Joan Allison (née Page) enjoyed a notable career as one of Britain’s finest middle distance runners of her era. A member of the London club, Cambridge Harriers, from the age of 14, she was 21 when, to her own astonishment, she made the 1968 Olympic team at 800m, having improved her best time considerably that year to 2:04.3. That was at the WAAA Championships when she finished fifth (third Briton) in a race won in a world record 2:00.5 by Yugoslavia’s Vera Nikolic.
Two years later, in Edinburgh, she came so close to becoming Commonwealth champion in her first year as a serious 1500m runner. She led into the home straight and finished just a fifth of a second behind team-mate Rita Ridley. In 1972 she made her second Olympic appearance, this time at 1500m, and she enjoyed a great season in 1973, topping the British rankings at 800m (2:01.2), 1500m (4:12.2) and mile, where her time of 4:36.2 was a British record. She also won the WAAA 1500m title, finishing 20m ahead of the young Norwegian, Grete Andersen – who later became rather better known as marathon great Grete Waitz.
A second Commonwealth Games 1500m silver medal came her way early in 1974, clocking a personal best of 4:10.66 and in 1975 for the third consecutive year she was the fastest UK runner at 1500m with 4:11.2 and second on the 3000m list (9:13.4) to Joyce Smith. That was her final season at international level.
But it’s not for her racing achievements that Joan was awarded the OBE in 1995 or her induction into our Hall of Fame. It’s for her widespread services to athletics. After Marea Hartman had bowed out as British team leader in 1978 the BAAB decided to appoint relatively recently retired internationals as manager of the British women’s squad, a move which proved very popular with the athletes. Mary Peters was women’s team manager at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics; Pam Piercy took over in 1985; and she in turn was succeeded by Joan, who was in charge at the 1990 Europeans and 1991 World Championships as well as working full-time on the athletes’ behalf as General Administrator of the International Athletes’ Club. She was such a success that after the tragic death of Les Jones in March 1992 she was promoted to manage the entire British athletics team at the Barcelona Olympics, an historic breakthrough.
In an interview, Joan remarked: “The job has changed beyond recognition since I took part in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics. Then we hardly saw management, now we are with an athlete from the moment they wake on competition day, which often had to be 5.30 am.” Of the qualities required for the job, she explained: “I think my strength is relating to and understanding athletes; my empathy with the athletes having been one myself. It’s knowing when to talk and when to stand back.”
Despite having had no background in athletics – cycling had been his chosen sport – Peter Coe used his skills as an engineer, his self taught knowledge of bio-mechanics and intensive research into training methods to develop into one of the most knowledgeable, analytical and respected of coaches. Allied to the exceptional ability and capacity for hard work of his son, Seb, theirs became one of the most celebrated partnerships in athletics history.
So convinced was he that Seb would become a world beater that when his son was 13, his best 1500m time being 4:31.8 and the world record then standing to Herb Elliott with 3:35.6, he drew up a projection which would see Seb run 3:30 by 1980. Peter wasn’t too far out as Seb set a world record of 3:32.1 in 1979, won the Olympic title in 1980 and 1984, and finally broke 3:30 in 1986 … not to mention his world record breaking exploits at 800m, 1000m and the mile. Peter once described Seb as “a hell of an athlete”, adding “but then, he had a hell of a coach.”
Percy Newbold Coe, but always known as Peter, served in the Merchant Navy during the War and in February 1941 his freighter, en route to Canada, was shelled by a German destroyer and sank within minutes. His mother was informed that her 21 year-old son was missing, presumed dead … but in fact he had been rescued by the German crew and after disembarking in France was headed for a prisoner-of-war camp near Bremen when he jumped clear of the moving train and eventually made his way to Spain. Following his great escape, he arrived back home in August 1941.
During Seb’s years as an athlete, Peter was in charge of a cutlery factory in Sheffield and was close to 50 when he began coaching his son. As Seb wrote in his autobiography: “Ours was never a conventional coach-athlete relationship; it clearly couldn’t be. But in the end I believe it was something far greater. It was a partnership. We fashioned a way of working together that was separate from our relationship as father and son. When he referred to me in public, it was never ‘my son’, it was ‘my athlete’.”
Seb continued: “If my father’s defining characteristic was stubborn determination, it was countered by an innate pragmatism, and he approached my athletics career as he would any other project that, as production manager, he needed to turn around.”
Peter explained: “What helped, which may sound elitist, was an intellectual approach. Running is to a great extent theoretical, but it’s also an art. Seb’s training was tailor-made for him.”
