Greats of athletics, Tommy Green, Geoff Capes, John Regis, Aston Moore, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Peter Matthews, and Katharine Merry were inducted as part of the 2018 Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday 13th October. As well as the new inductees to the England Athletics Hall of Fame, the night saw volunteers from across the country honoured in the National Volunteer Awards to celebrate their dedication and service to the sport.
Following a number of controversial incidents at the 1924 Games, race walking was dropped from the 1928 Olympic programme but, thanks largely to pressure by British officials, a 50 kilometres road event was introduced at the 1932 Games.
Fittingly, the winner in Los Angeles was a Briton: 38 year-old father of four, Tommy Green, who had to give up several weeks’ wages as a railwayman in Eastleigh to make the long trip to California by ship and train.
Affected by a temperature in the nineties which caused the tar on the roads to melt, Green’s winning time of 4:50:10 was nearly a quarter of an hour slower than his personal best when he won the inaugural national championship in 1930 (4:35:36), but what really mattered was that he finished seven minutes ahead of his nearest rival, Janis Dalins of Latvia – a winning margin which has only once been exceeded in the 18 Olympic 50 kilometre races held since. He remains to this day the oldest man to win that title.
At halfway, Green, Dalins and Italy’s Ugo Frigerio (winner of three short distance gold medals at the 1920 and 1924 Olympics) were level pegging, and they were still together at the three-quarters distance before Frigerio dropped back. The next to experience a crisis was Green himself, who fell a minute behind Dalins at one stage before being rejuvenated by cold water being thrown over him. Producing a strong finish, Green covered the final quarter of the race faster than any of the preceding segments and that, combined with the stomach cramps which beset Dalins, enabled him to win by close to a mile. As soon as he could, he sent a telegram to his wife Rose back in Hampshire. “I won the gold medal. Very hot. See you all soon. Love Tom.” Such was his fame that he was accorded the ultimate recognition for a sports star of that era – his image appeared on a Players cigarette card!
It was remarkable that Green ever became an athlete, never mind an Olympic champion, for he was unable to walk until he was five years old because of rickets, at 16 he was invalided out of the Army (which he had joined under-age at 12) with injuries sustained when a horse fell on him, and while serving in France during the First World War he was wounded three times and was badly gassed. Despite all that, he lived to one day short of his 81st birthday.
A doctor advised him to take up athletics as a protection against the wartime gas that remained in his lungs. He started as a runner but drifted into walking after assisting a war-blinded friend who was training for the St Dunstan’s London to Brighton event. He won his first walking race, from Worthing to Brighton, in 1926, aged 32, and later victories included the London to Brighton classic in 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1933 and the Milan 100 kilometres race in 1930. He was unable to defend his Olympic title after finishing fourth in Britain’s 1936 50 kilometres trial but continued to compete until he was 54.
In May 1966 Athletics Weekly featured two promising 16 year-old throwers. One was Hungarian-born Joe Bugner, a former English Schools junior discus champion who would turn professional boxer the following year and go on to fight Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The other was Geoff Capes, already almost 6ft 6in tall and weighing over 16 stones. Believe it or not, he was the smallest of five brothers and in his early days as an athlete ran a 4:48 mile and raced cross country!
The turning point in Capes’ life was when he came under the coaching influence of international high hurdler Stuart Storey who had recognised his shot putting potential. Capes began setting age records from 16 onwards and in 1969, at 19, made his debut for the national senior team. Police Constable Capes placed fourth in the 1970 Commonwealth Games but his breakthrough year was 1971 when he went tantalisingly close to the UK record held by his hero, Arthur Rowe. In 1972 he smashed that record with a distance of 20.18.
It was in 1974 that he became one of the world’s elite. At the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch he ensured the gold medal with his opening effort of 20.74, and a fulfilling winter season continued apace as he set a European indoor record of 20.95 for victory in the European Indoor Championships. Outdoors, in June, he raised the Commonwealth record to the landmark figure of 21.00. Another milestone followed in August when he became only the sixth man in the world to reach 70 feet with a put of 21.37. It was all going so well, but at the European Championships in Rome – with everyone throwing far below their best – he had to settle for bronze.
The 1975 season was one of consolidation, although he was world ranked number one. He picked up a silver in the European Indoors and won at the European Cup Final, his best for the season being 20.80. His advance resumed in 1976. Indoors, he set a European record of 20.98 and regained the European title. Outdoors, he boosted his Commonwealth record to 21.55 but disappointment awaited him at the Montreal Olympics. He had the third longest throw in the qualifying competition but in the final he could muster only 20.36 for sixth place as the title went unexpectedly to the GDR’s Udo Beyer at 21.05. His despair at missing the opportunity of a lifetime was intense.
