Judy Oakes was a trailblazer in British shot putting, in 1986 she became the first to reach 19 metres. Two years later she raised the UK record to 19.36 and there it has remained ever since. Since the start of the 21st century no Briton has reached even 18 metres in official competition.
Judy’s lengthy career was remarkable in many ways; she contested six Commonwealth Games, winning a medal each time – an unprecedented achievement.
She was only 20 when she placed third in Edmonton (Canada) in 1978 and went on to win in Brisbane in 1982, finish second in Edinburgh in 1986 and Auckland in 1990, and strike gold again in Victoria (Canada) in 1994 and, aged 40, in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. That defeat in Edinburgh particularly rankles as the winner, Gael Martin, served an 18-month drugs ban and in 1988 admitted to an Australian Senate committee inquiry into drugs in sport that she had taken anabolic steroids. It was Martin also who in effect deprived Judy of an Olympic medal in 1984, for in Los Angeles – which was boycotted by the Soviet and East German teams – the Australian placed third and Judy fourth. It was Judy’s misfortune her career coincided with doping in her event. For example, in 1987 no fewer than 23 women put the shot beyond 20 metres, whereas in 2014 there were two and in 2015 three.
Judy’s longest ever throw of 19.36 ranked her 32nd in the world in 1988, in 2015 the distance would have placed fifth on the world list. Physically she was dwarfed by her predominantly East European rivals but her level of performance was remarkable.
It was never a level playing field for her but Judy went on to make her mark as, pound for pound, probably the world’s most proficient shot putter. Her role model was her coach Mike Winch (a 20.43 performer in 1974) who, she noted, “proved that you can be a world class thrower by using technique and explosiveness rather than bulk.” Domestically, she reigned supreme for many years, collecting a record 35 Women’s AAA titles (indoors and out) between 1977 and 2000, when she was aged 42. To mark that final victory, at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, she was rewarded with a standing ovation from the crowd as she took a well-deserved lap of honour. Also that year she was awarded the OBE for her services to athletics, having received the MBE in 1988. By the time she retired she had represented the UK on a record 87 occasions.
Although weighing only 77kg at the time, Judy won Britain’s Strongest Woman title in 1983 and went on to become a world powerlifting and European weightlifting champion. She has also been an outspoken campaigner for athletes’ rights and raising the status of field events.
A serious kidney disease contracted when he was five confined him to bed for several years, but he had recovered by the age of 11, and by 15 he was All England Schools 100yds Champion.
At the age of 18, coached by Bill Marlow, Radford finished 4th in his first international – the 100 yards at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff and assisted England to victory in the relay. At the European Championships he took third in the 100m final, and in a match against France in Paris he set UK (and world junior) records of 10.29 for 100m and 20.8 for 200m. Whilst still 18 years old he held British Records in all indoor and outdoor sprint distances up to and including 300 yards. Radford improved these several times in the coming years, and in 1960 broke Harry Hutchens’ 300 yards record, set in 1884, with 29.9.
On 28 May 1960 came World Records for the 220 yards and 200m at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton. This memorable afternoon was as follows: 2.30 – 100 yards heat in 9.4, equalling the European record and only a tenth outside the world record; 3.30 – 100 yards final in a wind assisted 9.3; 4.30 – 220 yards heat in 23.2; 5.00 – 220 yards final in a world record 20.5, also a world record for 200m. Radford, at 20, became the first British-born sprinter to set a world record since Willie Applegarth in 1914.
Over 100m he came close to Olympic gold medal in Rome. He was last away but caught the field over the final 30-40m and was still gaining rapidly at the finish, finishing third in a UK record equalling 10.3. It was, Radford has said, a “race that I not only could, but should have won.” He later joined forces with David Jones, Dave Segal and Nick Whitehead for bronze medals in the sprint relay. In 1963 Radford helped create a world 4×110 yards relay record of 40.0 alongside Ron Jones, David Jones and Berwyn Jones, in defeating the USA at White City stadium.
