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Welsh Athletics Nostalgia, recalled by Clive Williams

07/05/2024 00:00, I Mewn Blog / History /

As we approach the new outdoor track and field season in Wales, it’s worth recalling that 60 years ago Welsh sprinters were the best in Britain! In 1963, Ron Jones and Berwyn Jones topped the UK 100 yards and 100m ranking lists whilst 1964 Olympic long jump champion Lynn Davies was Britain’s best sprinter that year in both his main event and the 100 yards.

Ron’s table topping 100 yards time was 9.5 (equivalent to 10.4 for 100 metres), whilst Berwyn lead the 100m lists with 10.3 seconds. Lynn topped the 1964 UK 100 yards lists with 9.5 secs.

These times would not be out of place today, however it shouldn't be forgotten that they were achieved prior to the existance of all-weather tracks, with running surfaces consisting of loose cinders or even grass. Ron’s winning 100 yards time in the 1963 Welsh championships on Cardiff’s Maindy Stadium cinders was a windy 9.5, marginally faster equivalently than Josh Brown’s winning 100m time of 10.53 last year. One cannot help but wonder what times Ron, Berwyn and Lynn would have achieved today with pristine running surfaces and modern shoe technology. 

Indeed, Cwmaman-born Ron was arguably Europe’s best in 1963. Both he and Berwyn, who hailed from just across the Valley from Rhymney, were part of Britain’s team that equalled the world record in 1963 for the 4 x 110 yards relay. Namesake David Jones and former Cardiff College (now Cardiff Met University) student Peter Radford were the other team members.

The Anglo-Welsh squad beat the mighty USA team who had not been beaten for many a year. They would go on to take the Olympic sprint relay title in Tokyo the following year. On the anchor leg, Berwyn took over in the lead ahead of world 100 yards record holder Bob Hayes, and narrowly held off the future Olympic champion to take victory with 40.0 seconds (equivalent to approx. 39.8 for 4 x 100m).

In the individual 100 yards of Britain’s match against the USA at the then headquarters of British athletics at London’s White City Stadium, Ron was just beaten by Hayes who would go on to win the 100m Olympic title in Tokyo the following year. Berwyn was third ahead of the USA’s John Gilbert. In his report of the race in Athletics Weekly, esteemed athletics writer the late Mel Watman said Ron proved he was Europe’s leading sprinter with this performance. Not bad for a man from the Aberdare Valley who learned his trade on railway tracks between disused coal trucks!

Look out for Ron’s autobiography which is due for publication ahead of this year's Paris Olympics. He completed it just before he died two years ago.

It truly is a marvellous read, tracing his childhood in the Aberdare Valley and training between coal trucks in railway sidings, through to his world record triumph. He won a record number of Welsh sprint titles, a record which still stands today. He was appointed as Britain’s men’s athletics team captain at the 1968 Mexico Olympics where he set a Welsh record of 10.42 seconds for 100 metres. This record was to stand until beaten by the then world 110m metres hurdles record holder Colin Jackson almost a quarter of a century later.

The book also reveals Ron’s leadership of three football league clubs including Cardiff City as well as the formation of Wales’s first rugby league club, the Cardiff Blue Dragons.

It’s all in the book to be published by Y Lolfa which is due for publication in a couple of months!

Photo: Ron Jones winning his 100 yards heat at the 1958 Cardiff Empire Games.