Ken Harris: Runner for Wales in the 1930s

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The Independent Online

Ken Harris was widely known and respected as the grand old man of Welsh athletics; for almost 80 years, the sport was at the heart of his life. Having joined Roath Harriers at the age of 19, he went on to compete at the British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) against some of the greatest middle-distance runners of his era. He then became an official and administrator, serving for many years as one of Britain's leading starters.

Harris was born in 1910, in Bristol, to an English mother and a Welsh father. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Cardiff. Football, baseball and motorbikes were his great loves at Marlborough Road School, before athletics took centre stage.

He left school at 14, went to work for a food chain in Cardiff, and got involved in athletics in his late teens. He quickly developed into a quality middle-distance runner. A contemporary of Jim Alford at Roath Harriers – Alford became the 1938 Empire Games mile champion – Harris won the Welsh mile title at Newport's Rodney Parade in 1934 in the second-fastest time ever recorded by a Welsh athlete in the 30-year history of the event (four minutes, 28.2 seconds).

That victory earned him a place on the first Welsh team at the British Empire Games at White City, London, in 1938. He was one of 10 athletes chosen to represent Wales and Alford joined him on the team in the 880 yards. But, while the future mile champion failed to get out of his heat, Harris was first home in his, in 4:35.4, to become one of only six Welsh track athletes to reach a final. The final of the mile was one of the marquee events at the Games, a race that saw the former New Zealand world-record holder Jack Lovelock come up against England's future world-record holder, Sydney Wooderson. It lived up to its billing and was won in 4:14.0 by Lovelock from Wooderson in 4:14.4, with Harris coming in seventh.

If that was Harris's greatest moment on the track – he won silver and bronze medals in the Welsh championships over the mile in the next two years and gold in the two-mile steeplechase in 1946 – he also proved to be something of a stalwart in cross-country. Between 1935 and 1950, he made the top 10 in the Welsh Championships on all but one occasion.

Harris was Clerk of the Course for the marathon at the 1958 British and Empire Games, held in Cardiff, and then became a Grade 1 starter who officiated at all the main championship and international events in the UK. His red jacket made him one of the most clearly identifiable starters, and he was also one of the fairest. His quip to the athletes before a race was: "Small gun today, so no false starts."

Among the plethora of titles he held as an administrator were president of the Welsh Cross Country Association (1959-61), chairman of the Welsh AAA (1980-85) and president of the Welsh AAA (1985-87).

His services were well recognised and he earned a Welsh AAA meritorious plaque in 1958, an IAAF special award in 1988, and an AAA plaque of honour in 1989. In 2007, he was named as the first recipient of Welsh Athletics' lifetime achievement award. As the citation stated: "The first recipient of this unique award is a man who has given his life to Welsh athletics."

Rob Cole

Kenneth Walter Benjamin Harris, athlete and administrator: born Bristol 7 October 1910; married 1938 Lorna Harris (died 2003; one son, one daughter); died Goodrington, Devon 5 November 2008.