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On this day in 1980 - World Athletics History at Cwmbran

18/05/2020 00:00, In Blog / Track & Field /

In the absence of new results and competitions to bring you each Monday, we're replacing our Weekend Round-Ups with some stories from the archives. A full history of Welsh Athletics can be explored here and Athletics Stats Wales provides a comprehensive set of statistics for the sport.

Clive Williams recalls the fantastic performance of Ferenc Paragi of Hungary.

When Ferenc Paragi of Hungary threw the javelin a phenomenal 96.20m at Cwmbran on 18th May 1980, little did the large sun-bathed crowd realise that they were witnessing athletics history. It was the second-longest throw in history and just 52 cms short of the world record he set the previous month. The performance led to the specification of the javelin being changed so that the implement came to ground much sooner in order to prevent injuries to spectators or other athletes and officials.

The throw took place as Wales hosted a four-cornered match against England, Netherlands, and Hungary in one of the highest standard competitions seen in Wales since the 1958 Cardiff Empire (now Commonwealth) Games, as three UK records and a multitude of Welsh all-comers records were set.

Paragi, who died just over 4 years ago of a heart attack at the young age of 62, hurled the implement from one end of the stadium to within a metre or so of the high jump bed at the other end. I witnessed the throw sitting in the announcer’s box and thought for a minute that it would actually go beyond the bed. I knew then that we were witnessing one of the last throws with the old style implement. The specification was eventually changed and this led to the eradication of all previous records from the book, although the weight of the implement remained at 800 grammes.

In an event sponsored by the Dutch electrical giant, Phillips, Paragi’s throw was not the only outstanding performance, as it was the meeting in which the great Geoff Capes set his Commonwealth and UK record of 21.68m for the shot. It still stands today as the second best performance by a British athlete. The throw stood for almost a quarter of a century as the UK record until beaten by Carl Myerscough’s 21.92m in 2003.

In the women’s invitation events, another Hungarian, world indoor record holder (1.98m) Andrea Matay, high jumped 1.93m for a new UK all-comers record pushing England’s Louise Miller to a new UK record of 1.90m. Future Welsh Athletics Hall of Fame member 19 year-old Michelle Probert (Scutt) started to make an impact on the international scene with her first 400m clocking under 53 secs in a Welsh record of 52.27. There was also a UK record for reigning Commonwealth 100m champion Sonia Lannaman in the 200m (22.58 secs).

Apart from the performances of Paragi, Capes, Matay, Lannaman and Miller, there was an abundance of Welsh all-comers records – eleven in all.

The records came from England’s Alan Bell in the 400m (46.20); Barry Smith (England) in the 3,000m (7:53.4); Harry Schulting of The Netherlands in the 400m hurdles in 49.57 - although the 1958 Empire Games champion Gert Potgeiter of South Africa had a better intrinsically faster 440 yards time of 49.7 to his credit.

Welsh all-comers records continued from Hungary’s Bela Bakosi (triple jump of 16.88m); Gabor Tamas, in the hammer with 70.50 and both high jumpers who tied with a leap of 2.18m (Istvan Gibicsar of Hungary and Mark Naylor of England).

18 year-old Shaun Pickering made his Welsh international debut in the hammer with a Welsh junior record of 57.26m. In the years to come, he would win a total of 19 Welsh titles, which still stands as the highest number of Welsh men’s titles won by a single individual.

The only Welsh athletes to shine were Commonwealth champion Berwyn Price with second spot in the 110m hurdles and Roger Hackney in the 3,000m steeplechase also in the runner-up spot with 8:35.6, with future world marathon record holder Steve Jones 6th in 8:46.2.

There was a fine personal best for third place in the 5,000m for Dennis Fowles with 13:41.6 as he dipped under 14 minutes for the first time just managing to hold-off Cardiff team-mate Dave James (13:42.4). Just two weeks later in the Inter-Counties 10,000m Fowles proved he was in the form of his life with a win in the 10,000m in another personal best of 28:52.6. He showed his remarkable versatility by setting a Welsh marathon record of 2:12.12 in the 1984 London race.

England, with future Olympic 800m champion Steve Ovett, taking his speciality easily won the team competition, with Wales bringing-up the rear. But it really was a feast of track and field athletics for the Welsh public.

At the time Cwmbran was one of the top UK venues for athletics. As well as being the major stadium in Wales, the venue under the auspices of the then Torfaen Borough Council, hosted several British championships as well as numerous Welsh Championship and Welsh international matches. Cwmbran also staged the semi-final of the European Cup for women in 1979, from which the British team qualified for the final.