Friday, March 1, 2024

Thurrock running legend Mel Batty passes away

THURROCK running legend and former world record holder for the 10 miles Mel Batty has passed away.

Mel was world record holder for the 10 miles in 1964 and acknowledged as one of the greatest long distance runners of his generation.

Mel was brought up in Grays as part of a large family. He had 3 Brothers and 4 Sisters. Times may have been difficult during the war time and post war period but Mel always spoke warmly of his childhood.

Mel’s interest in athletics began in his early teens. His oldest Brother Ken had developed an interest in running whilst in the RAF and when he was demobbed was one of the founder members of Thurrock Harriers. Mel soon became interested in running himself. He wasn’t a natural athlete but had great strength and determination.

By the time he left Park School, Grays to take up an apprenticeship with Eastern Electricity Board he was already making his mark at County level. As an under 17 he won the County 1 mile in 1957. In the under 20 age group he was winning medals at regional level. After he finished his apprenticeship he took up a position with Esso Purfleet.

At this time he met Colin Young. Colin was an international race walker with Essex Beagles who at the time was working at Thames Board Mills. They formed a coach/athlete relationship that was to take Mel into World Class running. This coach/athlete relationship lead to his breakthrough in 1963 when he finished 5th in the National Cross Country Championships.

The following week he ran in the gruelling Orion 15 and followed that with an amazing 3rd place in the IAAF Cross Country Championships which are now called the World Championships. He gained International recognition on the track and represented Great Britain at 6 miles/10K.

In 1962 he was picked to run in the 6 miles for England at the Commonwealth Games in Australia where he achieved a first 6th placing. At the same Games he found a spare place going in the Marathon and joined in. In searing temperatures he managed 5th place in that race. By 1964 following a victory at Leicester in the National Cross Country Championships he ran a World Record time in the 10 miles of 47m26.8s. He achieved this on a windy April day on the less than perfect cinder track at Hurlingham. The record was broken the following year by the Australian Ron Clark.

1965 saw him win the National Cross Country Championship in Parliament Hills, London. He won this race by over 300m, an amazing feat considering the field contained the whole of the New Zealand Cross Country team and such running ‘greats’ as Ron Hill and Bruce Tulloch. Competing in the IAAF Cross Country Championships a fortnight later he left 4 Olympic gold medallists in his wake but found the then unknown Frenchman, Jean Fayolle, hanging on to him as if his life depended on it. As they dipped across the line the non-existing finishing line together the verdict was given to the Frenchman. Even the French newspapers mocked the decision. Mel felt that he had definitely won this race.

Amazingly Mel did not win the County Cross Country title until 1966. But that proved something of a swan song to his career. Over the next 10 years he won many local races but never achieved the heights that he achieved in the first half of the 60s. He made a brief come back to win the Essex Veterans Cross Country title in 1980 but injury, and the demands of his various jobs, prevented him from training fully again. Nonetheless the next 20 years were to be eventful for him. He had a brief spell as National Marathon Coach but the highlight of his coaching career came when he saw his protégé Eammon Martin win 2 National Cross Country titles and become the last British winner of the London Marathon. During this time he also worked for the BBC and attended all the major games as a Production Assistant. In recent months he has been advising Adam Hickey, one of the most promising athletes Southend has produced in the last decade.

Mel’s enthusiasm for his family, the sport, Arsenal Football Club, Thurrock Harriers and his eventful social life did not diminish as the years passed. He was last seen at Thurrock Harriers a week ago supporting a 13 year old athlete that he had been recently advising with as much enthusiasm as he had advised Eammon Martin a decade earlier. This enthusiasm and zest for life will be greatly missed by all who knew him.



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