British coach and BBC commentator Mitch Fenner, the head coach for the Dutch men's team, died Sunday after a two-year battle with cancer. Pictured: Fenner at the 2013 European Championships in Moscow
British coach and BBC commentator Mitch Fenner, the head coach for the Dutch men's team, died Sunday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 70.
"It is a black day for gymnastics in the Netherlands, Great Britain and beyond," said Hans Gootjes, technical director of the Dutch federation.
Born Michael Anthony Fenner on March 25, 1946, he grew up in Falmouth, Cornwall, and studied at Cardiff College of Education in Wales. He founded the Bush Harlow Gym Club in Essex and was a top coach in Great Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s. His pupils included 1976 Olympian Jeff Davis and 1980 and 1984 Olympian Barry Winch. For many years he was a senior lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Fenner was a long-time, beloved gymnastics commentator for the BBC, becoming the "Voice of Gymnastics" for a generation. He joined the BBC in 1979 and commentated on every Olympic Games from 1984 to 2012. He also spent many years with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to provide commentary for its global feed. With his warm Cornish lilt and infectious enthusiasm, Fenner's was a familiar voice beloved by gymnastics fans and experts alike.
"With the death of coach Mitch Fenner, gymnastics loses an unprecedented inspiration and the BBC a passionate gymnastics commentator," said Dutch commentator Hans van Zetten.
Fenner joined the Royal Dutch Gymnastics Federation as a technical consultant in 2010. In February 2012, he became head coach for the Dutch men's squad. Under Fenner's guidance, Epke Zonderland won Olympic gold on high bar in London, and the Dutch men climbed from 17th at the 2010 World Championships to 11th in 2015. In April, the Dutch men qualified a full team to the Olympic Games for the first time since the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Fenner was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2014. His illness left him unable to travel to Rio de Janeiro this April, when the Dutch team realized his dream of Olympic qualification.
"Gymnastics has always been an individual sport in the Netherlands, but Fenner believed in the team," said Dutch reporter Edwin Cornelissen. "He put an end to the rivalry between Heerenveen and Den Bosch and ensured that the gymnasts came to believe in the team's performance. He was a real motivator."
Tributes poured in online following news of Fenner's death.
"Last night came the sudden and sad news that our national coach Mitch has died. What a loss," Zonderland tweeted Monday.
Tweeted British Olympic medalist Louis Smith, "Truly saddened to hear of Mitch Fenner passing. I grew up hearing his commentary in gymnastics. He was such a good friend. I will miss you."
Retired Welsh shot putter Shaun Pickering, a 1996 British Olympian, posted a tribute to Fenner on Facebook. He shared a photo of his late father, athletics coach and BBC Sports commentator Ron Pickering, together with Fenner in the commentary box at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
"I found out about his passing on the Dutch sports news tonight as I am in Amsterdam for the European Athletics Championships," wrote Pickering, now the heavy throws coach for UK Athletics. "Such is a measure of the man and the respect he has here in the Netherlands, that his death was the lead story on the NOS Sports News, ahead of Dutchman [Max] Verstappen's 2nd place finish in the F1 GP, the European Football Championships and the Tour de France. He will be missed."
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: "For many years Mitch has used his first-hand experience of working within the sport to provide our viewers with an expertise and detailed insight that was second to none. He will be missed by all of us at BBC Sport and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time."