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Brilliant international triple jumper whose compact yet glittering seven-year international career included European and Commonwealth gold.
Keith Connor endeared himself to athletics fans across the country with a brilliant international triple jump career which took him to two Olympic Games, three European Championships, indoors and out, and two Commonwealth Games across a compact yet glittering seven-year international career. He won his first major medal at the European indoors in March 1978, taking a silver in Milan with a personal best. Then in August that year he struck gold at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games at what turned out to be the start of an iconic era of British Athletics. Connor was a huge part of that classic revival.
After securing his inaugural major title with 17.21 in Canada, he soared even further four years later in Australia with a massive wind assisted 17.81 to successfully defend his title in Brisbane. In some regards, 1982 was the most significant year of his career. Not only did he win the first of his two NCAA titles in the June, with a wind legal career best of 17.57 which still ranks him 4th on the British all-time list, but in the space of less than a month at the end of that summer he captured the European as well as the Commonwealth title, courtesy of a championship record of 17.29 in Athens. In fact, across the entire season, he was only beaten once when he finished second at Crystal Palace to an Oceanian Record of 17.46 by Ken Lorraway of Australia.
The following year he successfully defended his NCAA title before bowing out in qualifying at the inaugural World Athletics Championships in Helsinki. But surely in terms of one-off performances, the most impressive single day of his career came on 4 August 1984 when he secured Olympic bronze behind Al Joyner and Mike Conley in Los Angeles. In 1980, he had missed out on the podium finishing 4th with 16.87. Yet in a quirk of the statistics, four years later he jumped the same distance and this time 16.87 saw him upgrade 4th to bronze by 4cm. In terms of his domestic accolades, he was runner up in the AAA’s with silver in 1976 and 1978, (both times behind Aston Moore), before taking the title in 1979.
What a magnificent seven years on the international scene by a man who enjoyed tremendous success on the Commonwealth, European and Olympic stages.
Trailblazing and much respected hammer thrower who broke new ground and new barriers in women’s throwing.
Sophie Hitchon is a true trailblazer who continually broke new ground and new barriers in women’s throwing across a successful 12-year domestic and international career. The first milestone for the young Lancastrian emerged in April 2007 when she set an Under-17 National Record (NR) of 49.61. By the end of that season, she had gained experience at the World Youth Championships in Ostrava and further improved her PB to over 54m. The following year she set a new Junior record with a throw just shy of 60m and from there the podium finishes began. The Commonwealth Youth title came first at the end of 2008 and was followed by European Junior bronze in 2009 (63.18 for another junior NR).
In 2010, she was a key figure in the British team at the world juniors in Canada. Once again leading by example, Hitchon took the title with her first throw over 66m and an U23 NR. Clearly at home in her new age group, European U23 bronze was added to the collection of medals in 2011 (69.59 U23NR) before she picked up invaluable experience and no shortage of plaudits, finishing 8th in the Olympic final in London 2012 (with a fantastic PB of 71.98 in qualifying).
By now, 70m throws were becoming the norm and she upgraded Euro U23 bronze from 2011 to gold in Tampere in 2013, again adhering to her now familiar pattern of saving her best throw for the final round.
Commonwealth bronze in Glasgow was the highlight of 2014 before she flew tantalisingly close to the global senior podium in the searing heat of Beijing at the world champs of 2015, finishing 4th with 73.86 (NR) in the last round. And so, to the crowning moment of her career.
All those medals and achievements led her to Brazil and an Olympic final packed with talent and experience. Lying just shy of the medals going into the last round, Hitchon summoned all her composure and self-belief to launch the throw of her life. A new NR 74.54 saw her leap onto the podium, becoming the first British hammer thrower in history to win an Olympic medal. To do it with her final effort was testament to the talent and dedication which had defined her progress over the previous 10 years.
For an athlete to produce a personal best in an Olympic final is the ultimate sign of peaking at the right time under incredible pressure. To do so knowing history beckoned makes Sophie Hitchon’s bronze medal even more remarkable. She eventually retired in 2021 with the respect, admiration, and gratitude of the whole athletics community.
Remarkable international steeplechaser who won the Olympic title by more than 100 yards in 1920!
