It was in 1987 that 14-year old Hayley Parry first made an impact in Welsh athletics when she won the Welsh indoor championships 600 metres for under-15s. From then until 1992, as she progressed through the junior age groups, she never failed to win a Welsh title of some description at distances ranging from 400 metres to 800 metres.
She won her first senior title in 1996, for good measure scoring an 800/1500m double. This would be her only Welsh title at the longer distance although she had three further successes at 800m. She was AAA indoor champion at 800 metres in both 1997 and 1998, and AAA outdoor champion four times over 1500 metres.
Her times progressed steadily until in 1995 she ranked second in Wales at 800m and first at 1500m. She has been Welsh number one at both distances ever since except that she did not run 1500m in 1998 and was second at 800m in 2005. She also topped the Welsh 3000 metres lists from 1999 to 2004. At British level she ranked fourth in both events in 1997 and has been high in the British lists since then. Her highest British ranking at 800m was third (1998 & 2003) and she was ranked in Britain’s top three over 1500metres for six years, including three times at number one.
International recognition came her way in 1997 when she was selected for the World Indoor Championships in Paris and reached the semi finals of the 800 metres. Later that year she competed in her first outdoor international for the UK when she ran in the Europa Cup at Munich, again over 800 metres. She also competed in both events at the World University Games, claiming fifth place at 800 metres and fourth in the 1500m.
Her only international outing of 1998 was the European Indoor Championships in Valencia, an untimely injury preventing her from representing Wales at that year’s Commonwealth Games. She began 1999 with a run in the 4k event at the World Cross Country Championships in Belfast before going on to her second Europa Cup appearance, finishing fourth over 1500 metres in Paris. This was her first international event under her married name as by then she had married English international pole vaulter Ian Tullett who had twice competed in the Commonwealth Games, winning a silver medal in 1990. Despite moving to Surrey, she retained her membership of Swansea Harriers throughout her career. The year’s major event was the World Championships in Seville and Hayley was selected for the 1500 metres, finishing sixth in her heat.
Olympic year 2000 began promisingly with Hayley taking seventh place over 3000 metres at the European Indoor Championships and then running in the 6k race at the World Cross Country Championships. In the Europa Cup she set her first Welsh record when she finished third with 8:45.39 in a 3000 metres race won by Gabriela Szabo. She was obviously in good shape for the forthcoming Sydney Olympics. With no clear cut favourite the Olympic 1500 metres was wide open and Hayley had as good a chance as anyone. Certainly a medal was not out of the question. Unfortunately she fell at the 800 metres mark in what was a very scrappy and unsatisfactory race all round and finished in tears in eleventh place.
By now Hayley was regularly mixing it with the best in the world. In 2001 she competed in the World Championships both indoors and out and also in the Europa Cup for the fourth time, finishing third over 1500 metres. Again in 2002 she showed her versatility by running European Championships on three different surfaces. First came the indoor championships (ninth at 1500 metres), then the cross country championships (winning a bronze medal in the team event) and finally the outdoor championships in Munich. She did not do herself justice in Munich, failing to progress to the final, mainly because she had experienced her finest moment to date only nine days earlier at Manchester. There she had an outstanding run over 1500 metres to win the silver medal behind future Olympic champion Kelly Holmes, so emulating her husband’s achievement of 1990.
In 2003 she continued her excellent form. Over the country she ran in both the World and European Championships, winning a team gold medal in the latter. Indoors she beat a classy field to win the 1500 metres in the inaugural indoor European Cup and later ran in the World Championships in Birmingham where she was eleventh over 3000 metres. Outdoors there was yet another Europa Cup (second over 3000 metres) before she went on to the World Championships in Paris and what must rank as the greatest achievement of her career. Running at 1500 metres she finished second in her heat and fourth in her semi final before running a brilliant race in the final to finish third and claim the bronze medal. Her time of 3:59.95, which ranked her third in the world that year, was a new Welsh record and the second fastest ever recorded by a British woman after Kelly Holmes.
After her exploits in Paris 2004 was something of an anti climax. A stomach upset forced her to scratch from the final of the 3000 metres at the World Indoor Championships after having qualified. Back to full fitness in the summer she was selected for her second Olympic Games, held in Athens where she reached the semi finals of the 1500 metres. She had a relatively quiet year in 2005 and didn’t make it to the World Championships but still managed to rank at number five in Britain. Hayley’s final major championship in a career extending over almost twenty years was the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne. It was here that she won her third major medal when she claimed the bronze in a close finish at 1500 metres.
Hayley’s career is an object lesson for all aspiring young athletes. A look at the Welsh all time lists will show that, apart from ranking equal 29th in the under-17 800 metres, she does not appear in the top 50 of any of the age group lists. It is not always the athletes who record outstanding times at a young age who make it through to international level and for Hayley sheer determination and perseverance brought their own reward and took her to the top. In her two Commonwealth Games in the Welsh vest she won a medal each time. They will sit very nicely alongside her World Championships bronze medal and Hayley has cause to reflect with pride on an athletics career in which she has competed with distinction, with impeccable sportsmanship and always with a smile on her face.
Alan and Brenda Currie