Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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Basil Heatley the ‘Great’ Coventry Godiva runner (August 2019)

Basil Heatley’s athletic success has been almost forgotten by many people but, few British distance men could claim the type of success that he had, over a space of 15 years or so.
Basil was born 21/12/33 and lived to 3/8/19. He was a self-coached athlete, who won the National cross country senior championships in 1960, 61 and ’63 and the International (Fore runner of the World cross. He won that from 1964 Olympic steeplechase Champion, Gaston Roelants & Martin Hyman) in 1961, the year he ran to a World 10 mile track record of 47:47.0 at Hurlingham. He achieved a World Marathon Best of 2:13.55 in the Windsor to Chiswick Poly Marathon on the 13th of June 1964; and a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympic Games on the 21st of October 1964. First Six- 1 Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 2:12.11.2(WB); 2 Bail Heatley 2:16.19.2; 3 Kokichi Tsuburaya (Japan) 2:16.22.8; 4 Brian Kilby the 1962 Commonwealth & European Champion (GB) 2:17.02; 5 Jozef Sutoe (Hungary) 2:17.55.8; 6 Leonard Buddy Edelen (USA) 2:18.12.4.

It was on the 9th of December 1961 Bail Heatley got marred to his wife Gill. In that Olympic year of 1964 Gill had twins to go with a young daughter they already had and, before one more daughter to make it four so, often Bas had broken nights of sleep as they needed attention. However, Basil followed his normal training pattern of 100 to 125 miles a week which included intervals. It was amazing to think his shoes then had crape soles.They were Tiger Cubs, which he wore for road racing. Crape and very thin rubber soles and, canvas sides to them but, at least they were nice and light but did not compare with the modern running shoes and, looking further back when he finished his National service, he came out with several pairs of Army plimsolls to run in which, these days runners would baulk at, if they were asked to run across the street in them! He got the cobblers to customise some other shoes so he could wear for training in.
Basil stressed “At home before the Olympics I did have broken sleep with three of four daughters born and absolutely no mod cons. It was very difficult for both of us”

There is so much one can say about Bas but at least his account of the Olympic marathon that he obtained a silver in is one thing that should definitely not be left out.

The Tokyo Olympic marathon came on the 21st of October 1964 “It was very humid so none of us warmed up much. I fully believed Brian (Kilby also Coventry Godiva) would be there about's at the finish. His pedigree said nobody would run away from him. He was perspiring before the start and I had a stitch so, I had to start quite slow’
‘When we made the turn I was already 2½ minutes behind Bikila (At the 25000m point the order was 1 Bikila 1:16.40; Jim Hogan (The European Champion of 1966) 1:16.50; Ron Clarke 1:18.02; Tsuburaya, Joszef Sutoe; Mamo Wolde 1:18.44; kenji Kimihara 1:19.21; Billy Mills 1:19.25; Brian Kilby & Basil Heatley 1:19.35)
Basil continues ‘We made the turn and, Brian was running with me. I was quite despondent and then, we were either overtaking jogging runners or one’s’ who were sitting by the roadside at 18 miles. If you are sitting by the road side at 18 miles somehow, you have got it wrong. Ron Clarke, of course, could be excused as he was more of a novice at the marathon than I was at the event. Brian and I were gradually pulling everybody back. There was a Japanese & Hungarian vest ahead of us. I knew Sutoe, as he was a good 10k runner but I knew he was not better than me at the distance. I focused on those two which took me away from Brian and I could see the worst scenario unfolding, with Japan have looked at the only medal they would gain on home soil and, I was looking like I was going to catch  their only medal hope of the Games. I caught Tsuburaya in the stadium near the finish. Coming through in the marathon like that works for you or it doesn’t and it was a help to have the experience of training and racing for fifteen years.”

‘I never call myself a marathon runner’ that was what Basil Heatley said to me, even though he had achieved an Olympic silver medal. ‘I felt really at home doing cross-country rather than the road or track I was temperamentally suited more to being a Winter runner than a Summer racer, I think had there been half marathon races in existence when I was running well, that would have been my best road distance.’

Again having said that, I would like to point out about some of his races he did on the track. He won the Midland 3 miles in 13:45.6, 6 miles in 28:16.4 and the 10 miles in 50:30.8. That was a hat trick in 1961, He ran in international matches, even over 5k, and in London in 1963 he ran 28:55.8 on cinders, winning a 10k at the White City with Mel Batty second. That meant that he was the fifth fastest in the World that year! He was 2nd to Brian Kilby (2:16.45) in 2:19.56 in the AAA’s marathon Championships. When he broke the World record with 2:13.55 in 1964, he did not believe it till he read about it in the paper the next day. Ron Hill was 2nd in that in 2:14.12 and, of course, went on in 1970 to set things alight with a 2:9.28 marathon in the Commonwealth in Edinburgh.

Basil remembers finishing behind the brilliant cross-country runner Frank Sando, Alain Mimoun and Ken Norris but he matured and became just as great a runner. To begin with he did love seeing Gordon Pirie and Jim Peters in the famous London to Brighton road relay and locally Jack Holden.
There were injuries that he suffered, particularly with his Achilles tendon in 1962 and like all athletes in their careers injuries come and that, would explain why he did not always manage to keep his high standard up at top level but his sum total of good results was, without doubt, exceptional.
He recalls his start in 1950 when he joined Coventry Godiva club. It was after running in a novices race which he won that they spotted his talent very quickly and singed him up.
He pointed out that when he was running well Coventry Godiva had 4 runners who could average 2:15 for the marathon which, at the time, would beat a combined team from the rest of the World!”


PS I was at the 1963 National Bas won, in the mud at t Coldhams Common, Cambridge and I want to show How really the Best distance runners in the UK all turned up for the race. All 8 were familiar names. 1. Bas Heatley (50:25); , 2 Roy Fowler(50:35); Eddie Strong (50:44); 4Tim Briault; (50:56) 5 Tim Johnston (51:03); 6 Brian Craig (51.22) 7 Mike Bullivant (51:28); 8 Mike Turner (51:32); 9 Alan Simpson; 10 Don Taylor; 11 Juan Taylor; 12 Gerry North; 13Mike Price; 14 Mel Batty; 15 Ron Hill; 16 John Hillen; 16 Brian Kilby; 18 Maurice Herriott; 19 Harry Clayton.

Something else worth noting that Brian Kilby told me he was in a car accident, not very many days before the Olympic Games marathon in Tokyo and it was only on the day before he came 4th that a  bit of glass was  taken out of his eye. He was another ‘Great Coventry Godiva runner, who won the 1962 European & Commonwealth marathon.


Alastair Aitken

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