Just over a century has passed since Percy Hodge produced one of the most extraordinary Olympic performances in British athletics history. The 29-year-old had already created great drama and sportsmanship to even make the team for Antwerp (1920) after falling in the AAA’s championship earlier in the year. On that occasion he was spiked on the second lap and lost the heel of his shoe. It forced him to stop, take the shoe off, readjust and replace it before resuming his battle to make the team. He won by 60 yards!
That proved to be the second of his four AAA titles as he won three in a row from 1919 – 1921 and then again in 1923. Part of his prowess lay in his hurdling technique, for which he was regarded as being far ahead of his time.
At varying points in his career, he was known to give exhibitions in which he would hurdle whilst carrying a tray with a bottle and a filled glass on top. It is widely reported he never spilt a drop! Fittingly he won the Olympic title by more than 100 yards in 1920, ahead of Patrick Flynn of the USA and Ernesto Ambrosini of Italy in 3rd, who were more than 20 and 30 seconds behind, respectively.
Interestingly for an event which was rumoured to have started in Edinburgh in 1828, Hodge became only the 4th Olympic champion in the event, yet the first over the now recognised distance of 3,000m. The previous editions of the Games had been run over distances varying from 2,500m up to 3,200m. He also took part in the heats of the 3,000m team event, in which Great Britain eventually went on to win the silver medal in the final.
Hodge may not be the most well-known of Britain’s Olympic champions, but his achievements and the way he accomplished them deserve to be celebrated and remembered for many decades to come.
World-class track coach who has nurtured generations of British athletes including Tony Jarrett, John Regis and Heather Oakes.
John Isaacs is the latest in a long line of world-class coaches to be inducted into the Hall of Fame thanks to his decades of selfless commitment to dozens of Britain’s best-known Olympians and world championship medallists. He learned from the best and then went on to coach the best, leading by example. He would always rub his hands together and say: “What you put in is what you get out”. He loved to see effort and would always reward his athletes accordingly. As a young athlete, Isaacs was an English Schools winner, but quickly realised there was a lack of coaching in his area so turned his attentions to coaching young athletes in Hackney. He soon had success with his early training group which included Mike McFarlane, Danny Laine and Vernon Bramble who all became English Schools’ winners and Great Britain internationals.
Following these early achievements at his first club, Victoria Park Harriers, he moved to Haringey AC seeking better prospects for himself and the formidable group of athletes now under his expert guidance. Influenced through the coaching education programme by the legendary Frank Dick, Andy Norman and Ron Pickering, Isaacs went on to coach the most successful training group ever in the history of UK sprinting.
These athletes included stellar names such as John Regis, Tony Jarrett, Donovan Reid, Lawrence Lynch, John Herbert, Darren Braithwaite, Lloyd Cowan, Marcus Adam, Shirley Thomas, Heather Oakes, Clarence Callender, and Jennifer Stoute, but there were many more. As a group, they amassed countless medals from English Schools, right through to European, Commonwealth, World Championships and Olympic Games. One of Isaac’s many achievements was having nine athletes represent England at the Auckland Commonwealth Games team in 1990.
A mark of how good Isaacs was as a leader is that the late Lloyd Cowan learned many of his coaching principles after being guided to 110m hurdles/400m hurdles PBs of 13.75 and 50.79 under Isaacs’ watchful eye, before putting those lessons into practise so successfully with Christine Ohuruogu, the World, Olympic and Commonwealth 400m champion.
As well as his ability as a coach on the track, Isaacs is also known for passionately defending his athletes and what they stand for both in sport and life. Almost without knowing or consciously doing so, he has become an elder statesman for our sport. American Professor and author Joseph Campbell once said: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Isaacs produced some of the UK’s most successful athletes and his legacy continues as many of them are now excellent coaches and sports agents.
Decathlete Dean ‘Machine’ Macey is a giant personality and talent whose sporting achievements culminated in Commonwealth gold in 2006.
