Paul Nihill RIP: One of the Greats of the Golden Era

Paul battling the heat and altitude in Mexico City 1968. Thanks to Mark Shearman for permission to use the striking image

It is more than fitting to open this tribute to the legendary Paul Nihill with these words from our own inspirational Ron Wallwork.

Paul was the last of the Golden Era Greats* to pass on. His titles and list of race wins (along with his retirements and comebacks) were indeed prolific. I was fortunate enough to be his rival and his team-mate;we both made our international debuts in the zone match of the 1963 Lugano Cup.

[ And in October of that year Paul and Ron contributed enormously to the second Lugano Trophy win for Great Britain, the former finishing second to Ken Matthews in the 20k, the latter setting a personal best finishing 5th in the 50k]

As a rival I had repeated views of his back and as a friend he was always
kind and encouraging and in recent years was an avid Moulton Walks

The last time we met was at the Cecil Gittins walks in 2017 (pictured)
where he greeted me with a big smile and “Don’t mention Milan”, which
was always the introduction

The story behind this greeting emanates from the 1965 Milan 30km where I had a rare but somewhat hollow triumph finishing in front of him. We left England in a late wintry spell and the race was held in warm spring sunshine which turned out to be Paul’s undoing, as he renewed his rivalry with his Tokyo conquero Abdon Pamich. Their pace took them well clear of the rest of us, but Paul as in Tokyo just wouldn’t give the Italian an inch, until eventually the sun and heat took its toll and he hit the wall. Just one of many memories.

It was a privilege to be his friend – Rest in Peace
Condolences to Claire, Tony and all his family.

*The six year period twixt 1958 and 1964 when GB amassed two Olympic Golds, a silver and a bronze as well as two European Golds and two bronez medals. If you count Norman Read in 1956 the stat looks even better.

Ron Wallwork

We are indebted for the following insights and statistics to Peter Matthews.
Editor of Athletics International & International Athletics Annual – the renowned athletics statistician and staunch supporter of our sport.

Vincent Paul NIHILL (GBR) (b. 5 Sep 1939 Colchester) died on December 15 at Medway Hospital, Gillingham, Kent, aged 81. He won a record 27 UK national walking titles between 1963 and 1975: on the track, he was AAA champion at 2 miles 1965, 3000m 1970-1 and 1975, 7 miles 1965-6 and 1968, 10,000m 1969; and on the roads he won RWA 10 miles 1965, 1968-9, 1972; 20km 1965-6, 1968-9, 1971-2; 20 miles 1963-5, 1968-9, 1971; 50k 1964, 1968, 1971; not only was he the only man to win at all the four road distances, he won them all in one year, 1968. He also won the Irish 1M title in 1962 and 1964 (in an Irish record 6:31.4). A member of Surrey Walking Club, he won the 50km silver medal at his first Olympics in 1964 and he won 35 successive walks races from December 1967 to his failure to finish the Olympic 50km in 1968 in the heat and high altitude of Mexico City, but then won a further 51 consecutive races to June 1970, including the European 20km in 1969. He took the European 20km bronze medal in 1971 and was 6th at 20km and 9th at 50km at the 1972 Olympics and was 30th in the 1976 20k.  2nd Lugano Cup 20k 1963. 15 GB internationals 1963-76. In his career 1960-77 he won 355 races. He was awarded MBE in 1976.

He set world track bests for 3000m 11:51.1 (1971) and 5000m 20:14.2 (1972), and road 20k 1:24:50 (1972). His numerous other British records and bests included track: 1M 6:17.0 (1970), 30k 2:28:44.0 (1972), 20 miles 2:40:42.6 (1972), and road: 10M 1:08:18 (1972), 20k 1:24:50 (1972), 20 miles 2:30:35 (1971), 50k 4:11:31.2 (1964). Other pbs: track 2M 13:16.0 (1969), 5M 34:25.0 (1969), 7M 49:03.0 (1969), 10,000m 42:34.6 (1972), 1 hour 13.671m (1969); road 10k 42:17 (1972), 30k/35k 2:23:54/2:49:53 (1972).


