George French Ladies One Mile Flat National Championship Cup 1936

By Dr Jane Ainsworth

Photo credit: David Rowan

The Story of the Event

The prevailing attitude to women taking part in athletics in 1922 when the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association was founded was one of deep suspicion, thus the organisation took care to show that it had tested the effect of new events on athletes before allowing them to take place. The mile first appeared on the WAAA programme in 1936, with the first title was won in a world best time of 5:23 by Gladys Lunn who had already won four of her five 800m WAAA titles by then. The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) would not ratify a world record in the mile or 1500m for women until 1967, and the 1500m did not feature on the European programme until 1969 or the Olympic programme until 1972.

British athletes dominated the mile in the 1950s. Anne Oliver’s victory at the age of only 16 in 1952 in 5:11 was a world best time, as was Enid Harding’s the following year. The mark would be lowered by nine seconds the following year by Diane Leather, but the double WAAA title winner had to wait four years for her first championship at this distance. In the meantime, in 1954, Leather enjoyed a spectacular three-week period in which she became the first women to break the five-minute mile, only an hour after setting a UK All-Comers’ record in the 880 yards, and, incidentally, only a 23 days after Roger Bannister had broken the men’s four-minute mile. Leather then set a world record for the 880 yards at the WAAA championships and a British record for the 440 yards in the same season.

In the 1966, Rita Lincoln (later Ridley) won this trophy for the first of five times with a championship record. All those competing in the late 1960s had to contend with Anne Smith who set the first ratified world record for the 1500m in 1967. Mia Gommers of the Netherlands, winner of this trophy in 1969, had lowered the record at the new plastic track at Leicester earlier that summer. Ellen Tittel of West Germany would continue the world record-breaking trend in 1971, before winning this trophy in 1972. One of the most important names on the trophy is Norway’s Grete Andersen in 1974 (mis-spelled by the engravers). Her greatest achievements would come under her married name of Grete Waitz as inaugural world champion in the women’s marathon, an event in which she broke the world record four times. Her impact on women’s distance running, winning the London Marathon twice and New York Marathon on nine occasions, was exceptional.

In the 1980s and 1990s, WAAA champions continued to perform outstandingly, despite the difficulties of facing athletes running for regimes who placed medal success at the expense of their athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing. Chris Benning, champion in 1984, had refused selection for the Olympics in Moscow five years before in protest at the failure to sanction the drug-taking of 1500m athletes. The 1986 champion, Zola Budd, set British records across a number of distances. Chris Boxer (later Cahill), won the first of her AAA titles in 1982, the year she became Commonwealth Champion; Yvonne Murray, medallist at Olympic, World Indoor, World Cup, European Championships, European Indoor Championships and three Commonwealth Games, culminating in Gold in the 10 000m at the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games appears on this trophy twice as the winner of the WAAA Championship, once in 1992 and again in 1995. In between these dates is Kelly Holmes, who took this trophy in 1994 and would go on to be 2004 double Olympic champion in the Games in Athens, winning both the 800m and 1500m title. Seven years later, one of the first graduates of Holmes’ ‘On Camp with Kelly’ training group took World Championship silver –Hannah England, champion in 2013 and 2017.

The Donor

George French was a supporter of WAAA in the late 1930s, presenting not only this trophy for the winner of the individual mile, but also the George French Points Trophy for senior championship events, with points awarded to clubs for athletes finishing in the top 5 places.  The first winners in 1937 were Mitcham AC.  French was named as a patron of the WAAA in 1937, presenting ‘his’ trophies and other medals at the championships.

History of the Trophy

WAAA champions in the mile were presented with this trophy between 1936-1968, and for the 1500m between 1969-1995.  Since 2010 the trophy has been presented to the winner of the England Senior Championships 1500m.

Previous Winners*

1936. G. LUNN1951. H. NEEDHAM.1960. R.S. ASHBY
1937. G. LUNN1952. A. OLIVER.1961. R. ASHBY.
1938. D. HARRIS1953. E. HARDING.1962. J. BERETTA.
1939. E. FORSTER1954. P. GREEN.1963. P. DAVIES.
1946. B.E. HARRIS1955. P. PERKINS.1964. A. LEGGETT.
1947. N. BATSON.1956. D. LEATHER.1965. J. SMITH.
1948. N BATSON.1957. D. LEATHER.1966. R. LINCOLN.
1949. E.D. GARRITT1958. M. SMITH.1967. R. LINCOLN.
1950. M.J. HEATH1959. J. BRIGGS1968. R. LINCOLN.
1970. R. RIDLEY.Reallocated to 1500m1988. C. CAHILL.
1972. E. TITTEL1980 G. DAINTY1990. C. CAHILL.
1973. J. ALLISON1981 G. DAINTY1991. A. WILLIAM.
1974. G. ANDERSON1982 C. BOXER1992. Y. MURRAY.
1975. M. STEWART1983 (S. BAILEY)*1993. A. WYETH
1976. P. YULE1984 C. BENNING1994. K. HOLMES
1977 P. YULE1985 J.A. LAUGHTON1995. Y. MURRAY
 1986. Z. BUDD 
2010 S. stockton2013 h. england2016 j. judd
2011 c. taylor2014 L. weightman2017 h. england
2012 k. avery2015 g. kersey2018 J. judd
  2019 D. Hodgkinson

*N.B. Names are as recorded on the trophy and are not always as recorded elsewhere.  The 1971 and 1983 winners are not recorded on the trophy and thus appear bracketed with asterisks here.