Danny’s still world champion at 81

THIS column is permanently placed on page eight of the Mercury, but I am beginning to wonder if it were seeking to infiltrate sport.

It was part of no furtive plan, but recent topics I have included are swimming, boxing, horse-racing, snooker... and today, athletics is awaiting the figurative starter’s pistol. However, this is athletics with a difference, for it looks with wonderment and admiration at the continuing achievements of an ex-Yarmouthian who is still breaking records in multi-discipline events – at the age of 81! Yes, 81! No, it is not a misprint. And he shows no sign of flagging.

Danny Daniels is a former Great Yarmouth Grammar School pupil whose fitness, ability, stamina and enthusiasm belie his advanced years and the fact that he underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2006, and he is not remotely considering hanging up his running spikes yet.

He has returned from the World Masters Indoor Championships with a gold medal in the M80 pentathlon, setting a new Canadian age-group record of points scored.

“I started off as a middle distance runner when I was much younger, and then graduated to marathons and ultra-marathons (often considerably longer than the usual 26 miles),” he told his local newspaper in Canada. Then he began coaching and also took up combined events.

“Now I consider myself to be a sprinter/jumper/thrower.”

In 2004 he secured a bronze medal in the pentathlon at the World Masters Indoor Championships in Germany, following this with a bronze at the World Masters Championships in Finland last year, this time in the outdoor decathlon, setting a new Canadian points record.

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Notable among his past successes was winning a marathon that had more than a touch of the famous Norfolk do-different about it, for the Yukon Midnight Gold marathon started at 9pm on the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year.

Athletics has been a major part in his long and busy life, and his interest was spurred when he shared the Victor Ludorum (overall sports champion) with Mike Brown at Yarmouth Grammar School in 1947, as well as being Norfolk champion in the one mile and half-mile events.

Danny contacted me on his return to Canada last month after he and his wife Marjorie (nee Gillings, daughter of an engine driver who lived in Lime Kiln Walk, Yarmouth) had been in Gorleston for the funeral of her sister, Betty Manship.

In Canada, the couple keep abreast of Yarmouth news by logging on to the Mercury website through which he has noticed the active programmes of athletics and road-running in the borough compared with his postwar era.

“Back in 1945-47, even though I first registered in events in Norfolk as a member of the Great Yarmouth AC, I was its only and very unofficial member!,” he recalls.

“Occasionally Leo Dance would turn up at the Wellesley Road cinder track and offer some comments, but there was no club and there were no coaches. I eventually transferred to the Norfolk and Norwich AC but again, there was no active club and I never had the advantage of any coaching.

“After I left the Grammar School and was in the Army – mile and half-mile champion of Scottish Command, and Athlete of the Year (1949) with the Edinburgh Harriers – Anne Pashley and Ted Buswell became associated with, I presume, the re-activated Yarmouth club and, of course, became British champions, she in the sprints and he in the half-mile.”

Anne was an Olympic silver medallist in the women’s 4x100 metre relay in Australia in 1956. As for Ted, 77, whom I featured in this column in 2007, his distinguished running career ended with an injury in the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958, and he switched to officiating.

After graduating over 50 years ago, Danny studied physical education, then went into teaching before emigrating with Marjorie to Canada in 1957, gaining a Bachelor of Education degree and becoming a school superintendent.

He transferred to Federal Government service as district superintendent of Indian Schools for Northern Alberta. Later, after three years as regional superintendent for all Alberta, he returned to university to graduate in 1973 with a PhD. in educational administration.

Recruited by the Canadian International Development Agency, he and Marjorie and their young family spent two years in Nigeria where he both headed a university department and was involved in a United Nations study into that country’s elementary education.

Back in Canada, he went to Ottawa as national director for Indian elementary and secondary education.

Because his doctoral dissertation examined the legal context of Indian education in Canada, he became involved in the development of Indian Act legislation, was appointed director of research, and finished his 25 years with the department as regional director-general for the Yukon and Northern British Columbia, with responsibility over a land area as big as Scotland.

On the sports administration side, Danny has been president of the Canadian Masters Athletic Association, two provincial athletic associations and, since 1999, vice-chairman of Athletics Canada.

In 1997 he was inducted into the Canadian Road Running Hall of Fame. Internationally, he has been on the IAAF Masters committee for 12 years.

Nine years ago he became head of delegation for the Canadian team at the World Athletics Championships, and led it at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. Since then he has headed Canadian teams at the Paralympic Championships in Helsinki and Holland, the Pan-American championships in Rio de Janerio, and “to my greatest delight, the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008”.

He comments: “It has been, as you can imagine, quite a ride!”

One medal he holds in particular esteem: the bronze ulu (shaped like an Inuit cutting knife) he won at the World Arctic Games in Alaska in 1986, as a member of the Yukon term. It was for coming third in the winter triathlon, comprising a 10km speed skate, 10km cross-country ski, and 10km road run event...and he was the oldest competitor in the event!

It runs in the family, so they say, and in this case, it is true, for although Marjorie Daniels exhibited no athletic abilities until she had settled in their adopted Canada, she has won many races there.

Her prowess on track was probably a contributor to her selection as one of the bearers of place names when the Commonwealth Games were staged there in 1994.

There will be more about Ted and Marjorie in a week or two.