2021 Hall of Fame inductees

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2021 Inductees

Cherry Alexander

Cherry has a 40-year career in staging major athletics events in the UK, starting out as one of the original team at the Great North Run in 1981 and NIKE International before working at British Athletics for 30 years, ultimately serving as Director of Major Events and International Relations. Since 1991, she has played a central role in the bidding for and hosting of 22 global events for UK Athletics and was successful with every bid submitted.

Throughout Cherry’s years at UK Athletics, tasks also involved managing the Broadcast relationship, delivering UKA’s televised events, managing domestic fixture planning and advisory groups for officials’ education and training. International competition roles included Competition Manager for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics along with delivering 215 medal ceremonies. In 2013, Cherry was the founder of the Women in World Athletics initiative, an off-shoot project from the wider initiative, to increase the involvement of women in the sport at all levels and in all functions and roles.

Cherry also operated as Director of Competition for European Team Championships, World Half Marathons, World and European Indoor Championships and was Managing Director for the 2017 World Para Championships and World Athletics Championships in London. Those Championships are still regarded as the ‘best ever’ and they culminated in a financial surplus and a Guinness World Record for ticket sales. For many years Cherry played a major role working with colleagues all over the world to help shape the European Competition calendar.

In 2019, Cherry was elected Vice President of European Athletics where she also chairs the Event and Competition Commission and the Major Events Strategy Bidding Group. Cherry is loved and respected by generations of athletes and those associated with the sport in the UK and abroad. Over the years she has had an impact on so many of the athletes in our sport on their journeys to the highest levels, being directly responsible for providing the stage upon which they could display their talents so well.

Cherry continues her passion for the sport. She is now a Director of Cherry & Co and working on projects with various cities and with World Athletics to continue to showcase and develop the sport.

Lloyd Cowan

Lloyd Cowan was a man with an Olympic sized heart and an Olympic sized appetite for his sport and those he guided – both on and off the track. And like many superb coaches, his relationship with athletics started as a competitor. Among his races of note are a silver medal finish in Birmingham as an under-23 in the Gold Cup & Jubilee Cup of September 1984 and representing Great Britain in the GB v USA match at the famous Gateshead international stadium 10 years later.

Without doubt Cowan’s proudest moment was to be representing England in the 110m Hurdles at the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games. And whilst his own athletics career eventually came to an end in 1999, his finest contribution to the sport was yet to fully flourish. Over the following two decades he became a friend, coach, mentor and guiding light to dozens and dozens of world class athletes, including his son Dwayne, sprint hurdler Andy Turner and perhaps most famous of all, Britain’s 400m World and Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu. Cowan was said to have a paternal presence around a track and had the ability to create an environment in which athletes learned to trust themselves by trusting him. Under his Dad’s watchful eye, son Dwayne became a World, European and Commonwealth 400m semifinalist who won a relay bronze medal at the 2017 World Championship, followed by silver at the Europeans in 2018.

In total, Turner spent 12 years working with Cowan during which he won European and Commonwealth 110m Hurdle titles as well as World bronze in 2011. “Lloyd took me through some really low, really terrible points of my life and on to the highest heights of my sport,” said Turner. “For the 12 years we worked together I probably spent more time with him than I did my family. Lloyd knew me better than anyone. He was always there, like another father to me; the coach I turned to when I had a bad race and was feeling awful – or a good one and wanted someone to celebrate with,” he added.

As for Ohuruogu and her relationship with Lloyd, it was without doubt one of the most successful coach/athlete partnerships the sport has known. Time and time again they found themselves coming up with a winning formula, armed with that secret recipe of making sure Christine always peaked at the right time. None more so than the individual Olympic gold in Beijing 2008 and of course the two World titles from 2007 and 2013. An incredible global hat-trick for both. “Lloyd once told me that ‘everyone has a dream’,” said Ohuruogu. “And he aimed to support athletes and coaches to achieve their goals, however big or small. He was always helping build the future of athletics.”

Lloyd Cowan. A giant of a man whose contribution to athletics will never be forgotten.

Verona Elder

Although remembered mainly for her brilliant performances at the indoor 400m, winning the European title in 1973, 1975 and 1979, Verona Elder (née Bernard) was a high achiever also at the outdoor event – twice a silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games and a British record breaker. A further distinction was the record number of 71 British international “vests” she amassed over a 13- year period and when her active career was over she served the sport well in management.

She was introduced to the sport, and Wolverhampton & Bilston AC, at age 11 by her teacher Brenda Cook, winner of the WAAA Indoor 600 yards title in 1963. She quickly made her mark as a junior and was only 18 when she ran for Britain in the 4x400m relay at the 1971 European Championships, the team placing fourth. She made a big advance in 1972, improving her best 400m time from 54.3 to 52.9, topping the British rankings and making her Olympic debut in Munich, reaching the 400m quarter-finals and placing fifth in the relay, the team setting a British record of 3:28.74.