Paul on his way to silver in Tokyo 1964, Thanks again to Mark Shearman

We’re pleased to post this tribute from the Reverend Roy Lodge MBE, the 1967 National 20 miles champion in 2:42:43 ahead of Don Thompson and Ron Wallwork.

I write this obituary immediately on my return from my local gym having spent an hour on the cross trainer that I dedicated to Paul’s memory as I thought of his  dedication, courage, stamina and discipline as one of our greatest Race Walkers. Along with Ken Matthews, Paul Nihill was someone I looked up to as a role model and gained enormous inspiration from his determination to reach the pinnacle of sporting excellence.

Despite his many athletic achievements as a Race Walker  he was unpretentious , warm and affable. He was Olympian, yet the twinkle of humour always lurked. He was also extremely courteous, with old fashioned charm. Beneath the impassive countenance  lurked strong passions which belied the public image. He above all combined impenetrable   discretion with a silky intelligence, extremely discreet  and extremely skilful in his discretion.

Such were his qualities that he commanded respect and admiration, friends and colleagues and opponents trusted him, believed in him  and had confidence  in him  as a man who was true to his word and would not let anyone down. In his life he honoured that trust and confidence placed in him and did not let  himself, his family or his colleagues down. We give thanks that  it was because he felt  highly regarded and valued for who he was  that he achieved so much. The Race Walking world owes him a great debt of gratitude, for what he gave of his life in time, energy and dedication.

Others will write of his outstanding achievements in the domestic and on the international stage. If there is one race that I recall with fond memories it was the Calne  Six Mile Open Race Walk on the 11th October 1969. It was the nearest I ever came to Paul in second place with Roger Mills third. Our times were  42.09; 43.12; and 43.16 respectively. My second prize vase will now have a poignant memory.

When I heard of Paul’s death I thought immediately of three lines of Edith Sitwell in her poem: “Eurydice”  “Love is not changed by death, and nothing is lost and all in the end is harvest.”

We give thanks that he has left us a legacy  of laughter and happy memories – warm hearted  with a tough core – human warm memories from a very human warm man.

In the annals of Race Walking history  he will be immortalised and ever remembered as a Race Walking legend.

Our deepest sympathy to his beloved children and extended family members, we share their grief and honour his memory.

Rev. Dr. Roy Lodge MBE

Great picture of Paul with Ron Laird, Enfield Open 7, 1971. Ta to Sportsview and Trevor McDermot

As I did earlier in the year when composing a tribute to Colin Young I’ve copied and pasted a selection of the memories of Paul posted on Facebook. Other responses from other sources being added.

Alan Buchanan – Ron Laird gave me the vest he is wearing in the above Enfield photo with Paul. He stayed in Hove for a month or so on his visit here for competition and training and I regularly trained with him. He also came up with me to Scotland for a January Track 2Ok at Grangemouth organised by ex Belgrave Harrier Gerald Cameron. I have a long letter from Paul thanking me for my RWR support [Alan was eiort of the Race Walking Record at the time] and detailing the hate mail he received from a coach and others because he took up the vacant place in the 50km in 1976 Olympics , after racing the 20km. The selectors had controversially left out Bob Dobson, 3rd in the trial. Paul retired from walking the following year switching to running as well as having a popular DJ slot on a Kent radio station. A lovely man. RIP

John Cannell – Very sad to hear this. Paul came over to the Isle of Man many times. He stayed at my parents’ guest house on a few occasions. His times were at the Bowl, now the N.S.C were very fast indeed including a WR in 1972.

Steve Till – The guv’nor of race walking – gold and bronze at Euro 20km, silver in Olympic 50km, walked a 6-min mile paced by David Hemery in training!! He was race walk director at Quadrathon 83-84 and I trained with him a few times as I lived in Croydon, as he did. He is proud of the fact that he raced before the 1948 London Olympics and after the 2012 ones!! Gave a great address at the Centurions centenary at House of Commons 2011, commenting that it was the first time he had ever followed Carl Lawton!!

