Around 160 club members gathered at the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds last night to celebrate 50 years of Leeds City Athletic Club.
The club was formed half-a-century ago by the merger of three existing clubs, Leeds AC, Leeds St Mark’s Harriers and Harehills Harriers.
All three had enjoyed periods of success but during the sixties they were in decline and there was increasing frustration among the younger membership. At the same time there were some serious objections to a merger from the “old guard”.
Mike Baxter, a St Mark’s runner destined for future success at international level, and Clive Kingswell, a talented young Harehills athlete, were the major forces pushing for the merger and it finally came to pass in October 1967.
Since then the club has produced a steady stream of international athletes throughout the age groups, winning national titles on the road and at cross- country and appearing at the highest level in British League competition.
It was far from plain sailing in the early days, though.
The lack of suitable facilities hampered progress. The council-owned headquarters at Temple Newsam track were not fit for purpose even though the surrounding countryside was ideal for distance runners.
A move to the Carnegie College track at Beckett Park was a huge step forward and that served as the club’s main base for several years until the relocation to the John Charles Centre in South Leeds, which has the advantage of an indoor training facility together with an outdoor track capable of hosting major meetings. Carnegie is also still used today as a training centre by some members.
At first it was a male only club, a parallel Leeds Women AC existing in name only. They soon merged with the young Leeds City Club ushering in an era of outstanding talent among the girls honed by a buoyant Leeds Schools Athletics Association. Team events have always figured high in the club’s priorities but athletics is an individual sport and many competed at the highest level. Mike Baxter reached two European finals and one Commonwealth final in the 5,000 metres and went on to run for England in the International Cross Country Championships. He paced Brendan Foster to a world record in the 3,000m and beat Dave Bedford to win the AAA 5,000m in 1971.
Running for several years at the top level, he rarely failed to turn out for the club in important team competitions and is now a highly regarded coach.
Javelin thrower Mick Hill was a permanent fixture in the British team for nearly 20 years, competing in four Olympic Games and no less than seven World Championships. He won four Commonwealth medals, a European silver and a World Championship bronze as well as breaking the British record.
Another Olympian, Veronique Marot, is best remembered for winning the London Marathon in 1989 in a time of 2:25:26, a British record which stood for 13 years before Paula Radcliffe broke it. Marot later did a valuable stint as club President. Angie Hulley won a Commonwealth bronze medal while Susan Partridge is an international marathon runner of the present day.
In recent years Leeds City has fully embraced disability athletics and is the club of Hannah Cockroft MBE who has an astonishing number of honours in the T34 category for wheelchair racing with multiple world and Olympic titles.