Verona achieved star status in 1973, equalling the late Lillian Board’s UK record of 52.1, a world class performance. The season had started auspiciously with her defeating two strong East German rivals to win her first European Indoor title in 53.0, equalling Marilyn Neufville’s world indoor best. Early in 1974 she travelled to Christchurch for the Commonwealth Games and excelled by becoming the first Briton to break 52 sec, finishing second in 51.94, and anchoring the England 4x400m team to gold with a superb leg timed at 50.4.

Her next landmark event was getting married to Scottish steeplechaser Hugh Elder and under her new name she won the 1975 European Indoor 400m, taking the title ahead of three Soviet athletes in a UK best of 52.68. By this time Donna Murray (later Hartley) had taken over as Britain’s number one at 400m outdoors but Verona was herself still improving and in 1976 she ran her quickest ever time of 51.4, winning in a match against the USSR in Kiev.

The 1977 season was notable for two particular performances: at the European Indoors she placed second in 52.75 behind a world record breaking Marita Koch of the GDR and in a special event at the WAAA Championships she teamed up with Donna Hartley, Sharon Colyear and Sonia Lannaman to set a world record of 1:31.6 for the 4x200m relay. At the 1978 Commonwealth Games she finished second to Donna and contributed a 51.2 leg to England’s winning relay team, while in 1979 she triumphed for a third time at the European Indoors. Still she hadn’t finished and signed off with a bronze at the 1981 Championships.

The three-time Olympian’s glory years were over but not her involvement in the sport. Made an MBE in 1983, she became Britain’s assistant women’s team manager in 1989, women’s team manager in 1992 and overall team manager in 1994 and at the 1996 Olympics.

Jason Gardener

Jason Gardener had great success as a sprinter in an international career spanning 13 years. Having started with gold and silver medals at the World Junior Championships, he had particular individual success at 60m indoors with five major gold medals and was a stalwart member of successful British sprint relay teams until 2007, while becoming the third European and British runner to break 10 seconds for 100m in 1998. Awarded MBE in 2005, he became a director of UK Athletics and its President from December 2015.

Jason’s first national title was the AAA junior indoor 60m in 1994, before improving his 100m best that year from 10.62 in 1993 to 10.25 when he won the World Junior silver medal before leading off the winning British 4x100m team. His senior international debut came in 1995, going on to 34 internationals to 2007 when he retired. He made a considerable breakthrough to win the 60m for UK v Russia in January 1996, when he improved his best from 6.73 to 6.55, but missed much of the ensuing outdoor season through injury.

After consistent form in 1997, he excelled in 1998 to win his first senior championships medal with the European Indoor silver in 6.59. He won 60m bronze at the 1999 World Indoors when his 6.46 broke Linford Christie’s European record, and he went on to break 10 seconds for 100m when 3rd in Lausanne in 9.98. He was a brilliant winner of the AAA title in 10.02 and at the World Championships was 7th in the 100m and ran the first leg for the silver medal-winning British sprint relay team that broke the European record. His superb unbeaten indoor season in 2000 included the first of his four European 60m titles, but injury held him back and he was not at his best at the Olympics.

Having run in the 4x100m heats in 1998, he ran the opening leg on England’s 4x100m team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games after 6th in the 100m. At the end of that year he decided to move on from his ten year association with Dave Lease and joined Malcolm Arnold’s training group at the University of Bath. He had graduated with a BSc in Media Communication and Sociology from Bath Spa University College. With his greatest success indoors, he ran the 100m at the 2002 Europeans, 2004 Olympics, 2005 Worlds and 2006 Commonwealths, and he won a total of nine AAA titles: 100m 1997, 1999, 2004-05 and indoor 60m 1999- 2000, 2002 and 2004-05. His greatest success came in 2004, when at 60m he won the World Indoor title and equalled his European indoor record of 6.46, and later led the British 4x100m team to their superb gold medal in the sprint relay at the Olympic Games.

He was made an Honorary Freeman of the City of Bath and awarded the MBE in the 2005 New Year Honours. Then he was elected by the British Athletics Writers’ Association as the British male athlete of the year for 2005. A brilliant running career and now an ideal man to follow in the footsteps of David Hemery and Lynn Davies as UKA President.

Tony Jarrett

Ask any close follower of athletics to name the UK’s greatest ever sprint hurdler and the answer inevitably and correctly would be Colin Jackson. But he is Welsh, so how about England’s top performer? Don Finlay would certainly be a candidate but even his glorious achievements tend to be eclipsed by those of Tony Jarrett.

True, Jarrett did not win any Olympic medals but he did claim two silvers and a bronze at the World Championships – medals of equal significance to those at the Olympics … and at the 1992 Games in Barcelona he missed out on the bronze by just one thousandth of a second. Overshadowed by Jackson, Jarrett’s own long-term excellence has largely been under appreciated.