First time I met him, I was running one night, and I saw this bloke race walking, recognised him and chased after him, just about catching him up. He turned round; I introduced myself; “I thought you were a mugger,” he said!! 1976 – he was putting in the miles to try and qualify for his 4th Olympic Games.

Chris Maddocks – Paul Nihill wrote to me with a much appreciated letter around the time of my 4th or 5th Olympics. It’s saved in my scrapbooks. Top man. An athletic legend whose greatness will not be forgotten.

Godfried Dejonckheere – Did you know Paul Nihill is the person that motivated me to race walk when I was a young boy in South Africa? I saw him there for the first time at the Phildiche stadium in Pretoria . where we have 5 km race together …Paul won this race , and took one lap on me … wonderful time 👏👏Thanks Paul …. where ever you are 🏆

Zurich, 2 mai 1971, arrivée de Paul Nihill (20km marche), photo Dominique GUEBEY

Peter Frenkel [who won the gold medal for East Germany in the Munich Olympics of 1972 in the 20 kilometre walk, in a time of 1:26:43] – Nihill was a great walker…
Ich erinnere mich an München 72.

Trevor McDermot – I was introduced to Paul as a schoolkid, quite overawed, knowing exactly whom he was. On such a tragic passing it is strange what springs to mind. Not the medals and all those national titles so much but something else. In his book George Williams describes how he and Nihill, practically penniless, would knock out demon 220 yd intervals together, sometimes with Stan Vickers too. I believe it was that early intensive work Paul credited for giving him the leg speed that he built his subsequent career on. This would have been in the early sixties when he began to break through (minus a kneecap). Always racing, racing and learning, from club track events to Birmingham ‘Outer Circles’ and even the ‘Hastings’. One Sunday morning they happened to find a pile of coins outside a train station and went straight to the café for a very welcome cooked breakfast. Decades later Nihill wrote about seeing a young Rob Heffernan race and instantly recognising that same raw hunger, desire and determination.

The other thing concerns the 20 Miles, probably his ideal distance. Six RWA wins at the old Blue Riband championship (+ utterly dominant with a perfect, even-paced 2.30 on the tough out and back from Hillsborough, Sheffield during his peak). Yet somehow he never got to compete in an Empire or Commonwealth event. In ’62 it didn’t exist, in ’66 he had the breakdown, in ’70 fell victim to illness, in ’74 he was semi-retired and by ’78 fully so. We’ll never know 🙁

Peter Fawkes – I remember him being instrumental in getting me and Ken Munro into Meadowbank Stadium when we wanted to watch both him and Marion walk against the Swedes. Security guards wouldn’t let us in as the main track and field events didn’t didn’t start until the afternoon whereas the walks were on in the morning but Paul intervened and got us in. It was worth it as Paul walked the 20k like a metronome with less than 1 second separating his lap times. A true gentleman and legend. R.I.P.

Rob Elliott – I wasn’t involved with race walking when Paul Nihill competed in the Guernsey Church to Church 19.4 miles setting a new record time of 2.43.19 in 1968. Through the connections made by Guernsey walkers based in England it was quite a major achievement to have an Olympic medalist on the start line. Press reports and from others involved in that race, which was being used as a final race before the 68 Olympics, said that Paul suffered a lot in the latter part of the race, overcome by car fumes from following spectators. He apparently had also done a 6 miles warm up on the morning of the race. Paul confirmed this to me over thirty years later when visiting a second time to watch the event. His name, from when I started in 1970 was always known to me but only introduced to him thirty years on. I felt very proud to be the walker that finally improved on his course record. RIP Paul Nihill.

John Dowling – I am so sad to hear of the passing of Ireland’s greatest walker, tho he represented Britain in International events, the great Paul Nihill was born in Dublin. We spent a great week together at his Aunt’s house in the Quays, when he broke my 1 mile walk record, at Santry!!!

When we were in Dublin, Paul asked if anyone fancied a walk the following morning, I volunteered, altho I was not a distance walker in the 1950s. Paul suggested that we walk to Howth Head, and back. I did not have a tracksuit, so Paul lent me one of his G.B. ones. People were actually clapping us as we raced around the bay. Believe it or not, to my amazement I walked him into the ground. It was that day I learned that long distance walking was my Forte. It was the only time, I ever got the better of the Great Paul Nihill. He was not the least bit concerned.

