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If anyone could be described as the father of British athletics coaching it would be Frederick Annesley Michael Webster, best known as Captain F.A.M.Webster.
It was he who helped found and direct the hugely influential AAA Summer School, held annually at Loughborough College from 1934, and two years later he was responsible for the creation of Loughborough’s School of Athletics, Games and Physical Education – the products of which included an outstanding trio of coaches in Geoff Dyson, John Le Masurier and Denis Watts, all of whom have already been inducted into the England Hall of Fame.
The much praised AAA Coaching Scheme which came into operation shortly after the War owed much to the experience of Webster and his Loughborough colleagues.
He was a prolific writer, of fiction (mainly adventure stories for younger readers) and military history as well as more than thirty books on athletics between 1913 and 1948.
To describe Don Finlay as having been merely a remarkable athlete would be to sell him short. He was a remarkable man.
Although the twin peaks of athletic endeavour – an Olympic victory and a world record – eluded him, his career as a sprint hurdler was unique. Two Olympic medals, victories in the European Championships and Empire Games, and an almost perfect international match record … that was the considerable sum of his achievements when the War diverted his attentions to more serious affairs in 1939.
Yet he returned to competition in 1947, made his third Olympic team, set a British record in 1949 and bowed out of international competition with fourth place at the 1950 Empire Games – as a 40 year-old grandfather!
It was in 1932 that he established himself as Europe’s no 1 – a state of affairs that continued throughout the 1930s. He won the first of seven consecutive AAA titles and, at the Los Angeles Olympics, surpassed himself by taking the bronze medal. Between 1933 and 1939 he lost only nine races, but it was not until the 1936 Olympics that he dislodged Lord Burghley as British record holder. Again, the supreme challenge of Olympic competition in Berlin drew the best out of Finlay who burst through spectacularly in the closing stages to finish second in 14.4.
Finlay’s fastest runs came in 1937 but he never received official credit for them. In Paris he recorded 14.2 and in Stockholm 14.1 but both were discounted as European records because of suspected wind assistance, although a photo taken at the finish of the Stockholm race shows a flag drooping limply. However, he did record an official 14.3 when winning the 1938 European title.
His career as a champion track runner spanned 18 years, from the 1971 AAA Junior indoor 1500m at 17 to 1989 when he became UK 3000m champion.
The highlight of that long and distinguished career was a stunning world record for 5000m. He was a fine cross-country runner too, placing second in the 1976 “National” over 9 miles.
His first major title was at 1500m in the 1978 Commonwealth Games, clocking 3:35.48 for the world’s fastest time that year and second quickest ever by a Briton. Injuries plagued him until his annus mirabilis in 1982. After running his fastest ever time of 3:49.34 in Oslo’s Dream Mile he returned to the Norwegian capital with the aim of breaking Brendan Foster’s UK 5000m record of 13:14.6 … and instead shattered the world record by over 6 sec with 13:00.41! That stood as the UK record until Mo Farah first broke 13 minutes all of 28 years later.
Also, in 1982 he set a European record for 3000m (7:32.79) and lifted the Commonwealth Games 5000m title. In 1993, aged 40, he ran 4:02.53 for an outdoor world masters’ mile record. He served as Chief Executive of BAF/UKA 1997-2007.
Sir Chris Chataway
Despite Roger Bannister’s historic first four-minute mile, in which he was a pacemaker, it was Chataway who was voted the BBC’s inaugural Sports Personality of the Year in 1954 – thanks to winning an epic televised 5000m against Vladimir Kuts at the White City in the world record time of 13:51.6.
He was also a world record breaker at 3 miles (13:32.2 in 1954, 13:23.2 in 1955), and was Commonwealth Games champion at that distance in 1954. He was a prolific British record breaker, for in addition to his exploits at 3 miles and 5000m he set new marks at 2000m (5:09.4 in 1955), 3000m (8:06.2 in 1954) and 2 miles (three records culminating in 8:41.0 in 1954, the second fastest ever at that time).
In 1955 he became the world’s fourth sub-four-minute miler with 3:59.8. Later that year he became ITV’s first newscaster, and he went on to serve as an MP and Minister.
In 1995, while chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, he was knighted for services to the aviation industry. Judged by recent half marathons he must be among the fittest 80+ year-olds in the UK.
History was made in Los Angeles in 1984 when Tessa Sanderson’s opening javelin throw of 69.56m remained unsurpassed throughout the rest of the competition. She thus became the first Briton, male or female, ever to win an Olympic throwing title. This time, four years after weeping in frustration and disappointment when failing to qualify for the final in Moscow, she was able to cry for joy atop the victory rostrum. Beset by so many injury problems, most notably a ruptured Achilles tendon early in 1982 which left her on crutches for four months, she could easily have faded from the scene, but she persevered during the dark days, fought back and finally landed the biggest prize of all. As her then coach Wilf Paish testified at the time of her Olympic triumph: “the tenacity and toughness of the girl has to be believed.”