His important contribution to the sport did not end with his retirement from sprinting. He served as Vice- Chairman, Chairman and Executive Chairman of the national governing body, the British Athletics Federation, from 1992 to 1997. A strong campaigner against performance enhancing drugs, in 1995 he addressed the IAAF Congress to oppose the IAAF Council’s lenient position on sanctions and argued for the need for serious doping offenders to be banned for life. He chaired the Council of Europe’s International Anti-Doping Convention Group for four years. Radford has also been Professor of Sports Sciences at the University of Glasgow and Brunel University. He is a notable athletics historian, writing a well received biography of the celebrated early 19th century long distance athlete Captain Barclay in 2001. In 2016 he was the author of a booklet – “1866 and all that” – published by England Athletics to mark the 150th anniversary of the world’s first national athletics championships. He is acknowledged as THE expert on 18th century athletics and since 2009 has been President of the National Union of Track Statisticians (NUTS).
Other athletes may have clocked faster times and claimed more titles, but nothing compares with Joyce Smith’s record of sustained top-class achievement in a career of such prodigious length. As a teenager in 1956 she gained her first international badge, as reserve for the England cross country team. In 1980, aged 43, she became the world’s third fastest ever marathon runner! Joyce represented Britain at 800m, set UK records at 1500m, broken a world record and won a European bronze medal in the 3000m, and scored great international victories at cross country and marathon running.
It was as a sprinter and long jumper that Joyce Byatt began her athletics career. It was when her then boyfriend, Bryan Smith, started coaching her in 1958 that her career really took off; in less than a year she was English cross country champion. Joyce retained that title in 1960, shortly before becoming Mrs Smith, and made her international debut at 800m.
For several years she was content to be a club runner, and with the birth of Lisa in 1968 she could have decided that, at 30, her racing career was over. On the contrary, she excelled by placing third in the 1971 International Cross Country Championship. That summer she moved up to 3000m and clocked an unofficial world record of 9:23.4 in a then undeveloped event. The following year she became the first British winner of the women’s International cross country title and made the Munich Olympic team at 1500m, setting a UK record of 4:09. That time would have been a world record at the start of 1972, but the event had moved on … and so did Joyce. In 1974 she improved her UK 3000m record to 8:55.53, took the bronze medal at the European Championships and was voted UK woman athlete of the year by the British Athletics Writers’ Association.
Lia was born in 1976, and although Joyce represented Britain at 3000m in 1978 she was no longer enjoying track racing. Her real career, on the road, was just about to start at the age of 41. Her initial marathon aim was to break 2:50, the British best standing at 2:50:54. In fact she ran 2:41:37 in her debut in June 1979 and three months later improved to 2:36:27, a Commonwealth record and world veterans best. In November 1980 she won her second Tokyo marathon in 2:30:27, quickest ever in a women-only race. It was a sobering thought that she was now faster than another legendary veteran, Hall of Fame inductee Jack Holden.
An even greater race came next: the inaugural London Marathon in March 1981. She received a tremendous ovation throughout, which helped lift her to new heights – breaking through the 2:30 barrier with the glorious figures of 2:29:57. In London the following year she ran faster still with 2:29:43, at 44 becoming the oldest athlete ever to set a British record. She continued to compete with distinction, including 11th place in the inaugural Olympic race in Los Angeles in 1984, the year she was awarded the MBE.
There was a poignant occasion at the Birmingham Diamond League meeting in June 2016 when a richly deserved presentation was made to Bud Baldaro marking his retirement from his role as national coach mentor at England Athletics.
Although he was an enthusiastic schoolboy cross country runner in Birmingham, football was his passion… until as a 17-year-old he watched Ron Clarke shatter the world record for 3 miles at the 1965 AAA Championships. He was hooked. A decent runner himself, primarily for Tipton Harriers, it was as a coach that Baldaro made an indelible impression. While an English teacher at Wednesfield High School, Wolverhampton, he made sure his most talented athletes joined Tipton, one of them being Tony Milovsorov. He began coaching him in 1977, guiding him 12 years later to sixth in the London Marathon in under 2:10.
After taking early retirement as a teacher, Baldaro became the endurance coach at the University of Birmingham as well as holding such key posts as national cross country and marathon coach. He became well known as a commentator at the National cross country championships and road relays. Under his guidance Tipton collected numerous national titles.