When esteemed BBC commentator and Olympic hammer thrower Paul Dickenson referred to “Dean ‘Machine’ Macey,” live on air, a lovable Canvey Island boy became a household name. The year was 1999 and at the age of 21, the decathlete launched himself into the public spotlight with an extraordinary two days at the World Championships in Seville. Everyone within the sport already knew how good he was, after the Essex giant had stormed to World Junior silver in Sydney three years earlier, producing a PB in every event along the way for a score of 7480.
Then in May of ‘99 he improved that junior PB to 8347 and even better was to come in Spain. Macey was on fire, finishing day one at the Worlds with an eye-watering 46.72 in the 400m. He eventually took a sublime silver with a massive score of 8556 finishing behind the defending champion Tomas Dvorak.
The following year in Sydney ended with Macey agonisingly shy of an Olympic medal. In contention all the way through day one he was second overnight behind American Chris Huffins and ahead of Estonia’s Erki Nool in 3rd. It was in the 7th event that the drama came to a head after Nool fouled his first two attempts in the discus. He threw 43.66 with his last effort but appeared to have touched the edge of the circle with his toe. It looked like a foul to the naked eye yet despite a protest from several nations the mark stood, and Nool went on to take gold. Macey finished the 1500m with a brilliant time of 4:23. It was a performance of pure heart yet somehow Huffins hung onto the bronze with Macey in 4th.
Happier times followed the next season when he was on the podium at the Worlds once more in Edmonton 2001 with bronze. Macey’s total of 8603 was another PB, further cementing his place as 2nd on the British all-time list behind double Olympic champion Daley Thompson.
Injury denied Macey many international appearances, yet it is testament to his determination that he somehow made it to the start line in Athens in 2004. Incredibly despite all the injuries he managed 4th for the second successive Olympiad. It was a truly extraordinary effort which had the nation gripped again.
There was to be a golden finish to Macey’s international career in Melbourne for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He beat Maurice Smith of Jamaica to land a hugely emotional gold and the scenes of him hugging his family at the side of the track is seared into the subconscious of everyone who was there to see it.
A revered hammer thrower with an incredible 16-year career, including three Commonwealth gold medals.
Howard Payne was a hammer thrower of incredible longevity. During his 16-year international career, he appeared at three Olympic Games, three European Championships and yet the highlight of his illustrious career must surely be his Commonwealth Games record. He was an ever-present in the hammer competition from 1958 to 1974, just missing out on a bronze at his first Games, followed by three consecutive golds from 1962 to 1970 and then a silver in his last season in Christchurch in 1974.
The clues as to his ability were evident when in 1958, he took part in three of the throwing events in Perth, representing Southern Rhodesia. He finished 11th in the shot and 14th in the discus as well as the 4th place in the hammer. His subsequent change of allegiance saw great success domestically and internationally for the South African born England and Great Britain athlete. His record in the AAA’s hammer competition is almost beyond compare.
Starting with a bronze in 1960, Payne went on to amass 14 medals across his career, adding five titles in 1964, 1969-1971, and 1973, to go alongside his six silvers and three bronze medals in total. In fact, from 1960 to 1974 he only missed the podium once – in 1968 when the first three places were shared between international athletes. An incredible achievement in any event.
Howard’s three Olympic appearances saw him participate in qualifying in Tokyo in 1964 and Munich in 1972 and in the high altitude of Mexico in 1968 he made the final, finishing 9th with 67.74m. Amazingly, Howard’s Commonwealth accomplishments in Edinburgh and Christchurch were matched by those of his wife Rosemary who also took gold in 1970 and silver in 1974 in the women’s hammer competition. Their achievements were reminiscent of the double golds famously won by Emil and Dana Zatopek at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 when Emil won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon hat-trick, whilst his wife Dana took the javelin title.
Fittingly it was in his final season as an international that Howard finally joined the 70m club, throwing his personal best of 70.88 on 29th June in Warsaw winning an international match against Poland and Canada. His mark still ranks him as 32nd on the British all-time list today almost 50 years later. Howard’s achievements and contribution to the sport are the reason he is revered in the throwing community.
A man of many talents: international hurdler, founder of a major sports agency and chief executive of World Athletics.