Although he is celebrated for coaching one exceptional athlete, he did train a few others, including 1984 Olympic 3000m silver medallist Wendy Sly, who told journalist David Miller: “Everything Peter does has a reason, it all has a scientific base. Every time I went out of the door, the run had a purpose, a means to an end. That was why he was so good at getting Seb ready on the day.”
He died in 2008, aged 88.
In reviewing the athletics career of Lillian Board one must bear in mind that in spite of all her successes there can be little doubt that her greatest triumphs would have been ahead of her. European champion or not, she had barely scratched the surface as an 800m runner and she would surely have gone on to break two minutes.
Lillian, and twin Irene, were born in South Africa, their parents having emigrated there from Manchester soon after the war. The family returned to Britain in 1950 and Lillian joined London Olympiades at the age of 12. With her father, George, as coach and clubmate Mary Rand as an inspiration, Lillian became English Schools Junior long jump champion in 1963.
It was in 1966, aged 17, that Lillian tackled 440 yards for the first time, and it quickly became apparent that she was made for the distance. Her progress was astonishingly rapid, and her dramatic development was maintained during 1967 when in the USA v Commonwealth match in Los Angeles she – the slowest on paper – defeated a glittering 400m field in 52.8 for second on the European all-time list behind Ann Packer.
It was a turning point in her career. Previously just a promising young athlete she was now – thanks to that race being televised – a household name. The blonde good looks and bubbly personality endeared her to millions. Suddenly she was Britain’s new golden girl, freely tipped to become Olympic 400m champion the following year.
She embarked upon the 1968 season stronger, faster and fitter than ever, clocking 23.5 for 200m and 2:02.0 for 800m. In the 400m final at the high altitude Mexico City Olympics she ran the third 100m hard to enter the final straight some four metres ahead, and it was only in the final few strides that the unheralded Colette Besson of France edged her way past. By any standards hers was a marvellous performance. Still aged 19, she had run 52.12 to break Ann Packer’s UK record, gained the silver medal just 9/100ths behind Besson and moved to no 4 on the world all-time list.
In what was to prove her last full season (1969) she gained two gold medals at the European Championships in Athens. Timing her drive to perfection off the last bend of the 800m, Lillian strode to victory in a championship record of 2:01.4, while in a thrilling 4x400m relay she overtook Besson in the final stride to anchor the British team to a world record of 3:30.8.
Suffering from cancer she died, after a typically courageous fight, in Munich – ironically the very city in which she had hoped to be crowned Olympic 800m champion in 1972 – on Boxing Day 1970, aged just 22.
Basil Heatley was inspired as a 14 year-old by reading about the 1948 Olympics and, in particular, Emil Zátopek. Little did he think that one day he would break one of the Czech’s world records!
He joined Coventry Godiva Harriers at the end of 1950 and gained his first important success a few months later when he placed third in the English National Youth Cross Country Championship. Five years later, in 1956, he made his marathon debut but it was not until 1963 that he would start to make his mark at the distance which would prove to be his forte.
Meanwhile, he won the English cross country title – a hugely prestigious achievement in those days – in 1960, 1961 and 1963, and finished first in the International Cross Country Championship (forerunner of the present World Championship) in 1961, winning by a huge 23 sec margin. A high class track runner also, his greatest performance on cinders came in the 1961 AAA 10 miles championship at Hurlingham when he knocked 25 sec off his hero Zátopek’s world record with a time of 47:47.0.
His return to the marathon in 1963 was promising. Just a few days before the AAA marathon he clocked his fastest ever 3 miles time of 13:22.8, ranking him second in Britain, and then proceeded to finish second to clubmate Brian Kilby in 2:19:56. Later that season the Essex-based American, Buddy Edelen (holder of the world record with 2:14:28), commented: “If Heatley put in some long runs and trained for the marathon seriously I’m sure he could run under 2:15.”
Well, Heatley did … and to such effect that he relieved Edelen of the world record in June 1964! Competing in the Polytechnic Marathon on the celebrated Windsor to Chiswick course, he passed Ron Hill for the lead shortly before 20 miles and came home 100 yards ahead in 2:13:55.
