Oration
Winter 2002

Steven Backley

Public Orator, George Gandy, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the morning of Monday 16 December 2002.


Chancellor -

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 1960’s, when his father and I were runners, friends, and training partners in Newcastle upon Tyne. Steve’s 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 Steve’s 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 20’s 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, Steve’s international athletics success and associated commitments persuaded him to focus his total attention on his sporting career.

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 Year’s 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 Games:
A bronze and two silver medals at three consecutive Olympic Games;

Silver medals at two World Championships;
Four consecutive European Championships gold medals;
Three gold medals and one silver at Commonwealth Games;
Three World Cup gold medals; and
Two gold medals, a silver and a bronze at European Cups.

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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  H.D.McCullam@lboro.ac.uk, December 2002

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