England Athletics is is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of legendary athletics journalist and statistician Mel Watman. Mel was diagnosed with inoperable spinal cancer last month, and died peacefully on Friday with his wife by his side.
Editor of Athletics Weekly from 1968 to 1984, Mel Watman was also an England Athletics Hall of Fame panel member from its inception, as well as an inductee himself. It was a series of articles by Mel published in AW, back in 2008, that inspired the creation of the England Athletics Hall of Fame concept and his athlete ranking system, stats and information have been the backbone of how all the athletes and contributors have been selected for their inductions over the years. He has written all the inductees biographies, and he supported us with vital information and contacts for inductees or relatives and has in many ways been the guiding light for the Hall of Fame panel.
England Athletics CEO Chris Jones commented, “Mel was such a lovely man who was greatly respected throughout the athletics world and he had a wealth of passion and knowledge for and of the sport. He will be greatly missed by all.”
Much more than that, Mel was a man with so much knowledge, experience and passion for athletics, it was amazing listening to him at every meeting. We have lost an amazing man, but been blessed by his lifelong love of athletics.
Mel was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. In tribute, we reprint below his entry in our Hall of Fame archive:
Mel Watman has been writing on the sport for 60 years and is probably still best known as editor of the old pocket sized Athletics Weekly from the 1960s to 1980s. Mel Watman’s lifelong affair with athletics was sparked by a school trip to the 1950 AAA Championships at the White City. His first heroes were sprinter McDonald Bailey, Olympic 400m champion Arthur Wint and the young miler Roger Bannister. Watman’s one regret in athletics is missing Bannister’s historic 4 minute mile due to sitting a GCE exam on May 6 1954. By then he was already contributing to Athletics Weekly.
In 1957 founding editor Jimmy Green appointed him overseas news compiler. Meanwhile Watman was serving his journalistic apprenticeship with a local newspaper. After two years’ National Service in the RAF he joined AW full time in 1961. In 1968 he succeeded Jimmy Green as editor, fulfilling his life’s ambition.
Possibly no one has written more words on athletics than Watman. In addition to his work with AW, Athletics Today and currently Athletics International, he also freelanced for various newspapers and news agencies. He has produced more than 30 books, including most recently the Official Histories of the AAA and Women’s AAA. In 2012 he edited the IAAF’s prestigious centenary celebration book. He was cofounder of the National Union of Track Statisticians in 1958 and the British Athletics Writers’ Association, of which he is now honorary president, in 1963.
His own career as an athlete was modest, starting as a sprinter and ending up completing the New York and London Marathons. His only distinction was an unbeaten record at steeplechase; ran one, won one! Watman considers himself the luckiest of men, having spent a lifetime being paid to write on the sport he loves. He has been fortunate to have witnessed so many marvellous performances. He attended the first of nine Olympics in Rome in 1960 and was in London’s Olympic Stadium to experience ‘Super Saturday’.
His most thrilling moments in athletics? One remains Chataway v Kuts over 5000m in 1954. Another was the British women’s 4x400m team, anchored by Lillian Board, beating the French in a nail-biting finish at the 1969 Athens European Championships. He witnessed Bob Beamon’s 8.90 in Mexico City through binoculars and the duel between Mike Powell and Carl Lewis at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
He writes: “I have been so privileged over the years to have reported on and documented the wonderful sport of athletics. I am still as enthusiastic as I was back in 1950, my priority these days being to help ensure, as with the Hall of Fame, that the great champions of the past are remembered and honoured.”
Photo: Mel Watman being inducted at 2013 Hall of Fame – presented by Ann Brightwell (Packer) and Robbie Brightwell.
Photo by Mark Shearman