It would be another four years before he would improve his best mark again. In the meantime, though, he collected more medals, including a second gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. In May 1980 he came up with his longest ever throw: a Commonwealth record of 21.68 which survived as the British record for 23 years. He went into the Moscow Olympics ranked second but a back injury ruined his chances and he placed fifth. His athletics career may have ended in frustration but Capes went on to become even better known to the general public by twice winning the televised World’s Strongest Man title as well as being one of the country’s foremost budgerigar breeders.
The son of the champion bodybuilder of St Lucia, the powerful physique of John Regis made him the most recognisable of sprinters. He was also one of the most versatile. The only man to win four medals in a single European Championships, he won a world indoor 200m title and so very nearly an outdoor one, was a World Championships gold medallist at 4x400m relay, set European bests at 300m (31.67) and low altitude 200m, and even ran a fast 200m hurdles (22.79).
As a junior in 1984 Regis ran a promising 21.31 200m and made a momentous decision. Until then, football had been his main sport. A cousin of England centre forward Cyrille Regis, he had played at Charlton, Newcastle and Arsenal as a schoolboy but decided, for a year at least, to concen – trate on athletics. It was during that year (1985) that he really started to make an impression and put foot ball behind him. He dead-heated with Linford Christie for the UK 200m title and at the European Junior Championships he won gold (4x100m) and bronze (100m) medals.
In 1986, still a teenager, he became the fastest European at 200m that summer when winning the AAA title in 20.41. After joining John Isaacs’ training group he set a UK indoor record with 20.54 for the bronze medal at the 1987 European Indoor Championships and ran his first 400m relay leg at Cosford … an impressive 45.6. Outdoors, at the World Championships, he not only broke Allan Wells’ UK record with 20.18 but came close to winning. He was in the lead with ten metres to go … at which point he admits he panicked, allowing Calvin Smith (USA) and Gilles Quenéhervé of France to edge past.
By his standards, he failed to do himself justice in the 100m and 200m at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but consolation followed in the 4x100m where the British team finished second. The following year he enjoyed a moment of individual glory at 200m when winning Britain’s first ever World Indoor Championships gold medal.
At the 1990 European Championships he amassed a record four medals. He took 100m bronze in a just windy 10.07, won the 200m in a personal best of 20.11 and contributed to a UK 4x100m record of 37.98 in second place to France’s world record breaking 37.79. In his ninth race he simply ran out of his socks in the 4x400m, blasting through the first 200m in 20.5 or faster and holding on heroically for a split of 43.93! The team won in a European record of 2:58.22.
In 1991 his 44.22 third leg helped the 4x400m team score a famous victory over the USA at the World Championships in Tokyo in the European record time of 2:57.53. He eventually moved on from Isaacs’ group and began working with Mike Whittingham (speed endurance) and Mike McFarlane (technique and speed), rising to new heights in 1993. After setting personal bests at 100m (10.15) and 400m (45.48) he knew he was ready for sub-20 and at the World Championships in Stuttgart he finished a brilliant second in 19.94, which is still the UK record, although in 1994 he ran an unratified 19.87 at altitude.
I think the triple jumper is probably the best allround athlete there is. He’s got to be flexible, fast and powerful.” That was the view of Aston Moore when quoted in Athletics Weekly in 1982. He should know, for not only was he a UK record breaker but he went on to become one of the world’s foremost coaches at the event.
Blessed with natural talent, he exceeded 14 metres in his first year of triple jumping, aged 15 and without training. He joined Birchfield Harriers in 1973 and began training under Kevin Reeve. Within two years he was European junior champion, UK junior record holder and a senior international. That title was the first, at any European age level, by a British triple jumper.
He achieved his twin targets for 1976 of breaking the British record and qualifying for the Olympics. He jumped 16.52 to break Fred Alsop’s 1964 mark but, hampered by a sore foot, fouled out in the qualifying round in Montreal. In 1978, he extended his British record to 16.68 when winning the second of his three AAA titles, then added a centimetre to that distance to take the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games. But that was the occasion when England team-mate Keith Connor made a breakthrough to win with a wind assisted 17.21, backed up by a legal 16.76 to break Moore’s national record.
