Woman’s Amateur Athletic Association Discus Championship

Presented by Sophie C Eliott-Lynn

By Dr Jane Ainsworth

Story of the Event

Without the donor of this trophy, Sophie Eliott-Lynn, or the first winner, Florence Birchenough, women’s athletics in Britain may have developed in a very different fashion. The Women’s Amateur Athletic Association was established in late 1922, after an unofficial England Team drawn from the Regent Street Polytechnic, competed at the Women’s World Games in Monte Carlo.

With no governing body for women’s athletics in England, and with the Amateur Athletic Association reluctant to admit females, members of that first unofficial England team, Mary Lines, the outstanding sprinter of the day and Florence Birchenough, discus champion, Major Marchant and Joe Palmer who had managed the team at the Monte Carlo Games, and Teddy Knowles, Harry Wadmore, and Charles Churchill formed the WAAA. They would be helped in those early years by two pioneering coaches, Captain Webster, author of Athletics of Today for Women, and Sam Mussabini, now famous from his portrayal in the film Chariots of Fire.

Photo credit: David Rowan

The prevailing opinion of the early part of the twentieth century was that athletics was unsuitable for women as it put too much strain on them, and emphasis was placed on the suitability of events for women’s wellbeing. Discus and shot were initially contested from an aggregate of throws with the left and right hands, in order to prevent one side of the body becoming overdeveloped. Reports from the time note that some officials were reluctant to judge this discipline on a wet day when the competitors were using their ‘wrong’ hand.

Two throwers dominated this event in the mid-twentieth century. Suzanne Farmer (later Allday) won six WAAA discus titles between 1952 and 1961. Rosemary Payne won this trophy five times between 1966 and 1973. She won gold in discus representing Scotland at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, alongside husband Howard Payne who won gold in the hammer at the same Games. Payne continued to compete well into her 80s on the masters tour.

More recently Jade Lally, who has won this trophy on four occasions since it has been awarded at England Athletics senior championships took a Commonwealth bronze medal in 2014 in Glasgow.

The Donor

The autograph on this trophy’s inscription gives a hint of the fame of its donor, Sophie Eliott-Lynn, also known as Lady Mary Heath; a celebrated athlete and aviator, Eliott-Lynn set an altitude record for both women and men in a two seater plan, she flew single-handedly from Cape Town to Cairo, by her own admission using her knees to steer while applying her make-up before landing, and was a motor cycle despatch rider during World War I, riding a Harley Davidson. For all her flamboyance, Eliot-Lynn’s achievements were based on hard work, evident from her postgraduate research in Biology at Aberdeen and her published poetry.

Sophie Eliot-Lynn’s contribution to the emergence of women’s athletics should not be underestimated.  She was a founding member of the WAAA, serving as honorary secretary and treasurer, while competing for clubs including the Kensington Athletic Club and Middlesex Ladies with remarkable success. In 1923 she set a world record of 1.485m in the high jump, won the first WAAA javelin championship, and competed in the 100 hurdles, shot putt, and javelin in the first international competition for women in Monte Carlo. She would also become WAAA champion in the high jump.  In 1925 her academic training came to the fore when she presented a paper to the Medical Sub-Committee of the Olympic Congress in Prague; the fact that she had to reassure them that athletics would not hinder a woman’s “sacred duty” of childbirth shows the difficulties faced by women athletes in the 1920s and 30s. Her paper was published as a BBC broadcast, it was also incorporated into Eliott-Lynn’s book Athletics for Women and Girls 1925, with an introduction by Lord Desborough, later president of the AAA.

History of the Trophy

WAAA champions in the discus received this trophy from 1925 until 1995. 1925 was the first year that the WAAA Championships were held in one location, prior to this some track events had been held at other meetings and the winners were considered AAA champions. 

Since 2010 the trophy has been presented to the winner of the English Senior Championships Discus.

Previous Winners*

 1951 B. Shergold1973 R. Payne
1925 F. Birchenough1952 S. Farmer1974 J. Haist
1926 F. Birchenough1953 S. Farmer1975 M. Ritchie
1927 F. Birchenough1954 M. Giri1976 J. Thompson
1928 M. Weston1955 M. Giri1979 J. Thompson
1929 M. Weston1957 S. Needham1980 L. Mallin
1930 L. Fawcett1958 S. Allday1981 M. Ritchie
1931 I. Phillips1959 S. Allday1982 J. Picton
1932 A. Holland1960 S. Allday1983 L. Whiteley
1933 A. Holland1961 S. Allday1984 L. Whiteley
1934 I. Phillips1962 L. Boling1985 J. Avis
1935 A. Holland1963 L. Manoliu1986 K. Farr
1936 I. Phillips1964 K. Limberg1987 E. Mulvihill
1937 I. Phillips1965 E. Ricci1988 J. McKernan
1938 B. Reid1966 R. Payne1989 J. Picton
1939 B. Reid1967 R. Payne1990 L.M. Vizaniari
1946 M. Lasbrey1968 K. Illgen-germany1991 J. McKernan
1947 M. Lucas1969 L. Manoliu1992 J. McKernan
1948 B. Reid1970 R. Payne1993 D. Costian
1949 B. Reid1971 L. Westerman1994 J. McKernan
1950 J.M. Smith1972 R. Payne 
   
2010 S. Henton2013 J. Lally2016 A. Holder
2011 J. Nicholls2014 E. Francis2017 A. Holder
2012 J. Nicholls2015 P. Dowson2018 J. Lally
  2019 A. Holder