He was a real gentleman, quiet, and reserved, we got on very well together. I remember one scorching hot National 50km, when we both had retired with exhaustion, one of the few times either of us had packed in. Paul had led most of the way, and was in the lead, when he fell in a ditch and could not carry on. When I saw him I stopped to help him but he was too far gone, so we both had to abandon rhe race. After the race Paul’s club captain, was saying nasty things to Paul, calling him all sorts of names. Paul was too much of a gentleman to reply to him, but I aint a gentleman, and I gave the man a right going over, telling him he wasn’t fit to tie Paul’s shoelaces, and making other choice remarks. We nearly came to blows, but Paul calmed things!!

Graham Young – Paul once told me after I had enquired , that he won 99 domestic races in a row, and 131, with just that one ‘defeat’ spoiling the record!

Tony Taylor – I remember vividly in 1969 watching him clock a seemingly effortless 48:25 in the Leicester 7. And that same year chatting with him on a bench at Charing Cross station as with not the slightest whiff of self-importance he encouraged me to think I had a future as a race walker.

Jennifer Langley – So very sad to hear of Paul’s passing away. Although I hadn’t seen him for some years I trained with him regularly at both Croydon arena and more often at Crystal Palace and on Sunday mornings around the Purley area. I was in Athens to see him win gold in 1969. He was an usher at my wedding in 1971 and disappeared to take part in a local race returning with the trophy! He was so kind and gentle and a good friend. My sincere sympathy to his family. A truly brilliant athlete. x

Chris Harvey – What a great athlete and a pioneer for our sport. RIP.

Helen Middleton – A kind man who made time to talk to me when I was new to walking. RIP

Cath Duhig – Always a kind and supportive word, never a hint of his own achievements but you knew he had history and form and spoke from experience. A very unassuming man.

Ron Penfold – Sadly another one of our greats to leave us this year, Paul always had a word of incouragement and support to all walkers. R.I.P we will miss you.

Olive and Bob Dobson – A true champion at every distance from 3 to 50kms. A legend. 

Neil Munro – So very sad to see that Paul has passed away- we had such good fun racing each other.

Francisco Reis – I met Paul Nihill back in 1984 and since then Paul always been one of my great supporters. Always turning up to races to have a conversation about the sport and always happy to talk to people and support all athletes As he was an amazing athlete and a great champion he never turned his back to anyone. Always very happy to support everyone.
We will miss you Paul, but this is life sooner or later happens to everyone.
My condolences to everyone.
Rest in peace my friend.

John Webb –  I got pretty close to Paul during our racing together but the closest I got was in the European Champs 1969.  We were going along with leaders – I thought it was a hard pace when Paul tapped my shoulder and said,   “Webby, there’s a break, there’s a break“.  I replied, “Go with them Paul – I’m at my limits”.  Paul went on to win the gold medal which showed what a great athlete he was. Thanks Paul for the great memories.

Richard Cole – Very sad indeed.  I did not meet him but knew of him.  When I started walking they said I had a similar style. Certainly not the ability.

Ray Middleton – R.I.P. dear Paul. Sad to lose yet another great race walker who was simply the best. 

Roger Mills – Sad, sad news.

Carl Lawton – Very sad, he was a gentleman and a pleasure to have raced against him.  A stylist and in my eyes a true walker.  

Chris Hobbs – By an amazing coincidence this afternoon I was watching  the Cary Grant film “Walk Don’t Run” about a 50km walker in the Tokyo Olympics and was thinking of Paul. 

Steve Uttley – Very sad news about Paul.  I hadn’t realised his health was so poor.

Glyn Jones – This is sad news indeed.  Another great loss and the passing of a stalwart and a great servant to the Race Walking Fraternity.  Paul’s achievements in race walking will long live in the memory.  He will not be forgotten. 