He made his mark early. At 18 he struck gold at the 1987 European Junior Championships, and acquitted himself well at the Seoul Olympics the following year, placing sixth. His reputation of always being the brides – maid, never the bride, was established in 1990, for that year he finished runner-up at the Commonwealth Games, European Indoor Championships and European Championships. His best time of 13.21 moved him above Jon Ridgeon to second on the UK all-time list.

It was in 1991 that Jarrett, then coached by John Isaacs, won his first global medal, placing third in the World Championships. It was a landmark achievement but Jarrett was not at all satisfied. Having set an English record of 13.13 in his last race before Tokyo and run a fine semi he had expected better. But he lost concentration, hit too many hurdles and finished fully two metres behind the American pair of Greg Foster and Jack Pierce. Jarrett experienced mixed fortunes in 1992. Heavily wind assisted it may have been, but a 13.04 victory in France a month before the Olympics was a morale booster. In Barcelona he was mortified to miss out on a medal by inches, his time of 13.26 being the same as the American who placed third.

His dedication and hard work were properly rewarded at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart when, unusually relaxed at the start, he ran the race of his life. Now coached by former sprint star Mike McFarlane he clocked the fabulous time of 13.00 in pushing Colin Jackson to a world record of 12.91, a mark which remained unsurpassed until 2006. Jarrett’s still unapproached English record moved him into fourth place on the world all-time list and all these years later remains a performance of the highest global quality. He never ran quite that fast again but continued to amass silver and bronze medals at the European Champion – ships, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Perseverance paid off at last in 1998 when, in his 11th season as a senior international, he finally had a gold medal placed around his neck: at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. He was a bag of nerves on that occasion but managed to win that coveted title by just 1/100th of second. He deserved no less.

Paul Nihill

Walkers tend to compete over a wider range of distances than their running colleagues, but Paul Nihill’s versatility was quite astonishing. Olympic silver medallist over 50 kilometres (31 miles+) in Tokyo in 1964, he was also acknowledged as the fastest – and fairest – of all speed walkers, his achievements including a 6:17.0 mile in 1970 which broke George Larner’s British record which had stood since 1904!

Born of Irish parents, he started out in sport as a boxer, sprinter and hurdler. From 1954 to 1959 he was chiefly a cross country runner (of county standard), but he had to give up running after a knee operation and in 1960 he began training seriously for walking. He made his British international debut in 1963, contributing to team victory in the Lugano Trophy by finishing second to Ken Matthews in the 20 kilometres.

Further proof of his ability to perform at his best on the big occasion came in the 1964 Olympics when he pushed the favourite, Italy’s Abdon Pamich, all the way in the 50 kilometres and lost by less than 20 seconds in the British record time of 4:11:32. In 1965 Nihill set about gaining a clean sweep of Britain’s six national titles. He succeeded in five of them but in the final race, the 50km, he ‘blew up’ and finished fifth. Later in the year he suffered a breakdown in his health and after further setbacks in 1966 he announced his retirement.

Happily, it proved short lived and he returned better than ever. Except for the Mexico City Olympic 50km, in which he collapsed from heat exhaustion, Nihill carried all before him in 1968. The following season he raced away with the European 20km title in Athens. That success was vital for his self-confidence, re-establishing himself as a great championship competitor. Twelve days earlier, in a training session, he had clocked an astonishing 6:06 for a mile walk, some nine seconds faster than the world best. In 1971, in defence of his European 20km title, he placed a close third.

A month before the 1972 Olympics he clocked a world road best of 1:24:50 and was justifiably confident of winning the gold medal, but following three weeks of altitude training in St Moritz he could place only sixth in Munich. He expressed his frustration. “It was four years’ work down the drain. I really should have won, yet I was well beaten and hardly able to walk afterwards because my legs felt so heavy – like severe cramp in the thighs. Obviously, the trouble was due to acclimatisation after returning to sea level.” In 1976 he made the 20km team for Montreal to become the first British male athlete to compete in four Olympics.

The ‘Guv’nor’, as he was affectionately known by the walking fraternity, amassed a record total of 27 national titles between 1963 and 1975 and from December 1967 to June 1970 he sustained only one defeat in 86 races, that dnf in Mexico City. He was awarded the MBE in 1976.

Greg Rutherford

Only five British athletes have completed the grand slam: gold medals at the Olympic Games, World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games. Daley Thompson led the way between 1978 and 1983, followed by Linford Christie (1986-1993), Sally Gunnell (1986-1994) and Jonathan Edwards (1995-2002). The fifth such legend is Greg Rutherford.

