Veteran journalist Colin Hart explains why former GB hurdler Lorna Boothe’s MBE is such good news…
Lorna Boothe’s richly-deserved MBE was one of the most heart-warming awards announced in the New Year’s Honours list at the end of last month.
The British honours system has often been much-maligned and has come under severe criticism because there are those who consider it an anachronism in this day and age.
But there’s not a single soul who could possibly object when Lorna goes to Buckingham Palace to collect her medal later this year.
I’m sure everyone in athletics who knows her and her achievements are delighted that her devoted services to sports coaching and administration have been royally recognised.
Standing just 5ft 4ins tall and weighing only eight stone soaking wet Lorna was a tough and gritty track competitor. A British 100 metres hurdles record holder, she won the gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Alberta, and four years later in Brisbane came home with the silver. She also competed for Britain at the Montreal and Moscow Olympics.
But her greatest successes have been away from the track where she has been a visionary and a game changer.
Lorna was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and came to this country as a child. She was 11 when she joined her first athletic club – she was one of only two black athletes. And it was there as a teenager she experienced the worst kind of racism. Never afraid to give her opinion she was arguing with one of the club’s coaches about the relay running order.
Angry that she had the temerity to express her views and disagree with him he snarled: “You black bitch – why don’t you go back where you came from?” That appalling incident would have been enough to put many young girls off the sport for life. Lorna simply walked out and joined another club.
Despite her highly successful track career representing England and Britain on numerous occasions, it is as an administrator that Lorna has earned world-wide respect.
When Lorna hung up her spikes back in the 1980s, British athletics was a bastion of white male supremacy. She bravely and with grim determination fought the racism and sexism of the times and emerged triumphantly as the most senior black woman in British athletic management. Little Lorna became a giant.
Her list of accomplishments are long and impressive. She was British team manager for nine years and she was in charge of our track and field squad at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – the first woman to be given that responsibility.
She was England’s speed events coach at the 2014 Glasgow and 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Lorna is currently a member of the European Coaches Council. Among her other senior positions she has served with distinction are the English Sports Council and the Commission for Racial Equality. She was also part of the team that set up the IAAF Academy and World Classes Coaching Club.
Connie Henry, the founder and Director of Track Academy who was the triple jump bronze medallist at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur, Commonwealth Games never competed under Lorna’s management. But she told me: “I have had many discussions with Lorna and she always makes herself available to help with her immense expertise. I’m thrilled her outstanding work has been recognised with an MBE.”
We often talk about sportsmen and women being role models to youngsters. Lorna Boothe is a classic example of what is possible if you work hard enough and have the integrity and determination to succeed despite what may seem insurmountable odds.
Sporting hero Michael Johnson’s return to fitness
There was further good news to lift the spirits for athletes and fans as 2019 dawned. Michael Johnson (centre right) is almost back to full fitness.
We were all stunned by the horrific news that Johnson at 50, one of the 20th century’s all-time super-stars, suffered a mini-stroke four months ago.
Michael, who won four Olympic and eight world championship gold medals as well as holding the 200 and 400 metres world records, is one of the fittest men on the planet.
Yet he was struck-down after a training session and was partly paralysed down his left side. But calling on the tenacity that made him such a great champion, Michael went straight into rehab and has fought his way back to fitness.
I was privileged to cover many of his finest performances for The Sun and I’ll never forget the moment at the Atlanta Olympics when he flashed over the line in the 200 metres final in a super-human 19.32 secs.
Trinadadian Ato Bolden, who chased him home, when asked what he thought of Johnson’s time memorably remarked: “The only way I can identify with 1932 it is the year my father was born.”
Ironically Johnson said immediately after the stroke it took him 15 minutes to cover 200 metres.
Thankfully Michael will be in his usual place behind the mic for the BBC at the World Championships in Doha at the end of September.
We have got used to the articulate Texan coming into our living rooms at the major events, giving us the benefit of his incomparable knowledge and insight. It wouldn’t be the same without him.
A look forward to a marathon battle between Sir Mo and Eliud Kipchoge
And further good news to start the year, it has been announced there will be a return battle between Kenya’s world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and Sir Mo Farah, at the London Marathon in April.
Kipchoige won for the third time in London last year with Farah third. Since then Mo has gained more experience in his new event and he recorded his first major victory over the 26mile 385 yard course in Chicago three months ago.
Kipchoge says he is relishing the prospect of facing Mo again. And so are we.
And to put the icing on the cake, Jo Pavey has said she is going to have a go at making Britain’s Tokyo Olympic team next year. It would her sixth Games, equalling Tessa Sanderson’s record.
Jo, European 10,000 metres champion in Amsterdam five years ago and the mother of two children will be FORTY-SEVEN if she gets to Tokyo. I certainly wouldn’t put it past her.