Moore topped the UK rankings in 1979 with 16.60. In 1981 he took a bronze medal at the European Indoor Championships then produced his longest legal mark of 16.86 and a barrier breaking, if wind aided, 17.02. He shone also in the long jump with a career best of 7.74 indoors. A second Commonwealth Games bronze medal came in 1982. He ended his international career at the 1986 edition in Edinburgh, placing fifth.
Back in 1976, aged 20, he stated that after retirement from competition “I expect I will put back some of what I got out of athletics by coaching.” He was as good as his word, as a coach he has achieved even more distinction than as an athlete.
Just look at some of the triple jumpers he has coached at some time during their careers. Ashia Hansen, a world indoor champion and record breaker as well as winning Commonwealth and European titles … Phillips Idowu, world, European and Commonwealth Games champion and Olympic silver medallist … Nathan Douglas, European silver medallist … Julian Reid, a wind assisted 17.10 performer … his own son Jonathan Moore, world youth champion in 2001 … Laura Samuel, Commonwealth Games silver medallist … and Jamaica’s double Commonwealth champion Kimberly Williams. As a former decathlete, Moore has guided distinguished all-rounders, including multiple heptathlon medallist Kelly Sotherton, Commonwealth champion Louise Hazel and Commonwealth silver medallist Ashley Bryant. His coaching has seen success with para-athletes, led by T44 long jump world champion and record breaker Stef Reid and T38 world and Commonwealth long jump champion Olivia Breen.
When winning the pentathlon silver medal at the 1964 Games, Mary Rand started a glorious tradition of British female all-rounders excelling at Olympic level. Mary Peters broke the world record when winning the pentathlon in 1972, Denise Lewis was crowned heptathlon champion in 2000 and Kelly Sotherton was a medallist in 2004 and 2008. But it’s Jessica Ennis-Hill who is without question Britain’s most successful female multi-eventer.
She was just 13 when she came under the coaching eye of Toni Minichiello. Theirs blossomed into one of the most fruitful athlete-coach partnerships in British athletics history.
Jessica didn’t exactly set the world alight that year (1999) when she competed in the English Schools’ Championships, placing tenth in the high jump and 15th in the pentathlon. Improvement was rapid, though, for the following year she won the English Schools and WAAA junior girls’ high jump titles… and never looked back. In 2005 she won the European junior heptathlon title and the following year placed an inspired third at the Commonwealth Games. In 2007, despite being only 1.64m tall, she cleared 1.95 (a foot above her head!) to equal the British high jump record. But in 2008 she suffered crushing disappointment when three stress fractures ended her dream of competing in the Beijing Olympics.
Happily, she not only recovered in time for the 2009 season but ended up as world heptathlon champion – and that despite being persuaded to change her long jump take-off foot. It all worked out beautifully, for not only did she improve her best score substantially to 6731, but that year she produced lifetime bests in the 800m, hurdles, shot, javelin and, yes, long jump. In 2010 she claimed the world indoor pentathlon and European outdoor titles with personal best scores of 4937 and 6823, while in 2011 she placed second to Tatyana Chernova at the World Championships – only to be awarded the gold medal years later as the Russian was retrospectively found guilty of doping.
As one of the faces of the 2012 London Olympics there was enormous pressure on her, but she got away to a phenomenal start by breaking the British 100m hurdles record with 12.54, the fastest ever in a heptathlon and good enough to have won the individual title at the 2008 Olympics! Thanks also to a sparkling 200m in 22.83 she led by 184 points after day one and stretched that to a colossal winning margin of 306 points with her highest ever score of 6955. That made her one of Britain’s athletics immortals, but she hadn’t finished yet. After marrying Andy Hill in May 2013 and giving birth to Reggie in July 2014 she set out to regain the world title in August 2015. She made it this time to Beijing and triumphed again. There was one final challenge: the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She was beaten on that occasion but completed a fabulous career in second place, fighting hard to the end. She was appointed a Dame in the 2017 New Year Honours.
Peter Matthews’ contribution to athletics spans many decades and roles: a statistician, historian, editor, announcer, radio and television commen – tator, and club president. His views command respect and he is not reticent about criticising decisions he feels are not in the best interests of the athletes.
He is best known for the multitude of statistical books he has compiled or edited. Without him the sport would be without two essential statistical reference books. British Athletics, known as the NUTS Annual, and produced by the National Union of Track Statisticians since 1959, contains detailed facts and figures relating to the previous year’s British athletics scene. Matthews – who joined the NUTS in 1966 and is currently chairman – began editing the publication from the 1980 edition.