Four months later, in Tokyo, Heatley became the fourth Briton (after Sam Ferris 1932, Ernie Harper 1936 and Tom Richards 1948) to earn an Olympic marathon silver medal. Although outclassed by the incredible Ethiopian, Abebe Bikila (who set a world record of 2:12:12), he ran with characteristic determination to prove himself the second best marathoner in the world. Bothered by stitch for much of the race, Heatley was 12th at halfway (“I was totally in despair, thinking that I had blown it”), but worked his way up to third, 75 seconds behind Kokichi Tsuburaya, at 40km. Finishing brilliantly, he overtook his Japanese rival on the stadium lap to the consternation of most of the spectators and ensured second place by sprinting the final 200m in an extraordinary 32.3 sec. He had no idea at the time that he had run himself into a medal position! Heatley announced his international retirement after the Games but continued to compete for Godiva for several more years and has remained closely involved with the sport ever since.
Peter Elliott, who endeared himself to the British public with his no-nonsense attitude to racing, was among the last athletes to hold down a manual job while racing at world class level. He was a joiner employed by British Steel, fitting in his training while working a 7.30 am to 4 pm shift.
He was quite a prodigy. English Schools Junior 800m champion at 14, he set UK age-15 and 16 bests of 1:52.1 and 1:50.7 and won the 1980 English National Youth cross country title. Coached by Wilf Paish, he broke Steve Ovett’s UK teenage best when winning the 1982 AAA 800m in 1:45.61 and ran the first leg in a successful 4x800m world record relay attempt. He gained a silver medal at the 1983 European Indoor Championships and placed fourth at the World Championships in 1:44.87 before becoming at 20 the world’s youngest sub-1:44 performer with 1:43.98.
In 1984 he won his 800m place in the Olympic team and announced he would be challenging Seb Coe in the AAA 1500m with a view to doubling. He won to become the first Briton to beat Coe at the distance for eight years but the selectors controversially opted for Coe to defend his Olympic crown, which he did, while Elliott scratched from the 800m semis with a stress fracture of the foot.
Injuries were always a problem. Elliott took the 800m silver medal at the 1987 World Championships in 1:43.41 despite an early season knee injury restricting his preparations, and also made excellent progress at 1500m with 3:33.23.
Now coached by Kim McDonald, in 1988 he ran 3:49.20 for the mile and 3:32.94 for 1500m, but at the Seoul Olympics he ran with a newly sustained groin injury necessitating daily pain-killing cortisone injections. Nonetheless, he placed fourth at 800m in 1:44.12 and second in the 1500m in 3:36.15.
A gold medal finally came his way at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland with 3:33.39, followed shortly afterwards by UK indoor records of 3:36.13 and 3:52.02. A memorable February ended with a world indoor 1500m record of 3:34.20. Soon afterwards he decided to become a full-time athlete. That summer he ran 800m in 1:42.97, fastest in the world that year, and believed he could threaten the world records at 1500m and mile but, again, injury ruined his plans although he did set a UK all-comers record of 3:32.69 and was timed at 3:47.83 in New York’s slightly downhill Fifth Avenue road mile.
The 1991 campaign was equally frustrating. Following victory in Oslo’s Dream Mile in 3:49.46 he never even got to the start line for the World Championships in Tokyo because of a recurrent Achilles tendon problem. He recovered in time to run the champion Nourredine Morceli close with 3:32.94 to the Algerian’s 3:32.38 in Brussels and two days later won the Emsley Carr Mile in 3:52.10. That effectively was his swansong for he raced only twice early in 1992 before withdrawing from the Olympic team with a knee problem. He always intended to return but further injuries conspired to make his retirement permanent
Between 1946 and 1953 Trinidad-born Emmanuel McDonald Bailey established himself as one of the greatest crowd pleasers in British athletics history. No important meeting was complete without the sight of this tall, slim Polytechnic Harrier in full flight. If any sprinter personified ‘poetry in motion’ it was ‘Mac’ Bailey. His high-level consistency was astonishing; more often than not running against mediocre opposition on sluggish cinder or grass tracks and in unfavourable weather conditions he turned in dozens of clockings in the range of 9.6-9.8 for 100 yards and 21.1-21.5 for 220 yards. His best times came when racing abroad.
While still serving in the RAF, Bailey made an indelible impression on the 1946 AAA Championships by notching up the first sprint double since 1932 and later that year clocked a breathtaking 10.3 100m in Sweden – just a tenth of a second outside the world record first set by Jesse Owens. He ran 10.3 again in 1947 but, hampered all season by injury, he placed sixth and last in the 1948 Olympic final at Wembley, a race won by Harrison Dillard in 10.3. When asked in 1950 to single out his most pleasing performance he chose that Olympic final. “Why? Because I had to battle not only against the opposition but against nature, and to reach the final was a just reward. To do this when I was supposedly ‘finished’ and against mental strain, worry, tension and illness, leaves me extremely gratified.”
