The day I beat an Olympian...
Tuesday 26 August 2008
As Britain returns to some sort of normality after the inspiring thrills of the Beijing Games, so our thoughts turn to our own athletic endeavours and how we could and should have done a lot better. But for a select few it is not just a question of dreaming. They are the ones who have claimed the scalp of an athletics superstar and had their own moment of glory. These are their stories
Stacy Washington beat Kelly Holmes
Lives: Tonbridge Club Tonbridge AC
Big scalp: Beat Kelly Holmes in the winter of 1982-83 at a Tonbridge Schools' Cross-Country event
Washington on Holmes...
"I competed in local races from the age of about eight and I was used to winning the local races. We had a local schools event and I competed for Sussex Road Primary School and Kelly, who was a year older, was at the Hugh Christie School. I'd never seen Kelly before and she clearly hadn't much running experience as she was running in plimsolls and her proper PE kit. Kelly was up with me for most of the race and then took the lead in the later stages.
"I thought, 'I'm not having this', and sprinted past her to win. I competed for a few more years and I'm still ranked in the top 10 all-time in the Under-13 UK rankings for 1500m. I was forced to stop running at 15, when I snapped a ligament in the base of my back.
"I've no regrets. I'm no longer involved in the sport because I'm busy with my two young boys.
"Kelly has been asked a million times how she started running and she always refers to that race against me."
James Peacock beat Phillips Idowu
Lives: Crystal Palace, London
Club: Thurrock Harriers
Occupation: Special projects analyst for a shipping company
Big scalp: Aged 18, James defeated the current world indoor champion Phillips Idowu in the Senior Boys' triple jump at the 1996 English Schools' Championships in Sheffield.
Peacock on Idowu...
"I started out as a middle-distance runner but then got a bit lazy and started doing sprints and the long jump and triple jump. I found out I was good at the triple jump at school and won the Intermediate Boys' Triple Jump at the 1994 English Schools, beating Dean Macey [the Commonwealth decathlon champion] who was my room-mate on the trip.
"The following year, at the English Schools, I won silver but my victory at the 1996 English Schools when I beat Phillips Idowu was the highlight of my career.
"I was just about favourite to win and I don't think Phillips had ever beaten me at that point. Phillips led after the first round but I jumped a personal best, albeit wind-assisted, of 15.78 metres in the next round to win.
"Phillips didn't have the crazy hair and piercings he has today and was a very quiet, polite guy. It was only about a year later after he'd grown about five inches and filled out that I thought he had the physique to go to the very top. About a year later I competed in an Under-20s match for Britain against Italy, but by the time I was about 21 I'd given up the sport because I wasn't enjoying it.
"I don't really have any regrets. I didn't make the decision to quit the sport lightly and I would have carried on if I thought I could have made it to the top.
"Now I play five-a-side football and go to the gym to keep fit but, funnily, I now live over the road from the Crystal Palace track and I can actually hear the starting pistol from my house."
Kirk Dumpleton beat Seb Coe and Steve Ovett
Lives: Harpenden, Hertfordshire
Club: Verlea Club
Occupation: Assistant head teacher/history teacher
Big scalp: When aged 16, Kirk made history by becoming the only British man to defeat Seb Coe and Steve Ovett in the same race when winning the Intermediate Boys' Race at the 1972 English Schools' Cross-Country Championships in Hillingdon. Ovett was second. Coe was 10th.
Dumpleton on Coe and Ovett...
"I knew of both Steve Ovett and Seb Coe before the race. I'd met Steve before and I'd read about Seb in Athletics Weekly. Going into the race I knew that I was in great shape. I'd only lost one cross-country race in six months and that was only by a second. The course was quite hilly and and I remember feeling fantastic. Even a couple of miles in I realised everyone was blowing quite heavily, so I put a little burst in, kicked away and won by about 20 seconds.
