British Weight Lifting - A Brief History
Weightlifting in Great Britain became an organised sport from the 1850’s onwards, controlled by the Amateur Gymnastic Association, Amateur Athletic Association and the Wrestling Society. It was not until 1910 that the British Amateur Weight Lifters’ Association (BAWLA) was formed for the express purpose of bringing all amateur weightlifters into a united self governing body. Oddly for the first year of its organisation the Association was referred to as now (BWLA) the British Weight Lifters’ Association because at that time it included professional members.
Prior to the formation of the BAWLA, Great Britain had staged its first British Championships in 1891, followed by the first World Weightlifting Championships staged in London in the same year. Weightlifting was included in the first modern Olympic Games of 1896 and the first Olympic Champion was the British weightlifter, Launceston Elliott.
The first General Secretary of the BAWLA was A. B Gunnel, but the most prominent figure in the early history of BAWLA was W. A. Pullum who was one of the first Technical Official’s in Great Britain and the first British lifter to achieve a double bodyweight overhead lift, in the two hands anyhow technique. W A Pullum was coach for the 1924 and 1948 Olympic Games and coached many top class lifters who were successful at these Games.
The earliest reported funding provided for weightlifting was for the preparation of the 1924 Olympic Games in which Alf Baxter placed seventh coached by W A Pullum. The British Olympic Council also provided funds to develop the BAWLA and bring together the warring factions within the Association.
During the 1930’s, British success was represented by Ron Walker who won the European Championships in 1935 and snatched a World Record of 297.5 imperial pounds (135 kilogrammes). Whilst Ron Walker had great prospects his potential was never reached because unknown until his death in 1948 he was suffering from cancer.
After the Second World War, Oscar State became the General Secretary of the BAWLA, he had attended the Carnegie Physical College in Leeds and was instrumental in developing the BWLA Coaching Scheme. It was due to his efforts that the Association appointed its first full-time National Coach Al Murray who was followed by John Lear, currently our President.
Oscar went on to become a prominient international figure and in 1960 became the General Secretary of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) with Dave Harfield serving as Assistant Secretary 1960 – 1962, unfortunately Dave had to relinquish the position due to inability to get time off work; his place was taken by W Holland who was self employed. Oscar introduced many innovative ideas; referee panel, ranking lists and junior records and was awarded the Order of the British Empire medal (OBE) for services to sport.
After the 1948 Olympic Games Oscar State was followed by Fred Taylor as General Secretary of the BAWLA to be followed, in turn by H (Bob) C Frankin-Crate. After sadly losing Bob due to ill health, Wally Holland became General Secretary in 1965 and continued in office until obliged to stand down because of ill-health in 1999. Dave Harfield who joined the governing body of the BWLA in 1952 became Treasurer in 1954 and Assistant Secretary in 1965 and served in this joint capacity until his retirement in 2002, a milestone of fifty years continuous service. An officer of the UK Sport stated “In the nearly 30 years I worked for the Sports Council and UK Sport I can honestly say that I have come across few, if any, individuals who have contributed so much in a voluntary capacity to their sport as David Harfield. In addition he is a thoroughly decent and modest man who has sought no accolades for his contribution.”
Wally Holland in addition to his duties as General Secretary of BAWLA was also well known throughout the international world of weightlifting. He held many positions in the International Weightlifting Federation and most noticeably as President of the European Weightlifting Federation from 1987 – 1999.
At the 1948 Olympic Games, Julian Creus won the silver medal and Jim Halliday won the bronze medal. Great Britain won third place in the team event.