The 1949 season marked a return to top form and in Iceland he ran 9.5 for 100 yards and what was adjudged to be a wind assisted 10.2 100m although there was no wind gauge in operation and Bailey always thought it to be a genuine performance which would have equalled the world record. However, a share of that prestigious record came his way at the Yugoslavia v Britain match in Belgrade in 1951. “Carried by the electrifying urge of the 40,000 crowd”, as he put it, he took full advantage of the perfect conditions to clock 10.2 and next day tied his personal best (and European record) of 20.9 for 200m.
At age 31 Bailey shaped up as a potential winner of the 1952 Olympic 100m. Largely self-coached and one of the first British sprinters to make use of weight training, Bailey was a stylist of the classic school but it was just his textbook carriage that may have cost him the Olympic crown in Helsinki. He was on terms with Lindy Remigino (USA) and Herb McKenley (Jamaica) 10m from the finish but whereas his two rivals lunged for the tape Bailey maintained his upright form and lost the race. He finished third, just 4/100ths behind the winner. Bailey wound up his long career in 1953, shortly after gaining his seventh AAA sprint double, in order to turn (briefly) to professional rugby league. He died back in Trinidad in 2013, four days before his 93rd birthday.
Finding the last British athlete to win a long distance running gold medal at the Olympic Games prior to Mo Farah in 2012 means going back 104 years to the first London Olympics. In 1908 Emil Voigt triumphed in the 5 miles event (the 5000m and 10,000m were not introduced until 1912) in a time of 25:11.2.
Born in Manchester (his father was German, his mother Scottish), Voigt began racing aged 14, winning the first race he entered. It was only in 1908, at 25, that he made his mark outside of Lancashire. He was an unexpected winner of the Olympic 5 miles trial in his debut at the distance.
Competing in the AAA Championships for the first time, he won the prestigious 4 miles title in a championship record of 19:47.4. He was one of seven British runners selected for the Olympic 5 miles but in winning his heat tore muscles in his foot causing his arch to collapse and considerable pain. Being a resourceful character he arranged for a plaster of Paris arch support to be built into his running shoe. Despite the discomfort he sprinted clear in the final with 700 yards to go, “running in beautiful style” according to the Official Report of the Games. He was a class apart, finishing 70 yards ahead of team-mate Eddie Owen with the two favourites, Sweden’s 5000m world record holder Johan Svanberg and South Africa’s Charles Hefferon, placing a distant third and fourth.
Barely 5ft 5in (1.66m) tall and weighing 53kg, Voigt attributed much of his athletic success to being a strict vegetarian, his diet largely restricted to fruit, vegetables and eggs. He was the first known vegetarian in the world to become champion in the Modern Olympics. His career as a top class runner was brief but brilliant. In 1909 he retained the AAA 4 miles title and, at the invitation of the Crown Prince of Sweden, embarked upon a highly successful and influential tour of Scandinavia. He raced distances between 1500 and 10,000m, and among the Finnish athletes he defeated during the tour was Hannes Kolehmainen, then 19, and destined to win the 5000m, 10,000m and cross country at the Stockholm Olympics of 1912.
In 1910 he became AAA mile champion and founded the shortlived Amateur Athletes’ Union in Manchester, an organisation which pressed for improved dressing room accommodation, facilities, better prizes and a general raising of the amateur athlete’s status. He was suspended by the AAA after competing in a nonsanctioned event in March 1911 and later that year emigrated to Australia, where he amassed several titles and records before retiring from the track in 1914, his career cut short by World War 1.
He lived a long, varied and colourful life, described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as an athlete, political organiser (for the Labor party), master engineer and radio manager (he was a pioneer in wireless broadcasting including as founder of 2KY in Sydney). He was a sportswriter and wrestling commentator for the BBC! He moved to New Zealand in 1947, jogging well into his eighties, and died in Auckland aged of 90.
Emil’s grand-daughter lives over in Australia and although has played an important part in providing a great deal of information regarding Emil, could not make tonight due to personal circumstances.
Danny Crates was an athlete as a youngster who switched sports to rugby as a teenager, and this was the sport to which he returned after losing his right arm in a car crash in Australia in 1994. But it was in athletics that Crates was destined to achieve greatness. Returning to the UK he got back into the sport, now running the 400m rather than his previous 800m and 1500m and he was a finalist over that distance at the world championships in 1998.
