The Welsh Sports Hall of Fame will induct new faces into their number tonight (Wed) at their annual dinner in Cardiff. Lynn Davies – one of the originals – tells Graham Thomas why this particular honours system is worth the effort.
When Lynn Davies jumped into history in 1964 he did more than simply become the first Welsh athlete to win an individual Olympic gold medal.
Lynn the Leap – a nickname he was famously given then and is still stopped in the street by now – also provided the perfect illustration of why a sporting nation should honour its heroes.
The Welsh Sports Hall of Fame has been doing so for 30 years and this evening five more inductees will be welcomed into their very exclusive and high-bar entry club of 141 members.
As a boy, Davies was inspired to run fast and jump far by watching the great Ken Jones sprint for Great Britain and play rugby for Wales.
The link from young to old, from wannabe to done-it-all, is what the Hall of Fame is all about, according to one of the original 10 inductees back in 1989.
“The big thrill for me growing up as a youngster was watching my heroes, such as Ken Jones,” says Davies, who was a 22-year-old outsider when he conquered the world in Tokyo 54 years ago.
“Ken ran at the Olympics as a sprinter and then, of course, scored that famous try against the All Blacks in 1953.
“Growing up, I wanted to be Ken Jones. Having him standing alongside me in the original 10, was a huge honour. I’ve still got the photograph.
“When I look at the Hall of Fame – and the 30th anniversary this year – then, to me, there are two main values of the organisation.
“Firstly, we recognise and remember the achievements of Welsh men and women on a world stage, which is part of our nation’s history.
“Secondly, it’s about using those achievements to inspire young people – regardless of where they are from. They can be in small villages and towns across Wales, but they can believe they can go and achieve their own sporting dreams.
“I was from Nantymoel. It certainly wasn’t a sporting Mecca. But I thought I could achieve things from a humble background because I had been inspired to do so by others.”
From an initial group of 10 – that included two women in hockey player Sheila Morrow and middle-distance runner Kirsty Wade – the Hall of Fame has grown to include a further 131 members.
New entrants are included every year, the choices having been made by a selection committee. Anyone can nominate a candidate. The only criteria is that they must have retired from their chosen sport.
The breadth is as striking as the depth. There may be 22 rugby players and the same number from football, but there are 28 different sports represented in total.
Women members still lag well behind men – 19 of the 141 – but last year, for the first time, the number of women inducted in a single year exceeded that of men.
Davies adds: “Last year, we inducted four women and it was because they all fully deserved to be there. More and more girls and women are taking up sport, some sports which they were not playing in big numbers 30 years ago – such as rugby and football – so it’s an evolving process. “
Last year, Roy Francis (rugby league), Becky James (cycling), Jayne Ludlow (football), Kelly Morgan (badminton) and Lynne Thomas (a double international in cricket and hockey) were welcomed through the doors.
Actually, there are no doors. As a fixed location in its own right, the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame does not exist.
Instead, as the collection of exhibits related their famous members has grown, so they have moved around from home to home. From 1994, the National Museum of History at St. Fagan’s housed the displays and more recently there have been some at the Welsh Rugby Union’s Principality Stadium.
It’s an ambition of many, including the current Hall of Fame president, to succeed in finding a new permanent home that does justice to the sporting treasures held.
Davies adds: “Since I have been involved with the board, and was made president of the board of trustees last year, it’s been one of our missions to try and find somewhere to display all the memorabilia and the visual reminders of what our inductees achieved.
“A dedicated Welsh sports museum would be perfect – somewhere to honour all 28 sports represented.
“It’s not just the scale of the achievements that makes a national sports museum feasible, it’s the breadth of the sports involved.
“There would be something there to interest everyone.”
The 30th annual Welsh Sports Hall of Fame roll of honour dinner takes place at Cardiff City Stadium on June 26.