Published: 05:00, 05 November 2021
| Updated: 09:24, 08 November 2021
Legendary race walker Paul Nihill has been inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.
Paul died in December 2020 but left behind a collection of medals and memories that told of a man who was one of the all-time greats of race walking, having competed at four consecutive Olympic Games. He was the first British male track and field athlete to compete in four Olympics.
He had lived with dementia in his later years and was a resident at Amherst Court, a specialist care home in Chatham. During a golden age for the sport he was among the best there was and came just 19 seconds off the winner at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, taking a silver medal behind Italy’s Abdon Pamich in the gruelling 50km race.
He went on to compete at the 1968 Games in Mexico and again in Munich four years later. His best time over the distance was 4hr11min31sec.
Paul competed in the 20km race in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal before retiring the following year, having become a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his services in athletics.
He had been a European champion in the 20km event in 1969, competing in Athens, and won a bronze medal in 1971 in Helsinki. In 1972 he set a world 20km record of 1:24.50 on the Isle of Man and was a multiple British champion, claiming 27 AAA titles as well as many more Race Walking Association honours between 1963 and 1975.
Born in Colchester, he went on to live in Kent and was grandfather to local footballer Rob Denness.
Rob has always been inspired by his grandfather and the medals he collected, saying previously: “He has helped me, as a person, massively in my life.”
Paul fell ill with coronavirus last year and died in December at the age of 81.
Rob collected the Hall of Fame award on his behalf, alongside his family. Rob had been pushing for his grandfather to be inducted for more than three years whilst Paul was in his care home and it was the final award that Paul wanted to achieve.
Rob said: “Paul would have been so proud to be in the room with so many successful athletes, but proud his legacy is still continuing whilst watching from the skies.”
Also inducted into the Hall of Fame were the likes of Greg Rutherford, Cherry Alexander OBE, Tony Jarrett, Jason Gardener MBE and David Weir CBE, who was awarded Athlete of the Decade.
Rob will be continuing his legacy and also supporting the Laurence Plummer Foundation, a charity set up in memory of the Hollands & Blair Football Club stalwart, known to most as ‘Plum’.
The charity aims to help disadvantaged young people get in to sport and to offer resources, support and opportunities to the underprivileged youth in the community. ‘Plum’ also died after battling coronavirus.
Last year Rob completed a 50km walk with his fiancee Scarlett and family.
He said: “We decided to raise money for my grandad and his care home after the traumatic year they had not having visitors. We raised £2.5k to buy them Christmas presents.
“Sadly, during our training, grandad caught Covid so could not be at the finish line to see us come in. The day after the challenge my mum was informed that he was going to die. Due to Covid rules I was unable to say goodbye in person but over the phone.
“What a true legend he was, fighting Covid on the day of our race to be with us in spirit so that we could finish the 50km walk. This time round I will attempt to run it.”