Crates trained as part of Ayo Falola’s training group which included Sydney Olympic fourth placer Donna Fraser. While he went one better than Fraser in taking 400m bronze in the Sydney Paralympic Games it was clear there was more to come. A fast finishing Crates had left himself too much to do in the last 100m and while third in the world he felt the disappointment.
In 2001 he tried the 800m and promptly ran under two minutes, a feat he repeated several times that year. While 2002 saw fourth places in both the 400m and 800m at the World Championships it was clear at which distance his future lay.
In 2004 was his year. The Athens Paralympic T46 800m final saw him controlling the race from the front. In a race that started slow and built up Crates ran his familiar tactics, at the front always kept space ahead of him to accelerate into. Algeria’s Samir Nouioua went home from those games with gold from both the 1500m and 5000m and was clearly the biggest threat to Crates. But responding to Nouioua’s attack around the last bend Crates accelerated away down the homestraight to pull almost a second clear and cross the line as Paralympic Champion. A group of more than 30 of his friends and family had travelled to see him run, and win, “To see them all on the first bend, Union Jacks everywhere was something I will never forget.”
2004 was also the year in which he re-wrote the record books. Having run a time of 1:54.7, quicker than the then ratified world record, in a British Milers Club race at Watford in the June he then lowered his PB again in the heats of the AAA championships. This saw him take the official world record to 1:53.27. This was not his only 1:53 clocking as the next two years saw him come close to his own world record mark in British Milers’ Club races, in which he was a regular competitor.
The IPC World Championships gold was added to the collection in Assen, Netherlands in 2006 underlining his position as the dominant force in T46 800m.
At the 2008 Paralympics Games he was flag bearer for the British team but the injury troubles he had been struggling with all year reoccurred and meant he was unable to defend his title.
A public farewell came at Crystal Palace in 2009 where his contribution to athletics was recognised. But there was another duty to be performed – he made good on his promise to pull on his club vest and turn out for the team one last time which he did at a wet and windy Southern Men’s League in Basingstoke. After winning the A 800m race there, with his parents watching on, he picked up more points for the club in lowering his 1500m PB to 4:12.6.
As an 18 year-old in 1984 Roger Black finished fourth in the English Schools’ 200m in 22.1 but after he joined Mike Smith’s coaching group later that year and began training seriously alongside the likes of Todd Bennett and Kriss Akabusi he quickly developed into one of the world’s most exciting 400m talents. The very next year he ran away with the European Junior title in 45.36, while during an amazing 1986 season Black, tall and blessed with film star looks, became one of Britain’s most successful as well as recognisable sporting stars.
The key to his improvement at 400m was basic speed. At 200m he improved from 21.6 to 20.63, while at 300m he set a UK best with 32.08. His first big test as a senior was the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, winning in very windy conditions in 45.57, and he came up trumps again in the European Championships. His time of 44.59 broke Derek Redmond’s UK record and was the second fastest ever by a European. Two days later he helped win the relay in 2:59.84 with a 43.95 anchor.
Six championship races, six gold medals including relays, and still only 20. It couldn’t go on like that and subsequently both his running and confidence suffered because of persistent hip and leg injuries. They got worse and extended to a stress fracture of the right foot so that the entire 1988 season was wiped out and it wasn’t until September 1989 that he was able to race again.
Now coached by Mike Whittingham, he retained his European title in 1990 in 45.08 and anchored the relay team to a European record 2:58.22 with a 43.96 leg. Yet again, in 1991, he hit top form when it mattered most as at the Tokyo World Championships he clocked 44.62 for the silver medal and ran the first leg in that immensely exciting relay race in which Britain defeated the Americans in a European record 2:57.53.
The 1992 season started promisingly but a hamstring problem held him back, and in 1993 he was diagnosed as having the debilitating Epstein Barr virus, a form of glandular fever which left him perpetually tired and depressed. That kept him out of competition for practically a year, but he made a tremendous comeback in 1994, clocking 44.78 and a 43.94 relay leg.
The following season he was hampered by pains in the back of his left knee, although he did equal his best time of 44.59, but 1996 saw the realisation of his ambitions. He regained the UK record with 44.39 to win the AAA title, improving to 44.37 behind Michael Johnson in Lausanne. Realising that Johnson was virtually unbeatable, Black’s Olympic target in Atlanta was second place and that he achieved in 44.41 for the first British Olympic medal in this event since 1936. Another silver followed in the relay, anchoring the team in 43.87 to a European record 2:56.60, but his career came to a frustrating end in 1998 when, to his chagrin, the selectors denied him the chance of an unprecedented third European title.