It’s difficult to keep track of them all but Baldaro has coached at least 50 runners to international class, all of whom are united in their respect, admiration and affection for their mentor. One of his early successes was Lisa York, the inspiration for Kelly Holmes to resume her dormant athletics career after seeing her, a former schoolgirl rival, competing in the 1992 Olympic 3000m.
He was coach to three-time Chicago winner Marian Sutton when in 1999 she ran her fastest marathon of 2:28:42, while among the top class steeplechasers he trained were 8:18 performer Eddie Wedderburn, four time UK champion Luke Gunn and former British record holder Hatti Archer (née Dean). Bev Hartigan (née Nicholson) was Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medallist in 1990 while his greatest coaching success has been Hannah England, silver medallist at 1500m in the 2011 World Championships, who that year ran 4:01.89.
In 2009 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease but has continued to coach at the highest level as well as organising charity events which have raised tens of thousands of pounds for research into the condition.
Two of his athletes made the British team for the 2016 European Championships: Alison Leonard in the 800m and Sarah McDonald in the 1500m.
As Luke Gunn, now head of athletics at the University of Birmingham, said: “Bud is an incredibly humble and unassuming coach, and has an incredible way with people, especially young athletes. He is patient, kind and so supportive. Over the years this has meant that he has often got commitment and indeed performances out of people that they never even knew possible. Long may this truly brilliant yet modest man be within the sport, singing ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ at every training session.”
Kriss Akabusi joined the British Army when he was 16 and by the time he was 22, by then a sergeant stationed in Germany as a PT instructor, he had run 48.0 for 400m. Two years later, posted close to Southampton, he improved dramatically after he began being coached by Mike Smith. By the end of 1983 his personal best stood at 46.10. A year later he was an Olympic silver medallist. At the Los Angeles Games he ran 45.43 – ranking him second on the UK all-time list – before being eliminated in the semis, but his moment of glory came in the relay where the British team finished second to the USA in a European record of 2:59.13.
His switch to 400m hurdles came in 1987. Mike Smith introduced him to hurdles coach Mike Whittingham, and Akabusi proved to be a quick learner, finding that his speed was enhanced as a result of all the bounding, hurdling and plyometric work involved. His rate of progress was astounding, placing seventh at the World Championships after clocking 48.64 in his semi. Even more satisfying was his performance in the relay where he sped around the second lap in 44.60 and took home a silver medal in the European record time of 2:58.86.
His Army career was going well also, promoted to Warrant Officer at 29, and great things were expected on the track in 1988, particularly after winning the AAA 400m title in 44.93, achieving his long-held ambition of breaking 45. However, he had to wait until 1990 for the major breakthrough at hurdles.
Following victory in the Commonwealth Games he ran 47.92 to win the European title, breaking David Hemery’s UK (and former world) record of 48.12 – a bonus which sent him into a frenzy of excitement adding to his reputation of being among the most extrovert of athletes. His infectious laugh had already become a legendary feature of British athletics. Three days later came another gold medal in the relay in a European record of 2:58.22.
Akabusi’s knack of always being in top form for the big occasions continued at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. He lowered the UK record to 47.86 for bronze. Better still was the relay, where following commendable runs by Roger Black, Derek Redmond and John Regis, he took over three metres behind the new world 400m champion Antonio Pettigrew. Akabusi rose to the formidable challenge in magnificent fashion and his team achieved a famous victory over the Americans in a European record of 2:57.53.
The 1992 Olympics proved a fitting climax to his career. Once more he hit his peak at just the right time, trimming his British record to 47.82 for third place behind Kevin Young’s phenomenal world record of 46.78. Akabusi now owned the five fastest ever times by a Briton … and even now, all these years later, he still holds the British record.
As an athlete with Thames Valley Harriers, which he joined in 1947, he was a decent club sprinter who was a medallist at the Middlesex Championships and whose best result was a 50.2 quarter-mile. But as a sprints coach Ron Roddan became a legend. Since he began coaching in 1964 he has guided more than 30 athletes to international status, the most celebrated of course being Linford Christie.
Born in Crewe, Roddan was aged six when in 1937 his family moved to London. As a runner he started at the middle distances, dropping down to the sprints in his early twenties. His transition to training other sprinters was not planned. His own coach retired due to health problems and Roddan, then in his early thirties, was urged by his team-mates to take over. “Initially, I carried on with what my coach had taught us, but then I went on courses, met other coaches and began to put my own ideas to work.”