Tessa, who moved from Jamaica to England when she was eight, became UK Junior record holder with 55.04m in 1974 and two years later qualified for the Olympic final in Montreal with a UK record of 57.18m. She broke through the 60m barrier in June 1977 with 60.24m but at a European Cup Semi-Final in Dublin the following month she shook the world of athletics. Not only did she defeat the East German world record holder and Olympic champion Ruth Fuchs but in the process she threw 67.20m to rank second on the world all-time list.
Tessa continued at a high level for many more years, placing fourth in the 1992 Olympics, and uniquely among British athletes competing in a sixth Olympics in 1996, aged 40. She was awarded the MBE in 1985 in recognition of her Olympic victory, the OBE in 1998 for her charity work and the CBE in 2004 for services to sport as Vice-Chairman of Sport England.
Best known as the man who taught David Hemery to hurdle, Fred Housden was not only one of the finest coaches Britain has ever produced but someone who gave so much to his country in so many ways. During the First World War he served as a major in the Royal Field Artillery and was awarded the Military Cross. Three years after the War, in 1921, he represented England in the 110m hurdles and long jump, but it was as a pole vaulter that he achieved his best results. He placed second in the AAA Championships of 1928 and 1929 and represented the British Empire against the USA in 1928. His personal best was 3.50m at a time when the British record stood at 3.61m. He enjoyed a very long career as a vaulter, finishing third in the 1936 Inter-Counties in his 44th year, and even in his eighth decade he would demonstrate hurdling and high jump techniques and exercises to the athletes he trained.
Inductee Fred Housden presented to David HemeryHousden was a mathematics teacher at Harrow School for many years and in 1949 he was awarded the OBE for services to the Imperial Cadet Association. Early in the 1960s he collaborated with Geoff Dyson on the book, The Mechanics of Athletics, which remains the definitive work on the subject, and he was heavily involved with experiments involving women’s hurdling heights and distances which eventually led to the 80m hurdles being superseded by the 100m event.
Already a long serving and successful coach, whose pupils included the British 80m hurdles record holder Pat Pryce (née Nutting), he was well into his seventies when David Hemery was introduced to him. Interviewed shortly after his 1968 Olympic 400m hurdles triumph, Hemery stated: “Fred Housden’s the man who taught me how to hurdle and I think it stood me in tremendously good stead being a high hurdler. That’s because if you get too close to a quarter hurdle but you have a fast lead leg it doesn’t make that much difference. With Fred I had a coach who fully explained the mechanics of hurdling and the methods behind his coaching technique.”
Fred Housden’s attributes, according to Hemery, were: “patience, humility, technically knowledgeable, awesome eye, humour, caring, respect, friendship, a real gentleman.
Another of the world’s greatest coaches and is sadly no longer with us, he was an expert on every track and field event and always willing to offer advice, Wilf Paish was one of England’s most versatile and helpful coaches who lived and breathed athletics – right to his last breath. The much-loved and respected coach died in 2010 aged 77 and continued to advise athletes during final years when he was beset with ill health. Nor did he stop preaching his ideas through the written word. Among other things, Paish was a prolific writer and he was one of Athletics Weekly’s most regular and generous contributors, again even in his latter years.
At the sharp end of the sport, he coached Tessa Sanderson to the Olympic javelin title in 1984. He also coached middle distance legend Peter Elliott and former javelin thrower Mick Hill.
Yet he did not restrict himself to coaching top athletes. He was just as active at grassroots level, spreading his advice to thousands of young athletes. Paish was one of the few coaches who had a great understanding of every track and field event, too. His knowledge of physiology together with his technical know-how formed the backbone of his coaching. He was also a superb motivator and his ability spanned several sports, as he advised rugby, football and cricket players.
Born in Gloucestershire, he trained at Carnegie College in Leeds – an institution he developed lifelong links with. During his long career, he was Great Britain team coach from 1964 to 1992, National Coach for the North of England and indeed Yorkshire became his home for most of his latter years. This was interrupted by spells elsewhere, most notably being head Olympic coach in South Africa for a spell during the Nineties. He never, though, lost his West Country accent.
In recent years he was honoured for his achievements. He was awarded an MBE in 2005 for services to athletics. In 2002 he was given the prestigious Mussabini Medal. In 2008 he was given a standing ovation when honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the England Athletics Awards.
The first-time former javelin international Margaret Whitbread laid eyes on the 13year-old who would eventually become her adopted daughter she whispered to fellow coach George Holroyd: “This girl is going to be the greatest javelin thrower the world has seen.” It took 12 years for that seemingly far-fetched prophecy to come to pass … 12 years of blood, sweat and tears, culminating in two fantastic throws at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart. During that time Fatima, despite improving every single season, was rarely free of injury or illness … perhaps it was nature’s way of telling her that a price must be paid for the tremendous demands she made on her body.
In 1979 she became the first British thrower to win a European Junior title and in 1981 she broke into world class, improving from 60.14m to 65.82m. Fatima became Britain’s no 1 in 1982 and the following year she improved to 69.54m before an attack of tonsillitis nearly cost her the chance of competing in the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki. Her doctor advised her to withdraw but she refused to back out. Only the 12th and last qualifier for the final, she let rip with an opening throw of 69.14m. The world title was hers … until with her very last throw the favourite, Finland’s world record holder Tiina Lillak, topped that with 70.82m. The last British thrower to win a global medal had been hammer thrower Malcolm Nokes as long ago as the 1924 Olympics.
