Team England Track & Field - Commonwealth Games magic moments!
Ever since the first British Empire Games were held in 1930, the event now known as the Commonwealth Games has played host to a plethora of memorable moments for England athletes.
To celebrate the milestone of Two Years to Go until the ‘Friendly Games’ return to home soil for Birmingham 2022, we’ve picked out just a few of the many Team England track and field high points to whet your appetite! What are your favourite Team England Commonwealth Games moments?
Para events make their debut - Manchester 2002
Disability events were first fully integrated on the Games programme at Manchester 2002 having previously been included as exhibition events. The home Games showcased international para-athletes including Nigeria’s Adekunle Adesoji blitzing the field in the men’s 100m EAD event, clocking a world record 10.76. Meanwhile, Chantal Petitclerc won the wheelchair 800m in 1:52.93. In the latter event, Deborah Brennan and Rachel Potter were the England competitors helping pave the way for disability sport at the Games. Twenty years later, Birmingham 2022 will have the largest ever Commonwealth Games para sport programme.
Roger Bannister wins ‘miracle mile’ - Vancouver 1954
Three months earlier Roger Bannister had famously ended the long-awaited quest for a sub-four-minute mile. Six weeks later Australian John Landy took 1.4 seconds from the Englishman’s world record to set the scene for a clash which became labelled as the ‘Miracle Mile’. Landy led from the first lap and was allowed to build up a 10-metre gap. However, Bannister reeled him in and then tracked him relentlessly. Coming around the final bend, the home-based runner looked around to see where his rival was, which proved a costly mistake as it was precisely at that moment that Bannister passed him. He sped away to win with a PB of 3:58.8 as, for the first time in history, two men broke four minutes in the same race.
Hansen defends her title - Manchester 2002
In front of a packed crowd at the City of Manchester Stadium, English triple jumper Ashia Hansen enjoyed one of her greatest triumphs. The defending champion set Games records in the opening two rounds before Cameroon's Francoise Mbango stole the lead with 14.82m in the penultimate round. However, an inspired Hansen soared out with her last effort to 14.86m, clinching victory with a distance that to this day has never been bettered at the Commonwealths.
Radcliffe takes her first track gold, Manchester 2002
Despite an extraordinary marathon debut earlier in the year, Paula Radcliffe had been a “nearly” athlete when it came to the track, often outkicked at the end of championship races. Here, though, she showed herself to be the complete distance runner as she gained her first track gold. In front of a home crowd, she relentlessly wound up the pace to see off her rivals one by one. Her time of 14:31.42 is still a Games record and was then the fifth fastest in history.
Tessa Sanderson vs Fatima Whitbread - Edinburgh 1986
The Meadowbank Stadium witnessed a memorable clash between two of the world’s best javelin throwers at the time - both from England. Tessa Sanderson was the Olympic champion and had previously won a Commonwealth title at Edmonton 1978. Fatima Whitbread had won silver at the previous world championships and bronze at the Olympics but was starting to gain the upper hand in their rivalry.
On this occasion, though, it was Sanderson whose penultimate throw of 69.80m was enough to steal away gold by just over a metre. That Whitbread went on to set a world record the following month reinforced that this was two of England’s finest at the height of their powers. Sanderson would go on to complete her Commonwealth Games hat-trick of gold medals at Auckland 1990.
Daley Thompson completes his hat-trick - Edinburgh 1986
One of the greatest athletes ever to don an England vest completed his hat-trick of Commonwealth titles in Edinburgh in 1986. Daley Thompson’s score of 8663 was a Games record and was enough for victory by 490 points. Such was his domination that he produced the best result in every discipline apart from the 1500m and the discus. His three Commonwealth golds added to his career achievements that also included multiple Olympic, World and European titles.
