Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Derek Ibbotson (My Obit, March 2017)

George Derek Ibbotson MBE was born on June 17th 1932, in Huddersfield, West Riding, and Yorkshire and died 23rd of February 2017.
He attended King James Grammar School, Almondbury and did his National Service in the RAF.
Derek Ibbotson’s first wife, Madeline (The Women’s National cross-country Champion in 1963&1964) was at the White City Stadium, with the crowds of athletics fans, to see Derek break the World Mile record on the famous cinder track in 1957. The roar of the White City crowd was something else noise-wise and, outside of certain Olympic Finals, could not be matched at any time. 40,000 people shouted Ibbotson on, in his World record run in 1957.

When I look back through the years, since the 1940’s and, of the 100’s of athletics interviews I have done, I would say Derek Ibbotson ‘Ibbo’  was one of the ‘Greatest characters’ in the sport that I have known. When he was competing, one of the National papers dubbed him as the ‘Cheeky Chappie of athletics’ He always had a glint in his eye and could often make girls heads turn with his wry, Yorkshire sense of humour. He would talk to anyone of any athletic standard.

There were so many races where Ibbotson achieved good results.
He beat two ‘Great’ Hungarians, coached by Mihaly Igloi; Lazlo Tabori and Sandor Iharos over the 1500 in 3:49.2, at the White City in 1956. In 1959 he beat two very good East Germans Hans Grodotzki and Siegfried Valentin in the Whitson British Games over 2 miles. He obtained a bronze medal in the Olympic Games in 1956 in 13:54.4 behind Vladimir Kuts (USSR) who achieved an Olympic record of 13.39.6 and Gordon Pirie of GB, who did 13:50.6. Derek did think he made a bit of a mistake sticking to Pirie, who did not run, as he usually did, challenging for gold straight away.
Pirie ran conservatively and Derek followed him round but, he still achieved the bronze.

A dedicated Longwood Harrier, Derek Ibbotson was AAA’s 3 mile Champion in 1956-57. In 1956 he beat Chris Chataway, when, wearing his RAF vest. They dashed round the last half lap and the race was not, concluded till just before the finishing line. A really thrilling spectacle.
Derek was also handy at cross-country running and, when he was down South, he ran some races for South London Harriers

It was on the evening of the 19th of July 1957 that Ibbotson lined up for the World Mile record attempt at the White City Stadium. In the field was Ronnie Delany from Eire, the Olympics 1500 Champion, the previous year; Stanislav Jugwirth (Czech) who had recently set new world figures for the 1500, Ken Wood (GB); Mike Blagrove (GB); Stefan Lewandowski (Poland) and Alan Gordon (GB). A really loaded field. The net result was that for the first time four people, in one race broke 4 minutes. Mike Blagrove, the Ealing runner, set a furious pace at the start, taking the field through in 55.3 and was still leading with 1.55.8 at the 880 mark. On the third lap, Jungwirth decided to go ahead then Derek Ibbotson came alongside him and, went for broke in the last 300 metre and, he won convincingly taking John Landy’s record of 3:57.93 (rounded up 3:58) off the books, with 3:57.2; 2nd Ronnie Delany 3.58.8; 3 Stanislav Jungwirth 3:59.1 and 4th Ken Wood 359.3.

Who inspired Derek?
“Nobody really. I have inspiration from thoughts of breaking World records. I always wanted to become a World record holder, a lot of drive inside me. I have never had a coach. I have admired lots of runners but have never been inspired by them. I have always wanted to become the best in the World’
In 1962 he said to me also “I think money should be paid to some athletes for broken time. Roy Fowler and Brian Hall, running abroad have to lose money and wages which, I think is basically wrong. With me and Gordon Pirie and other people, the amount of training is fantastic, near enough 360 odd days a year. One and a half hours a day, a lot of man hours’
Advice from ’Ibbo’ “The main thing when you are young is not to be worried by reputations and size becasue World Champions come in all shapes and sizes. When you are young you think a big lad is bound to beat you. This may be true when you are 16. 17, or 18 but when you get older there are lots of things that come into it. It’s what you have in the heart and in the mind that counts because, mind can plan a race well, to make up for the lack of physique.”

For the last part of his life Derek, unfortunately, he had dementia and was in a care home but one will never forget Derek Ibbotson’ the Yorshireman, with such charisma and what he gave so much to the sport in his life time on or off the track.

Alastair Aitken

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