HEW NEILSON – CENTURION AND 24 HOUR WORLD RECORD HOLDER
In his early teens, and after a football match, Hew Neilson accepted a challenge from his fellow team mates to walk from Cambridge to London and back. Suffice to say that the successful completion resulted in him joining the Polytechnic Harriers and, at 17 years of age, he represented them in their team for the Surrey Walking Club London to Brighton walk.
At that time, Surrey WC had a strict rule of limiting entries to competitors over 21 years of age. So for four years Hew declared his age as 21, 22, 23 and 24. Then when he reached 21 years of age, he duly returned his age to 21. The story goes that some Surrey WC officials were very miffed at the deception but all was forgiven and Hew continued to take part until the race along the Brighton Road course finished in 1985. It was an association of over 50 years.
Hew was a good track walker, placing third in the A.A.A. 2 Mile Championship in 1939, although his real forte remained the longer distances.
In August 1948 with the War finally behind him and in his thirties, he became Centurion 145 with a fine second place in the Motspur Park 24 Hour track walk. His distance was 103 mls 442 yds. His 100 mile time in transit was 23:03:50.
This started an amazing period of long distance excellence. Through the remaining years of his career, Hew completed the 100 mile distance in the annual Centurions walk on 20 occasions. This stood as the most Centurion finishes of all time (ahead of Fred Baker on 19) until beaten by Sandra Brown in 2006, and included first placings in 1955, 1960 and 1965.
Hew's 1960 Centurion appearance remains on record as the most magnificant 24 hour track walk ever witnessed.
For some time Centurions and other long distance specialists had wanted such a race in order to match themselves against the performances of others over the previous 50 or more years. In order to meet this request a special invitation meeting was arranged by Walton A.C. at their headquarters at Stompond Lane, Walton-on-Thames, on 14-15 October.
The records to be attacked were impressive. The British records were shared between Tom Hammond who in 1908 walked 131 m 580 yds in 24 hours, Tom Richardson who in 1936 had walked 100 miles in 17:35:04 before retiring at 18 hours and Percy Reading who in 1946 had walked 129m 749 y in 24 hours. The world record was held by Henri Caron of France who in 1950 had recorded a distance of 132m 1320 y in 24 hours.
Apart from the long distance specialists, some of the fast men were also invited to attack records up to 4 hours and 50 km. In the shorter event, Don Thompson, the recent winner of the 50 km gold medal at the Rome Olympics, broke his own National records at 20 miles, 3 hours, 25 miles, 4 hours, 30 miles and 50 km.
Hew Neilson had only one thing on his mind, to win the race, especially bearing in mind the quality of the opposition. He had won a road race and had completed more races of 100 miles or over than any other British walker. The only thing he had not done was to win on the track, which is where he made his debut in 1948.
He was aware of the records held by Henri Caron and Tommy Richardson, but treated the beating of them as a bonus if that was what it would take to win the race. At 80 miles he was ahead of Richardson but slightly behind Caron. By 90 miles he was just under 2 minutes in front of Caron, by 100 miles his lead over Caron was almost 29 minutes, adding further weight to the assumption that Caron must have stopped for a while.
Colin Young is the only walker in the race who did not set any records, due no doubt, the presence of Neilson in the same race. Colin's objective, like Neilson, was to win the race, but he had a more pressing task to fulfil first, which was to complete 100 miles in 24 hours and to qualify for Centurionship. He was the only person to qualify from this race and became one of the few Centurions in the Centurion handbook to have a race heading to himself. From a steady start he gradually gained ground on the leaders, and by 50 miles he was in front of the old figures set up by Hammond in 1908, a position he maintained throughout the race. However he remained approx. 1⁄4 mile behind Richardson and the same 2 miles behind Neilson, whom he was gaining on slightly with each lap.
In this race, Colin Young, with his 100 miles safely behind him, kept his momentum to stay ahead of Hammond; and in so doing he was able to unlap himself 3 times from Neilson. It was only in the last 20 minutes or so that he went behind Hammond's figures to finish an annoying 253 yards short of the old record. But in the meantime, Neilson, although slowing slightly, maintained his lead at the front of the race. His lead of 29 minutes over Caron at 100 miles was reduced to 8 minutes at 110 and 120 miles. By 125 miles it had come down to 4.5 minutes and with just over half an hour to go at 130 miles, to 1 min 40 sees. It was beginning to look like he would not capture the 24 hour record, but a last half hour at over 5.25 mph pace, meant that he finished 461 yards ahead of Caron. Success!
In 1962, Hew was elected as Vice Captain of the Centurions. He held this position until 1981 when he ascended to the position of Secretary, a post that he retained until his death in 1986.'
Extract from Tim Erickson report read the full report