"I got to know Steve better when I was 17 or 18. We shared the same coach, Harry Wilson, and I stayed with Steve and trained with him for a few days in Brighton. Steve always had a great sense of humour and was what you would call a runner's runner. I wouldn't say I got to know Seb as a friend, but I studied with him at Loughborough University and even then you could see how incredibly disciplined he was in training.
"I kept on running competitively until I was 34. I ran 4:01 for the mile and 48 minutes for 10 miles, which wasn't too bad, but I got a stress fracture when I was 22 and was out for a year. I even ran a 2:25 marathon at 33. I received a lot of attention in the press around the time of the 1980 Moscow Olympics as the only Brit who ever beat Coe and Ovett in the same race. But do I have any regrets? Not really. I've enjoyed the athletics challenges in my life. You could blame the injuries, but you could also say I just never had the talent."
Paul Bushnell beat S teve Backley
Club: Chelmsford AC
Occupation: Building consultant
Big scalp: Beat Steve Backley in the Intermediate Boys' Javelin at the 1985 English Schools' Track and Field Championships in Hull. Bushnell threw 63.00m for gold. Backley won silver.
Bushnell on Backley...
"I went into the competition aiming to win. I was unbeaten all year, although I was aware of Steve because he was creeping up on me all season. I remember my longest throw was in the first round and, although Steve was getting better each round, I hung on to win. A few weeks later at the British Schools' Championships in Ireland I shared a room with Steve. He was very easy to talk to and we'd always have a laugh. In Ireland we both threw personal bests and I beat Steve again. I gave up javelin at the end of the season to play cricket because there was more money in cricket.
"I was a fast bowler at Essex for three years and I was on the fringe of the first team when I broke my kneecap playing rugby. When I was 20 I returned to athletics for a couple of years and made the England Under-23 team, throwing a best of 70.00m. But Steve had really moved on and was a top-class thrower, and we never competed against each other again. I do have a few regrets and wonder what might have been if I had stuck with the javelin."
Backley talks to 'Spikes' about Bushnell...
"I was battling against a whole group of athletes then, but Paul stood out because he was so good. He was a great competitor and very talented but I guess he was one of thousands of talented athletes. He was top of the pecking order as a junior and got the better of me. I remember three or four of us stayed at the same house at the British Schools in 1985, which Paul won, although I remember he broke his fingers after landing with his Jan Zelezny-style throwing action. A few years later I made a big breakthrough at the European Juniors and he just vanished."
Michelle Dollard (nee Wilkinson) beat Paula Radcliffe
Lives: Gatley, Manchester
Club: Manchester Harriers
Big scalp: Michelle Dollard, then called Wilkinson, beat Paula Radcliffe to win the Under-13 Girls' Race at the 1986 English National Cross-Country Championships at Western Park, Leicester. Radcliffe finished 299th.
Dollard on Radcliffe...
"It sounds funny now, because of what Paula has gone on to achieve, but because she had only just started the sport I'd never heard of her. I only knew about my main rivals: Claire Nicholson, Sue Byrom and my twin sister, Lynne. I had been running since the age of five and I was used to winning big races, but the National is such a big event – with about 800 girls – I would have been pleased with a top-10 finish. I remember it was a snowy day and I ran with my twin sister for some of the race before kicking away at the end. I never got to know Paula until later on and I was in the same Great Britain team as her at the 1992 World Junior Championships in Seoul, where I ran the 800m and Paula the 3,000m.
"My career ended soon after, although I can't remember exactly when. I left school at 16 to start work as a secretary and didn't have any funding. I found it hard coming in from work every day at 6.30pm and then going out to training. I'd also had a few calf injuries, but maybe I just didn't have that commitment and my life took a different path.
"As for Paula, she's done so well and I'm very pleased for her but I am also very proud to tell my kids I reached the semi-finals of the World Junior Championships."
For more stories like this from the world of athletics please visit www.spikesmag.com and sign up for a free subscription to SPIKES magazine
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