The Olympic steeplechase medallist and London Marathon co-founder has died after a short illness
John Disley, who claimed Olympic 3000m steeplechase bronze at the 1952 Games in Helsinki and co-founded the London Marathon, has died aged 87.
The former Welsh athlete (pictured above with Chris Brasher) passed away in hospital early on Monday morning (February 8) after a short illness.
Born in North Wales in 1928, Disley went on to become a record-breaking athlete, claiming his Olympic bronze as well as setting five British records in the steeplechase and four at two miles. He was ranked No.2 in the world for the steeplechase in 1955 and No.3 in 1952.
Disley also set Welsh records at six different distances, broke the record for the traverse of the Welsh 3000ft peaks and in 1955 became the first chief instructor at the Central Council of Physical Recreation’s flagship mountaineering and outdoor pursuits centre, Plas y Brenin.
When receiving the Cliff Temple Award for services to athletics from the National Union of Track Statisticians in 2008, Disley, who was awarded a CBE in 1979, revealed that he had turned to the steeplechase because he wasn’t good enough on the flat, but that his first love was mountaineering.
Following an eye-opening visit with the London Marathon’s founding race director Chris Brasher to the 1979 New York Marathon, it was Disley who set about creating a route for the first ever London Marathon.
In the 1960s, after competing in the European Orienteering Championships in Sweden, Disley returned to introduce the sport to the UK, running a series of seminars in different parts of the country. He enthused fellow Olympians Brasher, Roger Bannister, Gordon Pirie and others about the activity, and subsequently Disley and Brasher set up the British Orienteering Federation.
Having successfully put on the World Orienteering Championships in 1976, the Disley and Brasher duo was a perfect combination of logistics and pure will to succeed. The result, when they turned their sights on staging a road race through the British capital, was over 7000 runners standing on the start line of the first London Marathon in 1981.
Disley had remained an active member of the London Marathon family throughout its 35 years, even presenting Paula Radcliffe with her lifetime achievement award, named after himself, after her final appearance in last year’s race.
Marathon world record-holder Radcliffe was among those to pay tribute to Disley and wrote on Twitter: “Very sad to hear this – a wonderful man who had a dream that is The London Marathon. As a runner, thank you x RIP.”
Nick Bitel, chief executive of London Marathon Events Ltd said: “John was the architect of the original London Marathon route. Every runner of the race since 1981 owes him a great debt for the vision he realised alongside Chris Brasher. The fact that we are celebrating our millionth finisher this year is a testament to the conviction John had that this would be an event to span generations of runners. He will be greatly missed by all of us at the London Marathon.”
Hugh Brasher, event director of London Marathon Events Ltd, added: “This is a very sad day for the London Marathon family. I have known John all my life and without doubt his attention to detail, patience and ability to get on with people from all walks of life meant that he and my father were a force to be reckoned with. He inspired so many people with his love of running and the outdoors and has left a legacy that is now part of the fabric of British society.”
Disley is survived by his wife, Sylvia, who also won a medal at the Helsinki Olympics with bronze in the 4x100m relay, and two daughters. In an interview she gave in 2012, Sylvia said: “I think John has done more to get people running and on their feet than anybody in the country. He never let the grass grow under his feet and didn’t see why it should grow under anybody else’s either!”