Part of our event-by-event history series we look back at the men’s javelin at the Commonwealth Games
New Zealand’s Stan Lay, who just missed making the Olympic final, won the inaugural event in Hamilton in 1930 by more than seven metres. The winning distance in London in 1934 was barely over 60 metres and won by Canadian Bob Dixon as the shot and discus winner, Harry Hart, took the silver medal.
In Sydney in 1938, Lay just missed out on regaining his title by just over half a metre as Canada kept hold of the title through Jim Courtright’s 62.80m. Remarkably, after the war, Lay returned 12 years later in Auckland – 28 years after setting his PB. He finished sixth as Canada made it three wins in a row, though again distances were poor with Leo Roininen winning with 57.11m.
There was a huge advance in standards in Vancouver in 1954 and the first four easily beat the Games record as Aussie James Achurch won with 68.51m, narrowly ahead of Muhammad Nawaz and Jalal Khan, who surprisingly took medals for Pakistan. Achurch finally bettered Lay’s overall Empire record set 36 years earlier, but performances were still well below European levels.
Khan was runner-up in Cardiff in 1958 as Colin Smith won the first British medal of any colour in the javelin with a Games record 71.28m. In Perth 1962, Smith improved to a PB 77.89m but was narrowly pipped by the home athlete Alf Mitchell, who upped Smith’s Games record to 78.10m as Empire record-holder Nick Birks was well below his best in third. Birks did better in Kingston in 1966 but was easily beaten by England’s John Fitzsimons, who won with a British and Games record 79.78m.
At the age of 40, Nawaz won bronze, 12 years after winning silver. Dave Travis was sixth in Jamaica but had improved by the time of Edinburgh in 1970. England’s poor record in the first five Games improved as the nation took its first clean sweep with John McSorley second and Fitzsimons third.
Travis threw further in Christchurch in 1974 but could only take silver four metres behind 18-year-old Charles Clover, who added seven metres to his PB to set a European and Commonwealth record 84.92m that he never really approached again as a senior. Twenty-one-year-old Canadian Phil Olsen came close to the Games record with 84.00m as Mike O’Rourke pushed him close and England won another medal through Peter Yates.
Olsen only finished fourth in Brisbane in 1982 as O’Rourke took the record towards world-class with an 89.48m victory. Tanzanian Zakayo Malekwa won a bronze. In his third Games in Edinburgh in 1986, David Ottley won another English gold as 21-year-old teammate Mick Hill set a PB to take silver.
O’Rourke could only finish fifth in Auckland in 1990 in front of his home crowd. Hill was second but was well beaten by 20-year-old Steve Backley’s 86.02m. Backley was three metres down on that in Victoria in 1994 as he was less than a metre up on Hill, who secured his third successive silver. The first four were a repeat from four years earlier as Kiwi Gavin Lovegrove and Nigel Bevan of Wales followed.
Backley and Hill made the podium again in Kuala Lumpur and threw much further but were beaten by South African world champion Marius Corbett’s 88.75m. Hill thus won his fourth successive medal. Backley won his fourth successive medal in Manchester in 2002 and it was gold as he won by a record 7.83m. Nick Nieland won English bronze and in Melbourne in 2006, he won a hard fought gold medal as just 21 centimetres covered the three medallists.
However, after Backley’s retirement, distances were down. It wasn’t a great competition in Delhi in 2010 as Aussie Jarrod Bannister won easily with a modest 81.71m. After all the English success over the period from 1958 to 2006, they didn’t select a single thrower and in their absence, Wales’ Lee Doran was the leading Briton in fifth and Scotland’s James Campbell was close behind in sixth.
Gold medal winners
1930 Stan Lay (NZL) 63.13
1934 Bob Dixon (CAN) 60.02
1938 Jim Courtwright (CAN) 62.80
1950 Leo Roininen (CAN) 57.11
1954 James Achurch (AUS) 68.51
1958 Colin Smith (ENG) 71.28
1962 Alf Mitchell (AUS) 78.10
1966 John FitzSimons (ENG) 79.78
1970 Dave Travis (ENG) 79.50
1974 Charles Clover (ENG) 84.92
1978 Charles Olsen (CAN) 84.00
1982 Mike O’Rourke (NZL) 89.48
1986 Dave Ottley (ENG) 80.62
1990 Steve Backley (ENG) 86.02
1994 Steve Backley (ENG) 82.74
1998 Marius Corbett (RSA) 88.75
2002 Steve Backley (ENG) 86.81
2006 Nick Nieland (ENG) 80.10
2010 Jarrod Bannister (AUS) 81.71
Gold: Smith (Eng, 1958), Fitzsimons (Eng, 1966), Travis (Eng, 1970), Clover (Eng, 1974), Ottley (Eng, 1986), Backley (Eng, 1990, 1994, 2002), Nieland (Eng, 2006)
Silver: Smith (1962), John McSorley (Eng, 1970), Travis (1974), Mick Hill (Eng, 1986, 1990, 1994), Backley (1998)
Bronze: Fitzsimons (1970), Peter Yates (1974), Hill (1998), Nieland (2006)
Most successful athlete and Briton: Steve Backley won three golds and a silver.