Fatima did improve to 71.86m in 1984 and despite severe medical problems that summer she managed to place third in the Olympics. Restored to full vigour in 1985 she progressed to 72.98m, while her day of days came in a practically deserted Neckarstadion in Stuttgart for the qualifying round at the 1986 European Championships. There she despatched her spear the fabulous distance of 77.44m, not only smashing Tessa’s UK record of 73.58m but adding over two metres to the world record held by the GDR’s Petra Felke. She thus became the first British thrower ever to break a world record.
Dame Marea Hartman
Marea Hartman, who rose to become the most powerful figure in British women’s athletics, was a good but not outstanding sprinter while reading economics at the University of London just before the war. She was a member of the celebrated Spartan Ladies club and represented Surrey. After the War, which claimed the life of her RAF fiancé, she turned her attention to the running of the sport.
She started off in 1945 as Hon. Treasurer of Spartan Ladies and early in 1950, aged 29, she was elected Hon. Treasurer of the national governing body, the Women’s AAA. She gradually became one of the most influential of administrators: she attended the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as an aide to team manager Jack Crump, in 1958 she was women’s team manager at the European Championships in Stockholm and she would remain British team manager for another 20 years, spanning one of the most successful periods with Olympic gold medals for Mary Rand, Ann Packer and Mary Peters and European titles for Heather Young, Dorothy Hyman, Lillian Board and the 4x400m squad.
Although she went on to chair the IAAF’s Women’s Commission for 13 years, during which time she was a driving force in expanding the programme of events for women, become Hon. Treasurer and later Chairman of the British Amateur Athletic Board, and – after the WAAA finally amalgamated with the men in 1991 – be elected as the first female President of the AAA of England, Marea was at her happiest in the midst of those she called “my girls”. As she once remarked in the 1970s, “I don’t want to be sentimental, but I have a vast, continually changing family of youngsters who keep me feeling young.”
Made a Dame in the 1994 New Year’s Honours List for her services to the sport, Marea died of cancer later that year, aged 74. As John Rodda wrote in The Guardian: “She had a jolly, florid personality and her permanent smile had a way of winning points at the negotiating table. In team management she was a firm but gentle disciplinarian.” In his tribute, Sir Arthur Gold pointed out that all of Marea’s work for the sport was carried out without remuneration and that “she always emphasised the importance of correct behaviour in athletics and campaigned against the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
At the time Albert Hill was creating Olympic history by winning an 800m/1500m double in 1920, Douglas Lowe was just 18 and the reigning Public Schools half mile champion in 2:06.8. Yet, four years later, he would succeed Hill as Olympic 800m champion and another four years after that would become the first man to win a second Olympic gold medal at the distance.
Lowe went up to Cambridge in the autumn of 1921 and quickly made his mark in university sport. Not only was he awarded his athletics ‘Blue’ as a freshman but he played outside right in the football team which beat Oxford two-nil. In 1922, nine days before his 20th birthday, he was picked to run for his country against France in the first full-scale international match ever held in London. He travelled to the 1924 Olympics in Paris as second string to Henry Stallard, but it was Lowe and Switzerland’s Paul Martin who fought for the gold medal and it was the 21year-old Englishman, yet to win even his own national title, who proved the stronger. His time of 1:52.4 took a second off Hill’s British record.
The 1925 season had to be an anti-climax after such heady stuff but Lowe did break Frank Cross’s ancient British 880 yards record of 1:54.6 (set in 1888!) with 1:53.4 in the USA. New heights would be scaled in 1926 … although Lowe met his match in the person of Dr Otto Peltzer of Germany. Excitement ran high for their clash at the AAA Championships. Peltzer had covered 800m in 1:52.8, the world’s fastest time in 1925, while Lowe had tuned up for the duel with a world record 600 yards of 1:10.4 seven days earlier. The event attracted 27,000 spectators and both men beat the world record of 1:52.2. Lowe led at halfway in a sizzling 54.6, but found himself unable to counter the German’s final sprint for home. Peltzer stormed in three yards ahead in 1:51.6, with Lowe’s time untaken but estimated at 1:52.0. As in Paris four years earlier, Lowe ran no faster than necessary in the 1928 Olympic preliminaries in Amsterdam. Newly qualified as a barrister, he was ideally placed all the way in the final. On the final bend Lowe accelerated away to win by a full second in the Olympic and British record time of 1:51.8. Later in the Games he demonstrated his 400m ability with a 47.6 relay leg, a time faster than the winning time in the individual 400m.
Lowe’s last race proved a fitting finale to a glittering career as he defeated Peltzer in the British record time of 1:51.2 for 800m in Berlin in August 1928. He continued to make a valuable contribution to athletics as an administrator, serving as Honorary Secretary of the AAA from 1931 to 1938. He enjoyed a distinguished legal career; he took silk (QC) in 1964 and became a Recorder (part-time judge) of the Crown Court. He died aged 78.