He took over as editor of the International Athletics Annual, produced by the worldwide Association of Track & Field Statisticians (ATFS), for the 1985 edition and made it into the Wisden of athletics. Added to the deep world lists were new features, including concise biographies of nearly 600 top athletes of the day. In a momentous period for English athletics the UK section that year featured 11 athletes since inducted into this Hall of Fame: Seb Coe, Steve Cram, Peter Elliott, Dave Moorcroft, Steve Ovett, Daley Thompson, Kathy Cook, Judy Oakes, Tessa Sanderson, Wendy Sly and Fatima Whitbread. With Matthews at the helm, the annual currently runs to around 600 pages with over 800 athletes profiled.
Another essential statistical offering has been his UK merit rankings, the 2017 compilation which appeared in Athletics Weekly marking its 50th year! Together with Mel Watman, he co-edits and publishes Athletics International, which was born in 1993 and prints every worldwide result of significance. As Britain’s, and probably the world’s, foremost athletics statistician and analyst, he has written, compiled or edited many other books, and was a former editor of the Guinness Book of Records, sharing the memory for facts and figures of his predecessors, Norris and Ross McWhirter.
As an announcer Matthews’ contribution has included the Commonwealth Games of 1970 and 2002, the 2003 World Indoor Championships, the 2006 European Championships, and countless domestic meetings. He broadcast for BBC Radio from 1975 to 1985, switching to television for ITV (1985-1996), Channel 4, Sky Sports and the IAAF. He has worked as a commentator or media manager at numerous Olympic Games and at every outdoor World Championships.
On the domestic athletics scene Matthews was much involved with the British Athletics League in its early days. He served 25 years as president of the Borough of Enfield Harriers and the merged club Enfield and Haringey, and as president of the UK Counties Athletics Union from 2009 to 2018. In 2009 he was presented with the coveted British Athletics Writers’ Association’s Ron Pickering Memorial Award for services to athletics by Jean Pickering.
In all too many cases, athletes who shine at a very young age do not go on to make their mark as seniors. But that was certainly not the case with Katharine Merry, who produced an astounding series of precocious performances and yet developed into one of Britain’s finest sprinters and, aged 26, an Olympic 400m medallist.
She set age records galore. At 13 in 1988 she not only ran 100m in 11.85 but during a record breaking pentathlon she high jumped 1.74, long jumped a wind assisted 6.05 and skimmed over the 75m hurdles in 11.1. That year she made her junior international debut even though she had five more seasons ahead of her as a junior! She began 1989 sensationally with an indoor 60m time of 7.35 which ranked second fastest among Britain’s seniors and was a world age 14 best which stood for 29 years. Merry opened her international medal account with silver in the 4x100m relay at the 1990 World Junior Championships. The following season she won 200m bronze at the European Juniors.
Her achievements in 1993 included winning the UK 200m title and taking gold (200m and 4x100m) and silver (100m) medals at the European Junior Championships. The following year at 200m she broke 23 seconds for the first time with 22.85 when completing a AAA Champion – ships sprint double, scored valuable points in the European Cup with second place in the 100m, 200m and relay … and made her debut at 400m with a time of 54.0.
She didn’t race again at 400m until 1998, proving a revelation with a time of 51.02, while at the European Championships she ran a storming third leg in the relay in 50.4 to help Britain win bronze. She had at last found her strongest event. She reached true world class in 1999, after lowering the British indoor 200m record, which still stands, to 22.83, by placing fifth at the World Champion – ships in 50.52 after clocking 50.21 in her semi-final to rank second to Kathy Cook on the UK all-time list.
Coached by Linford Christie, Katharine reached new heights during what proved to be the final two years of her career in the top flight. In July 2000 she set personal bests of 22.76 and 50.05 while preparing for the Sydney Olympics. The women’s 400m final was the most keenly anticipated event of the Games with the vast majority of the 112,000 fans hoping for, no expecting, victory by Australia’s own Cathy Freeman. Despite the incredible pressure, Cathy delivered the gold medal in 49.11 while Katharine – on antibiotics due to a virus – narrowly prevailed over team-mate Donna Fraser to snatch the bronze medal with her best time yet of 49.72. She topped that in 2001, a bittersweet year for her. Undefeated at 400m, she ran 49.59, fastest in the world that season, and was favoured to lift the world title, but a bone spur pressing on her Achilles tendon forced her to withdraw. Further injuries and illness took their toll and she retired, frustrated, in 2005. However, the mother of two has maintained a high profile in the sport ever since as a radio and TV commentator, infield presenter and, of course, as the Hall of Fame host.