In the 1950’s, the sport of weightlifting was included in the British Empire Games, later to be known as the Commonwealth Games. The first two Games included Jim Halliday and Benny Helfgott who had survived the Second War World from being a Japanese Prisoner of War and Concentration Camp survivor respectively. Jim Halliday won gold medals at the 1950 and 1954 Games and Benny Helfgott won bronze at the 1954 Games.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s the Great Britain weightlifting team included many great lifters who arrived into the country from the West Indies. The greatest British lifter of all times was Louis Martin, who won the World Championships four times, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965 and held World records. Louis competed in three Olympic Games, 1960, 1964 and 1968 and won silver medal and bronze medal, and competed in three Commonwealth Games winning gold medal on each occasion. Other great lifters of this era were George Newton, George Manners and Sylvanus Blackman who all competed in the Commonwealth Games throughout the 1960’s and won the British Empire and Commonwealth Games medals. In the 1966 Commonwealth Games, Precious McKenzie made his debut and won gold medal for England. Precious was a popular sportsman and his success continued with gold medals in the 1970, 1974 and 1978 Commonwealth Games.
Achievements for Great Britain in the 1980’s came from a very successful Commonwealth Games in 1982, where Geoff Laws, Dean Willey, Dave Morgan, Steve Pinsent, Newton Burrowes, and John Burns all won gold medals and Peter Pinsent and Gary Langford won silver medals. In the 1980’s, Great Britain interests were represented by Dave Morgan, Andrew Davies, Dean Willey and Dave Mercer. Dave Morgan the most outstanding lifter of the of this era competed in six Commonwealth Games and won five Championship titles and one silver medal. At the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988 he placed fourth. Dave Mercer competed in the 1984 Olympic Games and won the bronze medal, the last Olympic Games medal for Great Britain. Andrew Davies achieved success at the World Senior Championships in 1991 with a silver medal at 110 kilo category. Both Andrew Davies and Dean Willey won Commonwealth Games titles.
In 1987, the first Women Championships were introduced and for the first decade Great Britain had tremendous success. Britain’s best woman lifter was Myrthe Augee who won five gold medals, including a gold medal at European Championships and silver medal at the World Championships. Other successful lifters of this era, were Jeanette Rose, Pauline Haughton, Judith Oakes and Marie Forteath who contributed to the medal haul. Our only outstanding lifter in the second decade of Women’s lifting has been Michaela Breeze who won the gold medal at the 1999 European Junior Championships, and gold and silver medals in the 2006 and 2002 Commonwealth Games respectively. Michaela has been the only British woman representative at two Olympic Games.
In the 1990’s, Great Britain had another great success at the 1990 Commonwealth Games with gold medals from Dave Morgan, Duncan Dawkins, Andrew Saxton, Mark Thomas and Andrew Davies. Silver medals were achieved by Alan Ogilvie, Keith Boxell, Peter May and Jonathan Roberts and bronze medals from Mark Roach and Aled Arnold. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the standard of lifting within Great Britain in the last decade, but notable performances have been achieved in Commonwealth Games by Leon Griffin, Stephen Ward, Andrew Callard, Tommy Yule and Giles Greenwood in 1998; and Delroy McQueen, Anthony Arthur, David Guest, Giles Greenwood and Stewart Cruikshank in 2002.
Until 2004, Great Britain controlled weightlifting activities in all regions of the United Kingdom including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In the past, Wales produced many great Champions who were members of the Great Britain team at Olympic Games, World and European Championships. Such great lifters were David Morgan (five times Commonwealth Champion from 1982 – 2002), Ieuan Owen (the winner of four Commonwealth Games medals), John Burns, Terry Purdue, Peter Arthur, Ken Price, Jeff Bryce, Gary Taylor and Tony Morgan who all became Olympians. Myrddin John, now Chairman of the Welsh Weightlifting Federation, was General Secretary for many years, became a member of the International Weightlifting Federation committee in 1988, and member of the European Weightlifting Federation Executive Board in 1999.
Scotland greatest lifter was Phil Caira who won gold medals in the 1958 and 1962 Commonwealth Games and represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 1956 and 1960. Other Scottish lifters who won medals at Commonwealth Games and represented Great Britain at World and European Championships were John McNiven, Jack Hynd, Charles Revolta and Alan Ogilvie.
World Junior and European Senior / Junior Championships were organised in the Scotland and Wales under the leadership of Ian Thomson and Myrddin John. Ian Thomson, Secretary of the Scottish Association became member of the EWF Technical Committee shortly before his death in 1995.