Sporting Heroes - Athletics and Cross Country
The Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) was formed nationally in the 1880s. However, the first Athletics club in the district wasn't formed until 1927, when Welwyn Harriers was established. Garden City runner, Jack Barnes was particularly successful for the club competing in cross-country championships. They continued to meet until the outbreak of the war in 1939. Attempts to revive the club post war failed and most athletes joined St. Albans Athletic Club. Welwyn Athletic Club was formed in January 1953. The official opening of the Gosling Stadium in July 1959 made a big difference in terms of the facilities that were available to local sports people. Chris Brunning's publication "Sandpit to Sports Park" provides a detailed insight into the history of Gosling Sports Park.
In 1960, Harry Wilson's predication that the availability of good local sports facilities would produce top class athletes came true. Welwyn Athletic Club provided three members of Team GB for the 1960 Olympics in Rome. John Wenk competed in the 800m, finishing 4th in the 2nd round heats in a time of 1 minute and 50 seconds. John was trained by Sydney Coleman, who was the 1st manager of the Gosling Stadium. John's father ran Stadium Sports in Welwyn Garden City.
Ann Jenner came 6th in the 2nd round of the 100m at the 1960 Olympics with a time of around 12.2 seconds. Jenner, a former pupil of St. Mary's School in Welwyn, had begun running at the age of fourteen at Welwyn Athletic Club. Her career best time was 10.9 seconds for the 100 yards. After the Olympics she retired from athletics and married an Air Force Officer. Local runner Joy Jordan also competed at the 1960 games, coming 6th in the women's 800m at the Olympics that year, with a time of 2:07.2 and in the same year achieved a world record time when she competed in Welwyn.
Over the years there have been many other successful local athletes and record breakers. Patricia Smith, running at the Schools Championships at the Woodside track in Watford in 1963, recorded a record-breaking time of 2.36 minutes for the 880yrds sprint. Hugh Neilson held the world record for the number of miles walked in 24 hours and other long distance walking records. Although he lived in Welwyn Garden City he was a member of Woodford Green Athletic Club. Christine Brace was a member of Verlea Athletic Club (formed in 1967 from an amalgamation of Welwyn Athletic Club and St. Albans Athletic Club) and won junior international honours on the track and for cross-country. She broke the Herts Senior Girls 800m record in June 1977 when she clocked 2:13.8 beating the previous record by 11.6 seconds and in July of the same year won the Herts County Senior Women's 1500m.
Jean Pickering (nee Desforges) competed for Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics, where she finished 5th in the 80m Hurdles and achieved bronze with her teammates in the in the 4 x 100m. In 1953, she became the first British woman to long jump over 20ft. She went on to become European Long Jump Champion in the 1954 European Championships and at the same competition finished 6th in the 80m hurdles. She remains the only British athlete to have won a European gold medal in both a Track and Field event. She subsequently went on to win a bronze medal in both the long jump and 80m hurdles. When Pickering retired from competing she became President of Hertfordshire Association of Athletic and Running Clubs and was awarded an MBE for her sporting achievements.
Today, in Hertfordshire, the Ready for Winners partnership, the Hertfordshire Sports Partnership and the Hertfordshire Talented Athlete partnership (HTAP), are helping to support talented local athletes and sports people including those training with a view to competing in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The HTAP programme based in the Sports Village at the University of Hertfordshire provides expert advice and guidance including physiotherapy, nutrition, and injury prevention advice for aspiring young athletes.
One of our most talented young athletes is sprint sensation Jodie Williams from Welwyn Garden City who is part of the Herts Phoenix Athletics Club. In July 2009, at the age of 15 Williams became the first girl to achieve two gold medals at the World Youth Championships, for the 100m and 200m Sprint double. She achieved gold for the 5th year running when she ran the 100m at the World Junior Championships, in Canada in 2010. This year she won the UK Indoor Championship 60m in a time of 7.24 seconds and at the European Indoor Championships narrowly missed out on a bronze medal. However, she clocked a time of 11.18 seconds in the 100m and 22.94 seconds in the 200m, both qualifying Olympic times, as she won double gold at the 2011 European Junior Championships. She now needs to make the top two in the team GB event this year to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics. Jodie has also started to compete in more senior events, coming 7th in her recent Diamond League debut. In 2011 she won the Women's European Athletics Rising Star Award.
This page was last updated on 09/02/2012