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|Representing Great Britain|
|Silver||1998 Kuala Lumpur||Javelin|
Stephen ("Steve") James Backley OBE (born 12 February 1969 in Sidcup) is a retired English athlete who was formerly the world record holder for javelin throwing. During his career, he won four gold medals at the European Championships, three Commonwealth Games gold medals, and two silvers and a bronze at the Olympic Games, and two silvers at the World Championships.
Backley was educated at Warren Road Primary School, Orpington, and later at Bexley and Erith Technical High School for Boys (now Beths Grammar School) in his teens. He competed for Bexley in the London Youth Games. He enrolled at Loughborough University in October 1988 to study for a BSc Honours degree in Physical Education, Sports Science and Recreation Management. Although he completed his first year there and remained a student until 2002, the time he dedicated to the javelin prevented him from completing his studies. However, on 16 December 2002 Loughborough University honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Technology honoris causa.
Backley's first significant title, was won in 1987 when he threw 75.14 metres to pick up the European junior title, ahead of Vladimir Zossimovich (73.24) of Russia and East German Raymond Hecht (72.78). In 1988, Backley won the silver medal at the 1988 World Junior Championships. He also broke the world junior record that year.
In July 1990, Backley set a world record of 89.58m in Stockholm, Sweden. The record was then bettered by the Czech thrower Jan Železný a few weeks later, but Backley then regained the record with a throw 90.98m at Crystal Palace, London, to end the year as the world record holder. Finland's Seppo Räty then bettered the record in 1991. The records set by Železný and Räty, as well as Backley's 90.98m throw, had all been made using new 'Nemeth' javelins, however in August 1991 the IAAF declared this type of javelin illegal and all records set using them were retrospectively deleted. As a consequence, the world record reverted to the 89.58m mark that Backley had set in 1990. Backley then set another world record of 91.46m in January 1992 in New Zealand, a record which stood until the following year when it was bettered by Železný.
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2000 Olympics and 2001 World championships
Backley started the year recovering from knee surgery throwing 82.19m against the U.S. in Glasgow, Scotland. The injury forced him to withdraw from the European Cup Super League meeting in Gateshead, England in early July. Due to injury his second competition came in August, taking second (85.84m) to Finlands Aki Parviainen in the Norwich Union Grand Prix and improved to 86.70m in winning the AAA Championship.
At Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Summer Olympics he beat the qualifying mark with his very first throw (83.74m), although the favourite, Jan Železný, threw an enormous qualifying throw of 89.39m. In the final, Backley set a new Olympic record with his second throw of 89.95m, but in the third round two-time champion Železný threw a distance of 90.17m. Subsequent rounds did not see improvements from either competitor and again Železný won the gold medal ahead of Backley. Sergey Makarov took bronze.
With the 2001 World Championships in Athletics to look forward to, he threw over ninety metres for the first time since 1992 at the British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on 22 July. He had trailed behind Latvian Ēriks Rags (86.47) and American Breaux Greer (85.91) who had both produced personal bests before he pulled out a huge 90.81 with his final throw.
This should have given him an enormous for boost for the worlds in Edmonton, but on 10 August Backley had not taken his A-game to the show. He could only manage 81.50 in the qualifying rounds and when both pools had finished this left him way down in thirteenth place. One consolation was that his team-mate Mick Hill had qualified well, but even this good news was short lived as Mick unfortunately picked up an injury and only managed to record one distance in the final, finishing last.
Jan Železný took gold with a championship record of 92.80 ahead of Aki Parviainen (91.31) and Konstadinós Gatsioúdis of Greece (89.95). American, Breaux Greer once again increased his personal best to 87.00 in finishing one place outside the medals.
Such was his disgust at his performance he had been contemplating retirement but re-appeared in Gateshead, for the Norwich Union Classic and gained a little revenge by beating world silver medallist Aki Parviainen with a throw of 86.74. Of his six throws this day five of them would have qualified for final nine days earlier.
Backley then travelled to Brisbane in September to take part in the Goodwill Games but despite leading after two rounds, the up and down season continued and he could not improve to leave Jan Železný on top once again ahead of Ēriks Rags and Breaux Greer.
2002 Commonwealth and European champion
It was going to be a busy with two major back-to-back competitions, the Commonwealth Games on 25 July – 4 August and the European Championships on 6–11 August .
On 31 July was the first test and with no major competition he knew that he had reclaimed his Commonwealth title after his very first throw of 86.81 in the City of Manchester Stadium. Runner up Scott Russell of Canada was nearly eight metres back with (78.98) and England's bronze medallist Nick Nieland managed only 78.63. This gave Backley a hat-trick of Commonwealth titles.
The European Championships in Munich would be much stiffer task with all of the World's leading exponents on show. Producing an opening throw of 86.29 and then surpassing that marginally in the third with 86.37 it was obvious that he was in form but he still trailed behind Russian leader Sergey Makarov who had sent out a massive 88.05 first round throw.
World record holder Jan Železný again found the European title beyond him and did not manage to record a distance so was eliminated after the third round. This seemed to inspire Backley and the reigning champion went half a metre past the leader in the fifth with 88.54. Makarov couldn’t respond to this and ended up with silver with Germany's Boris Henry taking bronze with 85.33. This fantastic achievement made Backley the first British athlete to win four consecutive European Championship golds.
Backley began the year having problems with a knee injury, but with an early season win in Sweden under his belt another victory on 13 July at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Gateshead throwing 85.69 defeating Boris Henry (83.52) and Alexandr Ivanov (81.69), he put these firmly behind him,
A couple of weeks later at the North Down International at Bangor Northern Ireland his opening throw of 81.42m was once again good enough to see off the competition.
It was therefore disappointing when after managing to qualify for the final, only in seventh position, at the IAAF championship Stade de France, Paris, on the final weekend of August, his third and best throw of only 80.13m could not take him through to the last eight in the Sunday final. Sergey Makarov took the title with 85.44 ahead of Andrus Värnik 85.17 and Boris Henry 84.74 with these all being recorded in the first round.
In Backley's final year of competition in 2004, where he was hoping to add to his Olympic medal haul, he struggled to find form and at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, in a wide-open field, he only made the final as the last non-automatic qualifier. In the final his third round throw of 84.13 metres pulled him up to fourth place but he could not improve on this and finished in that position unable to gain a medal at his fourth consecutive games.
Life outside athletics
He was also on a special Olympic medal winners version of Jungle Run. The team collected the most monkey statues ever, getting 3 minutes out of a possible 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The team walked out of the temple with about 35 seconds to spare. The other members of the team were Mark Foster and Iwan Thomas.
He was inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame in 2009.
- STEVE BACKLEY Timeline. NYT. Retrieved on 2010-06-08.
- Steve Backley Profile by MTC Talent Management