He was not a professional coach. He worked as an engineer for 15 years, with two years out for national service in the Army, and then was a Geological Society laboratory technician until he was made redundant in 1990. But he always found time to coach, initially at Alperton, then at West London (later Linford Christie) Stadium, and he derived as much satisfaction from helping the less talented to improve as with those who reached the top. “My athletes getting PBs or just running better than they thought they were capable of… those moments make me feel that it is all worthwhile.”
A quiet man, Roddan was always respected by those he advised – a father figure to them. “I’m not pushy. I’m the opposite to what most sprinters are. They’re brash, loud and extroverted. I don’t know what it is but I just seem to be approachable.” His first major successes were Mick Hauck, who developed into a 46.75 400m performer, and Dick Steane, who set a British 200m record of 20.66 at the Mexico City Olympics. Many more followed before that day in 1979 when a 19 year old by the name of Linford Christie approached Roddan. He had placed second in the English Schools 200m and his best times were 10.7 and 21.8. Christie had talent but in those early days lacked self-discipline. “He just wouldn’t come training and only did when he felt like it,” Roddan recalled.
Following the 1984 season, by which time Christie’s PBs were 10.44 and 21.38, Roddan gave him an ultimatum on the lines of “either work seriously or don’t waste my time.” That was the turning point. In 1985 he clocked a wind assisted 10.20 and early in 1986 he won his first international title, the 200m at the European Indoor Championships. Later that year he succeeded Allan Wells as UK record holder for 100m and the rest is history, a brilliant career climaxed by Olympic (1992) and World (1993) titles. The Roddan legacy lives on as, having learned so much from his mentor, Christie is himself a highly successful coach these days.
Tokyo Men’s 4x400m Relay Team
There could not have been a more rousing finale to the magnificent 1991 World Championships in Tokyo than the 4x400m relay. It was a mindblowing, excruciating, joyous race for the British camp… for the Americans it was just mind-blowing and excruciating.
The heats provided an indication of the epic to come. The US foursome won their heat in 2:59.55 but the British set down their marker when Ade Mafe (46.1), Derek Redmond (44.5), the junior Mark Richardson (44.8) and Kriss Akabusi (44.1) took theirs in 2:59.49. For the final the next day the Americans would bring in Andrew Valmon and the newly crowned 400m champion Antonio Pettigrew, while the British team would be strengthened by the inclusion of Roger Black and John Regis.
The first sensation of the race occurred when the first leg runners came out to try their blocks… for there was Black, traditionally the anchorman. As Akabusi explained later: “The reason why Roger was on the lead-off leg is because we had to neutralise the American strength.” It was a gamble, the plan being that Black would build up such a lead that the Americans would never get back on level terms. That didn’t quite come off, for although Black ran a splendid 44.7 leg his lead over Valmon (44.9) was less than two metres. On the second leg Redmond excelled himself with a 44.0 split but Quincy Watts came up with one of the fastest ever relay legs of 43.4 to build up a lead of almost four metres. It looked as though the British plan had misfired. Next to go was Regis, primarily a great 200m runner who had produced an inspired 43.93 split in Split at the European Championships the year before. He didn’t quite reproduce that, but a 44.22 clocking narrowed the deficit slightly against Danny Everett’s 44.31. Thus, Akabusi took over for the anchor a daunting three metres behind Pettigrew. For him, a hurdler, to anchor the squad was a very special honour and it brought out all his tenacity and competitiveness, as Pettigrew found to his cost. Akabusi closed the gap, swung out to challenge the American and miraculously found the very last ounce of speed and strength to edge past some four strides from the line
His split was 44.59 to Pettigrew’s 44.93 and the British team had won a famous victory by 4/100ths in 2:57.53, a European and Commonwealth record. It was the greatest GB triumph in this event since the Americans were upset in the 1936 Olympics. What a race! As Akabusi remarked: “The guys before me did everything right; it was a big occasion and we had to grab it.” Chief Coach Frank Dick explained the strategy: “We worked out the best way to tackle the Americans and decided to pressurise them. They are not used to pressure because they are usually well out in front. And didn’t it work?”