Women’s Amateur Athletic Association Championship

Perpetual Challenge Trophy Presented by the News of the World for 880 Yards Walk

By Dr Jane Anisworth

The Story of the Event

The Women’s Amateur Athletic Association track walk did indeed, as the trophy states, start out as an 880yard event at the first WAAA Championships in the 1923. The distances have fluctuated throughout the history of the event, with a general trajectory towards longer distance walks. These fluctuations are partly due to the switch from imperial to metric, and partly due to the easing off of rules preventing women competing at distance events for fear of the damage it would cause them.

The distances competed over at the WAAA Championships are as follows:

1923-1927: 880 yards
1928-1932: 1 mile
1933-1939: 1600m
1945: 1 mile
1946-1951: 1600m
1952-1958: 1 mile 
1959-1968: 1.5 miles 
1969-1972: 2500m  
1973-1974: 3000m
1975-2014: 5000m
2015-date: 3000m

Athletics trophy, silver cup with curved handles. Engraved with the words Women's Amateur Athletic Association Championship Perpetual Challenge Trophy Presented by the News of the World
Photo credit: David Rowan

Track walking is an event which has been dominated by British athletes at the WAAA championship, with very few overseas winners prevailing. Sue Cook from Australia is one of those, in 1982 she won the 5000m track walk at the WAAA Championships, as well as holding world records in both the 10km and 20km distances. In 1983 Canadian athlete Ann Peel, twice winner of the Pan-American title, won the WAAA title too. 

It is evident that the inclusion of track walking in the WAAA championships from the 1920s was a trailblazer for international sport. It was not until 1992 that any walk discipline was included in the Olympic programme, with the 10km being contested at the Barcelona Games, although separate international world cups had been held for some years previously.

In 1934, Jeanne Probekk set a world best time for the 1600m Walk at the WAAA championships of 7:38. In the post-war years, the event was dominated by two names, Joyce Heath and Judy Farr. Heath completed an unusual double in 1950, rendered more extraordinary for taking place on the same day. She completed the 1600m walk in 8:17 – albeit 39 seconds slower than Probekk’s record – and then took the mile run an hour later. Farr’s record of ten titles, nine in consecutive years, is yet to be beaten by any athlete at the championships. Her first coming in 1960 at the age of 18 and under her maiden name, Woodsford, and her last with a championship record in 1970. 

More recently, four athletes have shown signs of similar domination; Betty Sworowski with four consecutive victories, and Jo Jackson, Bethan Davies and Erika Kelly with three apiece. Lisa Langford, whose name appears twice on this trophy won bronze at the 1990 and 1998 Commonwealth Games, before going one better with a Commonwealth silver medal in 2002. Jackson celebrated the first of her three titles in 2010 by becoming Commonwealth champion. Davies became Commonwealth bronze medallist in 2018.

The Donor

The News of the World newspaper, now defunct, was, “one of the sport’s great benefactors,” according to WAAA historian, Mel Watman. They played an important role in promoting the International Women’s Games held at Stamford Bridge in 1924, to the extent that audience attendance was 25,000. The Games, the first organised international athletics meeting for women, had initially been held in Monte Carlo, where the donor of the women’s discus trophy, British athlete Sophie Eliot-Lynn, competed in three events and her team-mate, Mary Lines won 5 events. Returning from Monte Carlo, these British athletes established the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association in 1923, which became the governing body for women’s athletics in England until the 1990s. Support in the press from newspapers such as The News of the World helped the Association to flourish in the face of many who did not believe athletics was suitable for women. Nearly 30 years after sponsoring this trophy for the women’s race the News of the World introduced the Emsley Carr Mile trophy for men.

History of the Trophy

WAAA champions in the track walk received this trophy from 1925 until 1995, although the event had been held at the first two championships.

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

Previous Winners*

 1951    J. Heath1973 B. Jenkins 
1925 F.B. Faulkner1952 B.E.M. Day1974 M. Fawkes 
1926 D.E. Crossley1953 B. Randle1975 V.C. Lovell 
1927 M.F. Hegarty1954 B.E.M. Randle1976 M. Fawkes 
1928 L.L. Howes1955 B. Randle1977 M. Fawkes 
1929 L.L. Howes1956 D. Williams1978 C.J. Tyson 
1930 C.M. Mason1957G. Williams1979 M. Fawkes 
1931 C.M. Mason1958 (B. Franklin)*1980 I.L. Bateman 
1932 C.M. Mason1959 B. Franklin1981 (C. Tyson)* 
1933 D.L. J. Probekk1960 J. Woodsford1982 S. Cook 
1934          J. Probbekk1961 S. Jennings1983 (A. Peel)* 
1935 J. Howes1962 J. Farr1984 J. Barrett 
1936 J. Howes1963 J. Farr1985 V.C. Birch 
1937 F. Pengelly1964 J. Farr1986 H. Elleker 
1938 E.M. Webb1965 J. Farr1987 L. Langford 
1939 F. Pengelly1966 J. Farr1988 B. Sworowski 
1945 (D. Riddington)*1967 J. Farr1989 B. Sworowski 
1946 D. Mann1968 J. Farr1990 B. Sworowski 
1947 D. Riddington1969 J. Farr1991 B. Sworowski 
1948 M.J. Heath1970 J. Farr1992 V. Lupton 
1949 M.J. Heath1971 B. Cook1993 V. Lupton 
1950 M.J. Heath1972 B. Jenkins1994 V. Snook 
  1995 (L. Langford)* 
2010 J. Jackson2013 B. Davies2016 B. Davies
2011 J. Jackson2014 B. Davies2017 E. Kelly
2012 J. Jackson2015 B. Davies2018 E. Kelly
  2019 E. Kelly

*N.B. Names are as recorded on the trophy and are not always as recorded elsewhere. 

Names which appear in brackets have not been recorded on the trophy but are in the records.