Mel Watman and the late Sir Ludwig Guttmann have both been conferred the highest honour that the country bestows on its contributors to athletics. They joined seven other names inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame (EAHF) in a ceremony at the NEC Birmingham last month.
The EAHF was launched in 2008 and has now honoured 62 people who have made an outstanding contribution to the sport. The only previous Jewish honouree was Harold Abrahams in 2009.
Disabled sport pioneer Ludwig Guttmann, a distinguished Jewish neurosurgeon, came to England in 1939 on fleeing from Nazi Germany. At Stoke Mandeville Hospital he revolutionised the treatment of patients with spinal injuries through his belief that sport was a vital component of physical, psychological and social rehabilitation. He instituted the Stoke Mandeville International Games in 1952, which went on to become the Paralympic Games. In 1961 Guttmann founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled and he was knighted in 1966. He died in 1980 aged 80.
Professor Guttmann’s vision has led to today’s thriving sport, with 4,302 sportsmen and women from 164 countries participating in the 2012 Paralympics. Guttman’s daughter, Eva Loeffler, was appointed Mayor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games athletes’ village, and appropriately she was presented with her father’s award at the ceremony.
Athletics journalist Mel Watman, who was featured in these pages last year as a ‘JC Legend’, has been writing on the sport for 60 years. Already contributing articles to Athletics Weekly while still a schoolboy in 1954, he became its editor in 1968, fulfilling his lifelong ambition. He saved up two weeks’ leave from his RAF national service to report on the 1960 Rome Olympics, and has reported on every Olympics since.
He has produced more than 30 books, including The All-Time Greats of British Athletics and five editions of the Encyclopaedia of Athletics. His colleagues recognised his exceptional achievements by electing him as Honorary President of the British Athletics Writers’ Association. His induction into the Hall of Fame is further recognition of his status as the country’s outstanding athletics writer and historian over the last 50 years.
He was presented with his award by the 1964 Olympic heroes Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer-Brightwell.
Watman said: "It is still hard to believe that I have been chosen to join a group of people who include so many of my heroes."