Rutherford comes from a sporting family. His greatgrandfather Jock Rutherford was a major football star, winning three First Division titles with Newcastle United and being capped for England 11 times between 1904 and 1908, and his grandfather John Rutherford played for Arsenal. Greg himself showed promise as a footballer, having trials with Aston Villa at age 14 before deciding that athletics was the sport for him. He savoured the individual challenge. “In football you can play the match of your life and if the rest of your team plays badly you will lose. But that’s not the case in athletics.”

In 2005, while only 18, he captured his first AAA senior long jump championship and won the European Junior title with a British junior record of 8.14. Still a teenager, in 2006 he retained his AAA title with a leap of 8.26, just a centimetre away from Chris Tomlinson’s UK record, and excelled to take the silver medal at the European Championships. He looked to be on course to join the world’s elite but his Olympic debut in 2008 proved disappointing for after qualifying for the final in third place he finished only tenth. At the following year’s World Championships his excitement after setting a UK record of 8.30 when qualifying drained away in the final although his fifth place with 8.17 was a commendable result.

A cyst on his foot kept him out of the 2010 European Championships but he recovered well to set an impressive 100m best of 10.26 and take the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games with 8.22 … but he had to wait another two years before he broke through to the very highest level. Early in 2012 he equalled Tomlinson’s UK record of 8.35 and an 8.32 victory in Rome set him up nicely for the London Olympics. There on “Super Saturday” he, along with Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, became a national hero. That his fourth round jump of 8.31 was the shortest winning distance since 1972 was of no consequence. “This is what I’ve dreamt of all my life. When I chose athletics all I wanted was to be an Olympic champion.” He became the first Briton to win this event since Welshman Lynn Davies in 1964 and the first Englishman ever.

That was just the start of a stunning sequence of major successes. Commonwealth and European champion in 2014 (the year he set his ultimate British record of 8.51), the World title in 2015, another European gold medal in 2016 prior to taking the bronze medal at that year’s Olympics. Awarded the MBE in 2013, Rutherford may not yet have ended his Olympic career, for he is planning to be a member of the British bobsleigh team at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing!

Sheila Sherwood

Following the retirement of Mary Rand, Sheila Sherwood was Britain’s top female long jumper from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Ever a big-time competitor, she set personal bests when winning Commonwealth Games silver in 1966, Olympic silver in 1968 and Commonwealth Games gold in 1970, when she followed husband John to the top of the rostrum.

Sheila Parkin showed considerable early promise, improving from 5.30m in 1960 when she was 14 and won the English Schools’ junior girls’ title, to 5.89 in 1961 and to set UK under-19 records at 6.11 and 6.18 in 1962. She was just the fifth British woman to exceed 20ft (6.10m) and of these only Mary Rand had bettered her 6.18. That year she made her international debut for Britain and went on to total 27 appearances until 1972. Still just 16 years old she made her major championships debut in 1962 with 12th at the European Championships and soon after her 17th birthday was the top British finisher with 5th at the Commonwealth Games, although disappointed with that.

She won the English Schools’ intermediates title in 1962 and 1963 and the senior title in 1964. She had won her first Northern title in 1961, going on to win that every year to 1972, apart from 1968. She won her first national WAAA title indoors in 1962 with further wins in 1963 and 1965 (2nd 1964 and 1966) and outdoors she was 3rd in 1962, 1964 and 1970 and 2nd in 1963, winning for the first time in 1968 and again in 1969 and 1971-2.

Further improvement came with 6.27 in 1964, and in 1966, when she showed her ability to produce her best at the big events with 6.30 for Commonwealth Games silver behind Rand. Then she jumped 6.41 in 1967 before leaping into the world top ten in 1968 with successive bests of 6.42, 6.43 and 6.55. In the days before athletes could be full-time in the pursuit of their sport, she was a PE teacher at Myers Grove School in Sheffield, and practising over a hurdle in the school corridor, with her main training in the evenings. Yet from that background she excelled to take the silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games, starting with a pb 6.60 and then 6.68 (21’11”) in the fifth round. At the end of the year she was ranked second in the world, remaining in the top ten each year to 1972. She reached her peak in taking the Commonwealth gold medal in 1970 with her personal best (and then third equal on the world all-time list) of 6.73m, just 3cm short of Rand’s then world record at the 1964 Olympics. All six of her jumps were superior to the best of silver medallist, Ann Wilson (6.50), and she achieved her ambition of jumping 22 feet (6.71m) three times. Her husband John had won gold for 400m hurdles two days earlier.

She continued to 9th at the 1972 Olympic Games and 7th at the 1974 Commonwealth Games and the best of her four European Championships was 4th in 1971. After being coached by Shirley and Gordon Headley while at school, she trained with John Sherwood, whom she had married in 1967, and Robbie Brightwell. Her best sprint times, in 1964, were 10.8 for 100y and 11.8 for 100m. BAWA Female Athlete of the Year 1968.