England beat the world record-holders - Gold Coast 2018
The England 4x100m quartet did not have the best of preparations for taking on the Olympic champions and world record-holders Jamaica. First a late change was made to the squad due to injury in the final weeks leading up. Then Adam Gemili picked up an injury before the final of the 100m and was unavailable. Ultimately, though, good baton changes between Reuben Arthur, Zharnel Hughes, Richard Kilty and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey saw them hold off the fast-finishing South Africans, anchored by Akani Simbine, and Jamaica, who featured Warren Weir and Yohan Blake. It was a particularly sweet moment for Hughes, who had appeared to win the 200m earlier in the week before being disqualified for impeding another athlete.
Mike McFarlane’s dead heat - Brisbane 1982
The 1982 200m final ended with something that is barely ever seen in athletics - a dead heat. Scotland’s Allan Wells and England’s Mike McFarlane treated the Brisbane crowd to an epic battle.
Wells, who had won the Olympic 100m title the year before and just days earlier had added the Commonwealth 100m crown, blasted out of the blocks. However, McFarlane ran a great bend and had a slight lead at the start of the straight. The defending champion fought back and after close examination of the photofinish by the judges, the two could not be separated and both were awarded gold.
Christine Ohuruogu’s breakthrough - Melbourne 2006
Christine Ohuruogu is England’s most decorated athlete and it was here that the Londoner took her first major senior gold. Having reached the semi-final of the World Championships, the year before, this was to be her breakthrough onto the international scene. Running out of lane five in the final, she clocked a personal best of 50.28 to hold off Bahamas’ Tonique Williams. It was the first major title for the woman who would win golds at the Olympics, World Championships, World Indoors and European Indoors.
Kelly Sotherton makes her mark - Melbourne 2006
Team England’s Track & Field Team Manager for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealths had her own moment of glory at the Friendly Games in Melbourne. The Birchfield Harrier took gold in the heptathlon ahead of a young Jessica Ennis with PBs in the 100m hurdles and 200m on the way to a tally of 6396. Sotherton had already taken bronze at the Athens 2004 Olympics but Melbourne was the springboard for more success as she went on to win heptathlon bronze at the next Olympics and World Championships.
David Weir dominates the field - Glasgow 2014
Wheelchair racing legend David Weir had won virtually everything else there was to win, including six Paralympic golds. In 2014 he made his debut at the Commonwealths and it was worth waiting for. He pounced with 250m to go in the 1500m, pulling away even further from the field in the home straight and had plenty of time to punch the air in celebration. He clocked 3:21.67 as he beat defending champion and long-term rival Kurt Fearnley.
Gladys Lunn’s unorthodox double - London 1934
Golden doubles at championships are always special, but Gladys Lunn’s 880y and javelin combo in the second Empire Games displayed a rare mix of talent. As women’s events were on the programme for the first time, Lunn took advantage. She led England one-two-threes in both events, registering a 32.19m javelin and 2:19 880y.
Judy Oakes takes her third title - Kuala Lumpur 1998
Judy Oakes won the third and final of her Commonwealth shot put titles at the age of 40 and in her sixth Games. Her throw of 18.83m in Kuala Lumpur was enough to put her more than a metre and a half clear of her nearest rival. The distance would have been good enough for seventh at the last World Championships and her 1988 British record of 19.36m remains to this day.
Katrina Hart strikes gold - Delhi 2010
Two years earlier, Katrina Hart had injured her hamstring at the 2008 Paralympics 100m final which also saw her withdraw from the 200m. However, she bounced back in 2010 as she took the first major title of her illustrious career in dominant fashion. In the 100m T37, she clocked a personal best 14.36 to win by more than three tenths of a second. She went on to win further medals at the IPC World Championships in 2011 and a bronze at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Steve Cram completes masterful double - Edinburgh 1986
The world 1500m champion was at his dominant best in the Scottish capital, winning two finals in very different yet equally supreme fashions. In the 800m, off an already fast pace set by Peter Elliott, he took the lead with 200m to go and powered away to win by more than a second and a half. His time of 1:43.22 is still a Games record. In a much more tactical 1500m, he could so easily have been caught out by the bell-inspired move from John Gladwin. However, a scintillating last 300m saw him become the first and so far only man to complete the Commonwealth double in these events.
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Photography by Mark Shearman.