Athlete of the Decade – Paula Radcliffe
No British athlete has pushed out the frontiers of performance in the way that Paula Radcliffe has in the marathon or been so far ahead of the world’s second best in their event. Her time of 2:15:25 in the 2003 London Marathon was a truly phenomenal achievement. No woman in the world, other than herself, has yet run faster than 2:18:47 … a gap representing one kilometre of road.
In 1991 she became World Junior Cross Country Champion, ahead of China’s Wang Junxia who the following year would set seemingly unreal world record times at 3000m and 10,000m. In 1996 Paula became UK 5000m record holder and for the next three years Paula’s uncompromising front running carried her to records galore, including world bests on the road, but time and again she was outsprinted at the end of her most important track and cross country races.
At the end of 2000 the tide began to turn and the plucky loser became a winner at the highest level. She captured the World Half Marathon title and in 2001 won the World Cross Country. In 2002 she carried all before her. After retaining her World Cross Country title she made a momentous marathon debut in London, clocking the world’s second fastest ever time of 2:18:56, a world record for a women-only race. This was followed by a Commonwealth 3000m record of 8:22.22 and brilliant victories at the Commonwealth Games (CR of 14:31.42) and European Championships (European record of 30:01.09). The year ended with a world record 2:17:18 in the Chicago Marathon. In April 2003 she wowed the world of athletics even more with her stunning 2:15:25 in London for the biggest single improvement in the world record for 20 years.
Other triumphs would follow, including a third London win and the coveted World title in 2005 (becoming the first British marathoner to win a global championship), and three New York victories between 2004 and 2008.
Jimmy Green made a lasting and wide-ranging contribution to athletics. Shortly after the war and in difficult circumstances with newsprint rationed he created the magazine that would evolve into Athletics Weekly; he believed it was vital for the well-being of British club athletics that results, news and information should be made available. As a starter he was one of the country’s best, officiating at the AAA Championships and several international matches at the White City.
John Le Masurier
John Le Masurier was quite unlike his mentor, the dynamic and extrovert Geoff Dyson. John Le Mas (as he was always affectionately known) had a mild, laid-back approach to coaching. In 1961 he and Denis Watts became joint AAA Principal National Coaches and both served until their retirement in 1978. John Le Mas was one of the most versatile of coaches, helping sprinters, middle distance and cross country runners, hurdlers, jumpers, throwers and all-rounders to fulfil their potential. His crowning glory was Mary Rand, who won the long jump with a world record 6.76m, silver in the pentathlon and bronze in the 4x100m at the 1964 Olympics of 1964. But he coached British record setters across a spectrum of events.
Together with John Le Masurier, Denis Watts served as Principal National Coach, retiring in 1978 after 30 years of distinguished service with the AAA and BAAB. He was a British international at long jump and triple jump, and in 1946 became the first man ever to complete a AAA Championships double in those events. He was appointed by the AAA as one of Britain’s first professional coaches in 1948. One of his great successes was Dorothy Hyman who won Olympic silver (100m) and bronze (200m) as well as European and Commonwealth titles His ultimate triumph was with Ann Packer who he guided from being a 200m runner to world record breaking Olympic champion at 800m.
W. G. George was in advance of his time. His ability at a range of distances was truly remarkable. He set a world mile record of 4:12 ¾ which would remain unbeaten by anyone until 1915. He won national titles at distances from 880 yards to 10M and cross country. He broke world records at 2M, 3M, 4M, 6M. 10K, 10M and an hour.
Britain’s star athlete of the 1920 Olympic Games was Albert Hill, who completed a 800m/1500m double – the last until New Zealand’s Peter Snell in 1964, and a feat not emulated by any Briton until Kelly Holmes in Athens in 2004. He first made a name for himself as a cross country and distance track runner. At 31 Hill remains to this day the oldest man ever to have won an Olympic 800m or 1500m title. He also took part in the final of the 3000m team race in which he won a silver medal. Hill turned to coaching, his most successful pupil being Sydney Wooderson who in 1937 brought the world mile record to Britain.
Linford Christie was the most successful of all British 100m runners. In addition to his Barcelona Olympic victory he won the 1993 world title in a European record of 9.87 which at the time was just 1/100th outside Carl Lewis’s world record, he captured several European and Commonwealth titles and was consistent at the highest world level over a lengthy period. Now a successful coach who has guided athletes to Olympic medals he remains one of the most recognisable names in British athletics.
Brendan Foster won just about every honour in the sport barring the supreme prize, an Olympic gold medal. Today, he remains one of the best known personalities in British athletics thanks to his BBC television commentaries and his brainchild, the Great North Run. He set world records at two miles and 3K, the latter on his home track at Gateshead, won the European 5K title with a brutal run for home, set a European 10K record, took Olympic 10K bronze.
Dame Kelly Holmes
She was plagued with injury but nonetheless picked up medals at major championships. In 1993 she set an English record of 1:58.64. Then came silver at the European Championships 1500m and gold at the Commonwealth Games. Fourth then, third in Olympics But what could she do a spell uninterrupted by injury? In 2004 we found out as ‘Kelly’ took 800m and then 1500m gold in Athens to then become ‘Dame Kelly’.