Public Orator, George Gandy, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the morning of Monday 16 December 2002.
I have particular pleasure in delivering
the oration today in respect of Stephen Backley - not least because of
a friendship with him developed in athletics arenas around the world,
on various golf courses, and beyond. But my connection with his family
goes all the way back to the early 1960s, when his father and I
were runners, friends, and training partners in Newcastle upon Tyne. Steves
parents moved to London in that era, his father joining the Metropolitan
Police, and so Steve himself grew up in the Kentish suburbs
of Sidcup and Bexley.
Now, I am not saying that all Geordies
and their descendents are level-headed, tough-minded, and remarkably unassuming,
but these are indeed qualities easily identifiable in Steves parents.
They are also among the most evident characteristics of their offspring
and doubtless have served Steve well in his remarkable career as an athlete.
Another personal and Loughborough link
and a life-directing influence upon Steve has been his long-time Coach,
John Trower, formerly our Students Athletics Club Captain and now
Throwing Events Director for UK Athletics.
Steve arrived at Loughborough University
in October 1988, already the World Under 20s Champion at Javelin
Throwing, to study for a BSc (Honours) degree in Physical Education, Sports
Science and Recreation Management. He successfully completed his first
academic year. Then, in the summer of 1989 he set three UK all-comers
records, two Commonwealth records, and won six IAAF Grand Prix events
as well as the final. Our University, in its pre-Sports Scholarships era,
was less geared than nowadays to supporting outstanding individuals in
their efforts at combining sporting and academic ambitions. By Christmas
that year, Steves international athletics success and associated
commitments persuaded him to focus his total attention on his sporting
Until 1992, he continued, as a registered
student, to base his endeavours mainly in Loughborough. He readily helped
gain publicity and sponsorship for the then Loughborough v. AAA athletics
match (now enhanced as the BBC Grandstand televised Loughborough
International). Athletically he continued to prosper, becoming the
first British athlete to set a World Record in an athletics throwing event
(Stockholm, 1990) and again, in that same year, at Crystal Palace. He
captained the British team at the World Student Games in Sheffield in
1991, retaining his title won in 1989; and further improved his World
Record with what remains his longest ever throw, of 91.46 metres, in New
Zealand in January 1992.
By then, Steve had developed an essentially
international lifestyle and it had become clear that, short of incurring
serious long-term injury or illness, he would not resume a programme of
academic study. In January 1996, he was included in the New Years
Honours list and awarded the MBE for his contribution to British sport.
Throughout the nineties and up until
the present day, he has continued to grace the arena of international
sport. Having represented Great Britain & Northern Ireland on no fewer
than 37 occasions, he has earned numerous medals at major international
There is still a real possibility of more to come in 2003 and 2004.
Always an outstanding ambassador for
British sport and many times, directly or indirectly, for Loughborough
University, Stephen Backley has responded equally well to his successes
and occasional disappointments in his long and distinguished sporting
career - with fine sportsmanship, sound sense, and admirable dignity.
There is much natural pride that such a sporting celebrity was once among
our student ranks at Loughborough, and genuine pleasure that he is with
us here today, to receive the honorary degree he most surely merits.
Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you and the University STEPHEN JAMES BACKLEY MBE for the degree of Doctor of Technology honoris causa.
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