During its 75-year history the magazine has been there to report on the early steps of most of the world’s top athletes
At an interview at St Mary’s University in south-west London in 2011, Usain Bolt was shown the AW coverage of the 2002 World Junior Championships, where he made a name for himself nine years earlier by winning the 200m on home soil in Jamaica.
The UK-based magazine sent its long-time photographer Mark Shearman plus news editor Steve Landells to cover the event and when Bolt saw the coverage his eyes lit up and he politely asked if he could have the issue as a keepsake.
Ironically the big story for AW at those 2002 championships due to its natural British bias was in the under-20 women’s 200m. Vernicha James struck Britain’s only gold of the championships by beating home hope Anneisha McLaughlin of Jamaica and Sanya Richards of the United States. But while James drifted away from athletics, the under-20 men’s winner Bolt, who was only 15 at the time, was destined for greatness.
Of course Bolt’s performances at those 2002 championships in Kingston would have been covered extensively by Caribbean media at the time. But few non-Jamaican publications would have sent staff to report on one of his first big teenage triumphs.
We continued to follow his career live, too, at the following year’s World Youth Champs in Canada – and all of his major championship races since as he has appeared as the main image on our front cover a total of 30 times.
Demonstrating the magazine’s widespread support from the athletics community, the great man himself even remarked on the milestone.
“I would like to congratulate Athletics Weekly on their 75 years anniversary,” said Bolt. “They were in Kingston, Jamaica, for my first big victory at the World Junior Championships in 2002 and every other championship in my career.
“I am honoured to have been on the cover 30 times. Best wishes for another 75 years covering the sport.”
Of course, Bolt is not alone. For 75 years AW has covered the early strides of the world’s greatest athletes. When the magazine was created in December 1945 the first athletes we wrote about were the Swedish middle-distance record-breakers Gunder Hägg and Arne Andersson, plus British endurance running legend Jack Holden.
Alan Turing, the maths genius credited with inventing the early computer, was listed in the September 1946 issue of AW winning the Walton AC three miles title. The following year he placed fifth in the AAA marathon before eventually being immortalised in the movie The Imitation Game.
David Coleman, the BBC commentary legend, was in AW’s National cross-country championships results in March 1952. Jeffrey Archer appeared in 1957 aged 17 after finishing runner-up in the Somerset Schools 100 yards and English Schools 120 yards hurdles before later becoming an MP and best-selling author.
Here are some athletics greats and the first time they appeared in AW…
» Gordon Pirie – the enigmatic and popular distance runner was listed in AW as early as November 1946 when, aged 15, he competed in a South London Harriers five miles race.
» Roger Bannister – eight years before he ran the first sub-four-minute mile, AW printed his result in December 1946 finishing runner-up in an Oxford vs Cambridge ‘freshmen’s sports’ mile in 4:53 aged 17.
» Mary Rand – the 1964 Olympic long jump champion was in AW nine years earlier, aged 15, winning silver in the English Schools long jump.
» Daley Thompson – the decathlon legend first appeared in AW in July 1974 after winning the Sussex Schools 200m title aged 15.
» Lynn Davies – four years before winning Olympic long jump gold he was in AW after winning the Welsh triple jump title and, ironically, long jump silver.
» David Hemery – the Olympic 400m hurdles winner in Mexico first went in AW on July 21, 1962, after winning the Midlands sprint hurdles title.
» Mary Peters – seven years before winning Olympic pentathlon gold, she was listed in the August 27, 1955, issue after taking bronze in the Northern Ireland pentathlon championships.
» Seb Coe – the double Olympic 1500m champion’s name first appeared on March 13, 1971, when winning the Yorkshire colts cross-country title aged 14.
» Steve Ovett – a decade before winning Olympic 800m gold, his name appeared in AW when he was aged 14 on May 9, 1970, with a modest 2:07.0 800m win at grassroots meeting.
» Allan Wells – the Moscow Olympics 100m champion in 1980 was in AW 10 years earlier after winning the Scottish triple jump title.
» Mo Farah – his original appearance on April 12, 1995, saw him finish 10th in the London Mini Marathon.
» Jessica Ennis – another athletics great whose early appearances in AW were modest, in the July 14, 1999, issue she was in the magazine finishing equal 10th in the English Schools high jump.
» Greg Rutherford – had a similarly inauspicious start, with the July 11, 2001, issue of AW including his fifth place in the English Schools long jump final.
» Alistair Brownlee – before becoming Olympic triathlon champion the Yorkshireman was a regular in AW and in March 2006 featured heavily in our English Schools Cross Country Champs coverage as one of the winners that day in Mansfield.
The lesson is clear. If you want to read about the champions of tomorrow, then read AW today. The magazine invariably covers their careers long before the wider media takes interest.
» Thanks to Mel Watman for help with statistics
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