120 current and former Welsh Track & Field Champions, along with their guests, enjoyed a glittering evening at Cardiff’s Angel Hotel on Sunday evening (Nov 11th) to celebrate 100 years of the Welsh track & field championships. It was without doubt the biggest gathering of Welsh athletics champions ever.
Many of those attending hadn’t seen one another for almost 50 years, so reminiscences went on until the early hours. One former champion, the 1954 Commonwealth Games 440 yards bronze medallist Bob Shaw, who has been living abroad for many years was delighted to receive his invitation to attend. He said: “To be honest, I had lost complete touch with Welsh athletics, and the invitation came completely out of the blue, but I had no hesitation in accepting. I was quite moved by the reception I received”. “I thought that everything had been forgotten, he added”. Taff’s Well born Shaw was the leading 440 yard hurdler in Britain at the time and his Welsh record of 51.7 secs stood for a quarter of a century. Such was his versatility that he won the British junior 120 yards hurdles and discus titles in the same afternoon!
The evening included a comprehensive display of athletics memorabilia, a 2 hour movie clip of many of the greatest moments in Welsh athletics and over 200 photographs of past champions. Said former Welsh 400m champion, Mike Delaney, one of the organisers: “We were very grateful to BBC Wales, BBC London and Llanelli based Tinopolis, the UK’s leading independent media company, for their co-operation in producing and presenting the clips.
Also incorporated into the evening was the inauguration of the Welsh Athletics Hall of Fame, where five of Wales’ all-time greats were inducted into the roll of honour. The initial inductees were: 1964 Olympic gold medallist Lynn Davies; twice world champion Colin Jackson; former marathon world record holder Steve Jones, who flew in especially from his home in the USA to attend; Wales’ first individual Olympic medallist, John Disley, and Britain’s greatest paralympian, Dame Tanni Grey Thompson.
Said Jackson, who also helped compere the evening with TV presenter Angharad Mair, herself a former Welsh champion: “It was truly a humbling occasion, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”
First Minister Rhodri Morgan, himself a former athlete and member of Roath Harriers, who presented a number of the awards during the evening, said that it was essential to remember the exploits of our former champions, as it will inspire our stars of the future. He also paid tribute to Cardiff City Council for their foresight in providing the new athletics facility at Leckwith which is nearing completion. The new stadium will be the home of Welsh Athletics as well as Cardiff AAC.
Amongst other stars present were: Vanessa Head who has won more titles than anyone else (25); Britain’s captain at the 1968 Olympics Ron Jones; 9 times long jump winner and still Welsh record holder after 25 years Gill Regan; 2006 Commonwealth Games 4th placer Tracey Morris; rugby legend J.J. Williams who won 4 sprint titles; world indoor bronze medallist and rugby international Nigel Walker; world indoor 400m champion Jamie Baulch; marathon star Bernie Plain; double marathon Olympian Steve Brace; double world junior sprint champion Christian Malcolm; Commonwealth 30k walk champion Steve Barry; double European medallist Rhys Williams and Tim Benjamin, Britain’s top 400m man for the past 4 years.
An award for lifetime achievement for services to Welsh athletics was also inaugurated. The award went to 97 year-old Ken Harris, the oldest surviving Welsh Champion, who took the mile title in 1934, the same year that he ran in the first Welsh athletics team to take part in the Empire (now Commonwealth) Games when they were held at London’s White City Stadium.
Matt Newman, Chief Executive Officer of Welsh Athletics, said that in future years the event would incorporate the presentation of the Welsh Athletics annual awards. He added, “In the past, annual awards have been made at either the Welsh championships or at the AGM, but in future, the annual awards for clubs, coaches and officials will be combined with the Hall of Fame, thereby allowing our current stars and volunteers to rub shoulders with the greats of the past. However, next year’s dinner will have a lot to live up to!”