Full Name: Peter Frank Radford
Date of Birth: 20 September 1939
Club: Birchfield Harriers.
Coached: Bill Marlow.
Battling The Odds
Peter Radford achieved success and notoriety both on and off the track in the circles of British athletics. A youngster who had been confined to a wheelchair, he overcame that problem to win major championship medals, break world records and then take a position at the helm of the sport as chief executive of the British Athletics Federation (BAF) during a controversial period.
Bringing In The Records
Radford established himself as the best British sprinter of his generation, with so much geared towards the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 where he won bronze in the 100m but he did not make the final at the distance where he was among the pre-Games favourites. He had great determination to succeed, a trait which grew after he overcame a serious kidney illness as a child, which long confined him to a wheelchair. He started running when he was 12, and his speed was apparent from his teenage years when he won the English Schools intermediate 100y title in 1955 and seniors 100y in 1957. He burst through at the age of 18 at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958, when he was fourth at 100y, a semi-finalist at 220y and he was a member won a sprint relay gold medal-winning team at the Commonwealth Games.
At the European Championships in Stockholm, Radford made the podium in the 100m, running 10.4 as West Germany’s Armin Hary won gold in10.3 and teammate Manfred Germar took silver in 10.4 too. But he was still a teenager when he became Britain’s fastest man. A member of Birchfield Harriers, Radford set the following British bests: four each at 100y, 9.6 twice in 1958 and 9.4 in 1959 and 1960, 100m, all 10.3 between 1958 and 60, with an auto-timed 10.31 in 1958, and 220y, where after three 21.0s between 1958 and 1960, he took his record-breaking onto the world stage.
Black County Glory
In this modern age, world records are normally set at either the major championships or on the Grand Prix circuit and the 200m is no better example. In 1996, with his astonishing run of 19.32, Michael Johnson broke the 200m world record when he won Olympic gold; it does not happen any better than that. Thirty-six years earlier, on May 28 1960, Radford broke it with a time of 20.5...at the Staffordshire Championships in Wolverhampton. But even Johnson could not match what Radford achieved on that afternoon because he entered history with two records in one sprint race. His time of 20.5 was for the 220y event, but was also recognised for the 200m distance too.
Immediately his build up to the Olympics had a brilliant foundation, even though the 200m world record was equalled by the time of the Games in Rome in August. At the US Olympic trials just over a month after Radford’s glory, Stone Johnson and Ray Norton both clocked 20.5, yet in Rome, the Briton had already won bronze in the 100m final by the time of the 200m. He was dealt bad luck in the semi-final when he was drawn in the same race as Johnson and Norton along with Italian star Livio Berruti. It proved to be some race because Berruti shocked the field to win, and it was Radford who missed out, finishing fourth. His fortune would change in the relay though. Britain had finished fourth but the USA, who had won in a world record, were disqualified for a baton change being out of the zone. It meant bronze for Radford and the quartet of David Jones, David Segal and Nick Whitehead - but they were lucky to even be in the race still. Film of the first changeover indicated that the exchange between Radford and Jones had also been outside the zone.
Radford was not such a force after 1960, although he won a second Commonwealth relay gold in 1962 and helped the British team to equal the world record of 40.0 for 4 x 110y on August 3, 1963. It came at London’s White City Stadium in an international match against the USA when Radford, Jones, Ron Jones and Berwyn Jones combined for glory. Radford was a quarter-finalist at both 100m and 200m at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, but having worked in North America and as founder professor of the chair of PE and sports science at Glasgow University, he became chairman of the BAF in 1993 and was executive between chairman 1994-7. It was a difficult times, as the sport faced commercial problems, losing its television deal with the BBC and the Andy Norman affair. Radford returned to academic life as professor and Head of Sports Sciences at Brunel University and also wrote a book about the athletics and gambling character Captain Barclay.
1958: 4th 100y, sf 220y, 1st 4x110y Commonwealth Games; 3rd 100m, 2nd 4x100m Europeans
1960: 3rd 100m & 4x100m, sf 200m Olympics
1962: sf 100y & 220y, 1st 4x110y Commonwealth Games, sf 100m & 200m Europeans
1964: qf 100m & 200m, 8th 4x100m Olympics
UK Internationals: 24 (1958-64)
Won AAA 100y 1959-60.
100y 9.4 (1959), 9.62, 9.3w (1960); 100m 10.29 (1958), 220y 20.5 (1960), 200m 21.04 91960)