Jon Ridgeon is a man of many talents. The founder of the successful sports agency Fastrack and current chief executive of World Athletics isn’t just a brilliant businessman and leader, he first rose to prominence as a superb sprint hurdler. Jon’s career was all too short as he was plagued by injuries, but there is no doubting he was truly world-class. Most of his international career as a 60m & 110m hurdler was restricted to just four seasons from 1985-1988.
His medal winning exploits started in Cottbus, Germany where he stormed to the 1985 European Junior title, with fellow Briton Colin Jackson in second. Ridgeon’s winning time of 13.46 still ranks him 12th on the all-time junior list. His rivalry with Jackson was renewed the following season at the World Juniors in Athens, when the Welshman reversed the 1-2, taking the title with a junior area record of 13.44.
Gold was to come his way in Athens – anchoring the British 4x100m team to a memorable global junior title. That summer of ‘86 was a busy one for the two young Britons as little more than a week after their glory at the World Juniors, they both lined up for the Commonwealth final in Edinburgh. Mark McKoy took gold for Canada with Jackson second and Ridgeon fifth.
1987 turned out to be his year. After finishing 4th in the European indoors in the spring, Ridgeon was superb in the outdoor season. He scorched to the World University Games title in Zagreb in July with a new PB of 13.29. Two months later in Rome he lined up for a memorable World Championship final aged just 20. American Greg Foster successfully defended his title with 13.21, but Ridgeon was closing and despite dislocating a toe in his right foot, he matched his Zagreb PB for silver in 13.29.
1988 started with a fabulous silver at the European Indoors in March and six months later Jon found himself lining up for the Olympic final in Seoul. Sadly, there was not to be a repeat of his Rome silver as he finished fifth. After a torrid run of injuries Jon was next seen in an international vest at the European Indoors of 1992 when he finished 4th for a second time. But a mark of his talent was that he finished that season running a superb 48.73 over the 400m hurdles in Rieti. Eight years after Seoul he made the British Olympic team again, this time over the longer hurdles reaching the semi-finals. His three global and two European medals deserve to be remembered and celebrated.
Much-admired international high jumper with four global medals and a remarkable three decades as British record holder.
Steve Smith was a high jumper who soared to great clearances and achievements in an era of unprecedented quality in the event. Smith announced himself on the global stage with an extraordinary sequence of performances whilst still a teenager, winning the European Juniors in Thessaloniki in 1991 (2.29) the World Junior title in Seoul in 1992 (equalling the junior world record of 2.37, outdoors) and then capturing World Indoor bronze in Toronto the following spring by replicating his PB of 2.37.
In fact, later that summer he added world outdoor bronze to his collection just after turning 20, finishing behind legendary Cuban world record holder Javier Sotomayor and Artur Partyka of Poland. European and Commonwealth silvers followed the next summer in Helsinki and Victoria in 1994. That year also saw Smith achieve a new PB of 2.38, set indoors in Germany, which still stands today as the British record. In 1995, he only just missed out on yet another major medal, finishing 4th on countback at the Gothenburg World Championships.
Yet Smith’s was a talent destined to succeed on the biggest stage of all and in 1996, he did just that in Atlanta. As is the case with so many of Britain’s athletics Olympic medallists, Smith was able to draw on his experience of making the final as a teenager in Barcelona four years earlier and he was not overawed by the partisan home crowd who were desperate to see Charles Austin take gold for the USA. The Texan did, indeed, win the title with an Olympic record of 2.39, but Smith took a brilliant bronze with a second time clearance of 2.35.
Several further top 10 finishes followed at the World Indoors in a decade which saw Smith clear at least 2.30 every year from 1992 to 1999. Domestically, Smith won the first of his four AAA’s titles in 1992, beating Australian Tim Forsyth on countback. The following year they swapped positions as Smith finished runner-up, but three more victories came his way in 1995, 1996, and 1999.
A mark of Steve Smith’s legacy and quality is that after British record height of 2.37 for victory at the world juniors in 1992, it took another two decades for fellow Olympic medallist Robbie Grabarz to match him at the top of the British all-time list, outdoors. A further 10 years on, the hugely likeable Liverpudlian is still there equal on top spot. Four global medals. Three decades as British record holder. What a career.