Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

John Disley (20/11/28 to 9/2/16)

John Disley CBE was born in Corris Wales, was educated at Oswestry Boys School and Loughborough Colleges before becoming a teacher.
Maybe, in recent years he will be remembered more, for helping his Ranelagh Harrier & friend, Chris Brasher, put the first London Marathon on, to be run into the heart of the City in 1981.
For me it was more watching John Disley, so often, at the Old White City stadium in the 1950’s. He was 8 times Inter-Counties Champion.
It was also In the 1950’s, his charming wife, Sylvia Cheesman, achieved an Olympic bronze medal in Helsinki in the 4x100 relay and was a former UK record holder over 200m (24.5).
It was Disley’s impressive build and winning smile, which could be seen, as he hurdled the jumps. That certainly caught the imagination of the crowds that flocked to the White City Stadium.
Even though he was a top class steeplechaser, he also set a Welsh Mile record, all those years ago in June 1958 with a time of 4min 05.4 on cinders. In actual fact he set 18 Welsh records and was the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the year in 1955.

Regarding his two most noteworthy Olympic Games he ran in. The first one was when he came 3rd in the 1952 Olympic 3000 steeplechase in Helsinki, Finland. (First 6:- 1 Horace Ashenfelter (USA)  8:45.4; 2 Vladimir Kazantsev (Russia) 8:51.6; 3 John Disley (GBR) 8:51.8; 4 Olavi Rinteenpaa (Finland) 8:55.2; 5 Kurt Soderberg (Sweden) 8:55.6; 6 Gunther Hasselmann (Germany) 8:55.8.
He pointed out to me “The name you missed out was Helmut Guide (Germany 8th in 9:01.4). I don’t think anybody had recognised Vladimir Kazantsev’ World record’ because there was a suspect water jump. I thought Guide had the best chance of winning and I thought well, I’ll hang on to this man, watch what he does because he has got far more experience than I have and, we will fight it out together over the last couple of laps. But I did not know Guide had just had flu, was nowhere right from the start, so I was nowhere with him. It was only when Geoff Dyson came down, out of the stand with John Savidge, to help him shout out with two laps to go. They sort of jogged me into consciousness then I ran hard as I could for the rest of the race. I think if it had been another 10 yards further I would have finished second, and if I had woken up earlier, I might have challenged Ashenfelter, doing 8:45.4, which I think was the best of all time at that stage. I had not even broken 9 minutes at that stage of my life. It is worth remembering that John set a UK record of 8:44.2 in 1955. Then in 1956 was his second best position for him, in an Olympic Final when, amazingly the whole British team made the Final in Melbourne, Australia; Chris Brasher, Eric Shirley and John Disley. One must remember in those days the 3000 steeplechase was a difficult event to do, as John pointed out, concerning the water jump.
“At the White City there was a hedge and in the middle a rail which you felt for, and if you were lucky and hit the rail you landed in the water jump which had a concrete slope; there were lumps of sod put there in the race which looked great when you examined it, but the first time everyone ran through, they smashed through the sods, as everybody lands more or less in the same place. You were falling a foot further down when jumping, and you had a grass run up at the White City. It would be a second and half to two seconds slower a lap than if you did it these days on tartan.”

Back to the Olympic final in Melbourne and, the times of the first six of the 10 finalists 1 Chris Brasher (GBR) 8:41.2; 2 Sandor Rozsnyoi (Hungary) 8:43.6; 3 Ernst Larsen (Norway) 8:44.0; 4 Heinz Laufer (Germany FRG) 8:44.4; 5 Semyon Rzhishchin (Russia, URS) 8:44.6; 6 John Disley (GBR) 8:44.6.

“I had virus pneumonia six weeks before and Chris Brasher only beat me twice in something like 50 races we had together. I was just not fit actually. I was quite lucky to get to the final. Even if I had won in Melbourne, which would have been nice to do, at the back of my mind—and it could be at the back of Chris Brashers’ mind too-is that the best steeplechaser in the World at that particular time was the Hungarian Roznyoi”

I talked to John Disley, at length in 1979 and, realised, in his 50’s he found life exciting and, liked to present himself with  ‘Challenges’ as he said  “Life for me is all about Challenges”

Looking back how true that was, as he was a successful mountaineer, setting a record for the ‘Three Peaks’ in Snowdonia; He was one of the pioneers for Orienteering in the UK, something he loved doing.
It was in 1979 he came fourth in the National Over 50’ Veterans cross country Championship at Parliament Hill. He was Vice Chairman of the UK Sports Council in 1974 to 1982 and one should not forget the likeable man was the first British runner to break 9 minutes for a steeplechase.

Alastair Aitken

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