at the Cambridge University Varsity Relays last October have borne truth that overused clichés are often still fit for purpose.

Given the overweight state of the athlete in question at the time, standing out like a sore thumb at least grabbed the attention of the Olympian and former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.

Nine months on from that opportune encounter and Dale Clutterbuck’s running career has gone from the scrap heap to near-top of the UK middle-distance pile under Yates’ watchful eye.

“I need to be intimidated because it keeps me in line”

The twenty-two year-old has knuckled down to turn his training and lifestyle around and heads to Birmingham this weekend with his eyes fixed on top-spot – and the prize of a place on the GB team for this summer’s World Championships in Beijing.

“I have changed everything, from lifestyle to my coaching set up,” said Clutterbuck. “I rarely drink alcohol and have stopped the late nights, which has been massive. Last October, Real Runners owner Kevin Quinn introduced me to Matt, in a bar funnily enough, who wasn’t involved in the sport at the time. I think he could see I was in a mess so he offered to help me out.

In all honestly, I was done with the sport and had no kit as I’d chucked it all. But as soon as Matt (pictured below) said you have the talent to make major championships, he had my full attention. Other than my dad – a no-bullshit 6’4” South African – Matt is the only other person I’m intimidated by. But I need to be intimidated because it keeps me in line.”

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And toeing the line has been the secret to the former party boy’s breakthrough summer. Victory in the “A” 800m in Watford last weekend was his second-successive BMC Grand Prix triumph of the season. Throw in the “very disappointing” five-second personal best of 3:40.46 over 1500m achieved in Bilbao the weekend before, plus his impressive string of victories throughout the year, and the no-nonsense approach is paying dividends.

“I’ll get him to the Olympics”

After fifteen-years out of the game, Yates recalls their chance autumnal encounter and how his straight-talking manner immediately struck a chord, hitting home the reality of what it takes to reach the top.

“Dale had a rep for being a bit lairy at university, he liked a drink and to go out. But that’s college life. I didn’t necessarily like what I heard but the first thing I told him was lose some weight and I’ll make you run fast. He was a good stone and a half overweight.

I told him ‘we’ve got rules, you f**k me around and you’re gone. I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone. If I hear you’re on the piss and messing about then that’ll be it’ and I think he was a bit shocked by that. But I told him, the bottom line is, if he commits 101% to the training, racing and lifestyle, I’ll get him to the Olympics.”

Altering everything from his warm up and nutrition to post-session recovery and “shit” style that had contributed to his past injuries, Dale has been transformed into one of the most impressive racers in the UK this year – a fact backed up by an impressive Power of 10 profile that shows fourteen race victories (including wins at both the counties and regionals) out of nineteen complete races in 2015.

Focusing on the nitty-gritty and learning from the mistakes he made during his own top-level career, Yates’ meticulous approach is paying off. Without the science or money available to their peers, the 1992 European Indoor champion heads a coaching team made up of coaching veteran Barry Elwell and ex-British Army strength and conditioning coach, Paul Beaumont.

“It’s the reason why he has two Olympic golds and I don’t”

Clutterbuck recognises “how lucky I am to have three senior people at every session and race supporting me” and it is this professional approach that has taken him from misguided and undervalued talent to serial race winner and genuine World Championships hopeful.

“We’re really meticulous in our preparation,” said Yates. “At the BMC last weekend, Dale had a biography on every runner on that start line. I wrote it up and sent it over the night before and told Dale to read it before he raced so he knew who and what he was up against, their form and history, personal bests, all up to the last two years.

Preparation is everything. I was in the same training group as Daley Thompson and he did the same. It’s probably the reason why he has two Olympic gold medals and I don’t have any.”

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This meticulous preparation extends to two others in their tight training group of three. Impressing the significance of individual training plans, the proof to this approach has been in the personal bests this summer, with twenty year-old Revee Nolan clocking a PB of 2:06.48 over 800m and Josh Trigwell making the England Athletics U23 Championships 1500m final off a severely limited build-up.

“Revee is the best I’ve seen since Kelly Holmes”

Indeed, Yates is certain that “two of the three” athletes will make it to Rio next summer and claims “Revee is the best middle-distance athlete in the country and the best I’ve seen since Kelly Holmes.” From a man that knows athletics and now works in the gambling industry, who would bet against that claim?

For Dale, who is still based in Teddington and set to graduate with a Sports Science degree from St Mary’s University later this month, he is hopeful he won’t have to work full-time at the end of the track season. He harbours hopes he can continue to concentrate on his Rio ambitions – but is quick to add that “working full-time and training full-time doesn’t scare me as many have done it and been successful” and “a good career outside of running is important to me.”

The unlikely marriage between Dale and Matt – one who came close to quitting the sport and the other returning after a self-imposed fifteen-year exile – appears to be a perfect middle-distance match that’s got many places to go. For two guys from Basildon AC that came together more through luck than design at Cambridge University last autumn, the next week could be the conclusion or the catalyst to a prosperous partnership.

“He hasn’t done anything yet”

“I never thought I’d get back into it to be honest. I became disillusioned with the sport. I couldn’t watch it on TV,” said Matt. “I feel very privileged to have someone like Dale to work with and have to pinch myself sometimes at how far he’s gone in eight months. We’ve laid the training plan down but it’s all come from him via his drive and commitment.

Personally I wouldn’t want to be racing against him in my day, as he’s become quite a track animal and reminds me of a mix of the greats of Elliot and Ovett in his determination, talent and drive.

I’m very proud of what he’s achieved – but he hasn’t done anything yet. He’s only reached around 20% of his potential. There’s so much more to come from him.”

Ranked only tenth in the UK over the metric mile following his one race in anger at the distance this season, Dale has made huge strides in a short space of time. He still has many more to make but the “overweight div” has turned those first impressions on their head and goes into the weekend aiming to turn a few more. The aim? Dale’s reply:

“Well, obviously I’m not going there to come second.”