Athletics News

Steve Backley on how to revive Britain’s ailing throws events

Steve Backley on how to revive Britain's ailing throws events

Former javelin world record-holder says the nation’s struggling throwing disciplines could be addressed by starting with the schools

As Steve Backley tells it, the javelin chose him rather than the other way round. Having started his schoolboy athletics journey as a middle-distance athlete, he soon realised he “didn’t have the ticket to the party” when it came to that particular discipline.

He loved athletics, though, and wanted to keep that connection to the sport. When he attended a meeting and saw former British international Gary Jenson throwing, he was intrigued.

“It just made sense to me,” says the now 54-year-old. “There are very few times in life, where you come across something and go: ‘I can see why that works and that if I do this and this then that will happen’. You just feel like you’re at home. It’s a very comfortable feeling, knowing that you’re wielding something you were destined to be working with.”

He carried that feeling with him throughout a career which saw him break the world record, win two Olympic silver medals and a bronze, two world silvers, the European title four times and the Commonwealth title three. Coached by John Trower and pushed to excel by the likes of Mick Hill, Backley was the latest in a line of celebrated British javelin throwers, such as Olympic champion Tessa Sanderson and world champion Fatima Whitbread.

He fed off a momentum that was already in motion but, since his retirement 20 years ago, it has largely been lost. Trower’s work was dismantled when the governing body decided to go in another direction. “I remember writing to them and saying: ‘Look, this is what’s going to happen’. And that’s why we are where we are,” says Backley.

Steve Backley (Mark Shearman)

The current situation leaves him looking for answers.

He is quick to acknowledge there is a lot of good work being done, there is talent emerging and there have been bright spots. There’s Lawrence Okoye’s impressive European discus bronze from 2022, Nick Miller’s two Commonwealth hammer victories and sixth place in the Tokyo Olympic final, plus Scott Lincoln’s Commonwealth shot put bronze. When it comes to para sport, too, the likes of Hollie Arnold, Dan Pembroke, Aled Davies and Dan Greaves are no strangers to major throws success.

But Backley sees what he calls “pockets of passion” rather the kind of joined up thinking he experienced in his pomp.

Backley remains the last British man to contest…

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