Drawing: Blanka Vlasic

Blanka Vlasic

Six foot four Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic is one of high jump’s most charismatic characters. Named after the city of Casablanca, where her father, Josko (also her coach), won the decathlon gold in the 1983 Mediterranean Games around the time of her birth, Blanka is second in the all time high jump rankings behind the Bulgarian great Stefka Kostadinova.

Unfortunately, illness and injuries have plagued her career, but in spite of this she has fashioned an impressive record since competing in her first Olympic Games in Sydney (2000) at the age of 16. She has won gold twice at both the World and the World Indoor Championships and narrowly missed the Olympic title in Beijin, winning the silver. In 2010 she was named IAAF World Athlete of the Year. She missed the London Olympics in 2012 due to complications after an achilles tendon operation, but is now back competing, beginning with the Gothenburg Meet last Saturday. Blanka signed my sketch at her home club in Split in September 2012.


Caricature: Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister

The mile – 1760 yards, 1609.344 metres in metric – is athletic’s blue ribbon event.

At a meet between British AAA and Oxford University on the 6th of May 1954, at Oxford’s Iffley Road Track, Roger Bannister became immortalised.

Once thought impossible, the four minute mile barrier was broken for the first time. When the ground announcer, Norris McWhirter (who would co-publish and co-edit The Guinness  Book of Records) declared “the time was three…” the roar of the 3000 spectators drowned out the details of Bannister’s feat… 3 mins 59.4 seconds.

The early months of 1954 were an intense period of attempts on the sub-four minute mile record, with two athletes getting close. American Wes Santee recorded a 4.02.4 and Australia’s John Landy a 4.02.0 .

Bannister’s record only lasted a short while. His great rival Landy ran 3.57.9 in Finland 46 days later. However, at the 1954 British and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, both men lined up in what was called ‘The Miracle Mile’. After leading for most of the race, Landy was overtaken on the final bend by Bannister, who went on to win the gold in a time of 3.58.8.

The mythical four minute mark has been lowered by almost 17 seconds over the last 50 years. New Zealand’s John Walker was the first man to run 100 sub-four minute miles, finishing with 135 at the end of his career. American Steve Scott broke the four-minute barrier 136 times.

The current world record, held by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, running a time of 3.43.13 in Rome in 1999.

In the late 1990’s I interviewed Lord Jeffrey Archer at his London penthouse. He showed me the actual official stopwatch that was used to time Bannister’s historical feat. In 2011 he donated the watch for a charity auction fetching £97,250 for the Oxford University Athletics Club.

After his retirement in 1955, Sir Roger became a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, where I sent my caricature, which he kindly signed in 1991.

Drawing: Peter Snell

peter snell001

Sir Peter Snell is one of New Zealand’s greatest sports achievers – some say the greatest. He was voted New Zealand’s ‘Sports Champion of the 20th Century’ and one of 24 inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federation Hall of Fame in 2012.

Sir Peter won three Olympic gold medals; Rome in 1960 800m, Tokyo in 1964 800m and 1500m and two Commonwealth Games titles for the 880 yards and 1 mile in Perth in 1962. He was knighted in 2009.

I sent my caricature to him at the University of Texas in September 1990, and he signed and returned it with an accompanying letter.

peter snell letter001

Drawing: Jess Ennis

jessica ennis001

Jess Ennis, or Mrs Jessica Ennis-Hill, as she likes to be called, since her nuptials in May this year, was one of the stars of London 2012 and the poster girl of British Athletics.

After the disappointment in 2008 when she was forced to miss the Olympics in Beijing due to a stress fracture in her right foot, Jess won the Heptathlon gold in London on what has been called “Super Saturday” (4 August) when three Team GB athletes became Olympic Champions in one night. Long jumper Greg Rutherford claimed gold only minutes after Jess destroyed the field in the 800m before Mo Farah powered to 10,000m glory.

It was Great Britain’s best day in the 104 year history of Olympic Competition, with six gold medals and a silver.

The ringmaster himself, Lord Coe said it was, “the greatest day of sport I have ever witnessed.”

Jess, a former European and World champion was awarded the CBE in the 2013 New Year honours and was named World Sportswoman of the Year at the Laureus World Sport Awards.

Unfortunately, she will not be able to regain the world title in Moscow this month due to an achilles injury but plans to compete at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – a competition she has yet to win.

Jess signed my drawing in London while promoting her autobiography in November 2012.