Paul Warburton – This has been a bad year, and not just because of Covid.  First Jordi Lopart, then Ernesto Canto and Peter Ryan, and now Paul.   A true great character who also ran a rock n’ roll disco at one stage if I’m not mistaken.

Ian Robery – Such a shame he played a major part in the uprising of Havering AC Walking Club in the 70s.   Please pass on our deepest condolences from the Robery family. 

Andy Catton – That is very sad.  Although I guess not unexpected as he looked very unwell when I last saw him some 3 – 4 years ago.  Another legend departs with no proper send off.

Brian Keegan – Very sad, always had fond memories of Paul and he helped me do my fastest ever 6 miler in 46 min 50 sec during one of his many comeback races. 

Mark Culshaw – Very sad. Sorry to hear this news. Give his family Belgrave Harriers sympathy and kind regards.  A stalwart of race walking!!  Very genuine kind person.

Olly Flynn – This is very sad news indeed, another great champion leaving us.

Paul in action at Battersea Park. Thanks again to Mark Shearman

Edbanger [Ed Shillabeer C590] – R.I.P. I missed his glory times but will never forget “the guv’nor”. 

Jack Lord – A very sad day for British sport.  A true champion that has left his name on the sport of race walking.  I had the privilege of watching him on several occasions and marvel at how effortless he made it look.  My deepest  condolences to the Nihill family.

Tim Erickson – The sad loss of a mighty walker.

John Nye – I was a fellow club member at Surrey WC (introduced by the late Dickie Green).  I remember chasing him home in the Battersea 10.  He was quite surprised – he shook my hand at the finishing line and said, “You’ve  improved a bit for a former scrubber!!” 

Guy Goodair – Sad news indeed.  Paul was our last living Olympic race walking medalist.  Here’s hoping that 2021 is a much better year than 2020. 

Laurie Kelly – Why is it that we are always being told these sad tales at this time of the year?   Paul was such a great ambassador for our sport and will be greatly missed.

Kathy Crilley – Sad news about Paul but not unexpected.  I am putting news on the Centurions Worldwide website as he was well known to Centurions and non Centurions alike.

George Nibre – My boyhood hero.

The 1965 British Games finds Paul third in line.Thanks to TOPIX

Bill and Kath Sunderland – A massive loss for British race walking being a champion through and through with such a humble, ever inspiring attitude.  A fantastic racer from short to long distances.  Sincere condolence to his family.

A really great tribute to the GREATEST ALL ROUND GB RACE WALKER OF ALL TIME, Paul Nihill, MBE. It is mentioned that he was never able to compete in the Commonwealth Games. My BRONZE MEDAL in 1970 at Edinburgh is very much his too as he motivated me and encouraged me so much. One of the first congratulatory telegrams I received was from Paul saying ‘Well done Bill.’ My medal will always be a living memory of Paul Nihill, who led so many to the heights in British Race Walking. Talking of the GB Greats let’s remember too the living Great Ray Middleton! Kind Regards to to many Race Walking friends.

Paul’s last competitive walking race was at Moulton in June 2013 where he completed 5 testing miles in 58.36.  Paul as able to “bow out” when sampling the best of race walking’s heyday – that being a traditional Saturday afternoon road walk on a public highway. It was a nice day on a course which took a good number of enthusiastic participants through the delightful Suffolk countryside. Paul announced beforehand it’d be his last race – even though we’d heard this a few times before, he enjoyed warm start line applause.
Paul’s desire was to be seen as having had an active career spanning 2 London Olympiads (1948 & 2012).  He had published running results from before those 1948 Olympics as Paul was “in the running” before his race walking career commenced.  In 2012 he was unwell for much of the time – so little was seen of him that year. But he was determined to race once after our 2012 Games so he could claim his career indeed did span 2 London Olympiads.  He came to Moulton to complete one final race – and, this time, it was his last.  Looking at a lengthy result sheet, many “Essex Walkers” were present on that occasion when Paul crossed a race walking finish line for a final time.

Peter Selby – Paul was  one of  a very select band of race walkers who put our sport at the top of the tree in the 1960s.  His achievements as a GB athlete were phenomenal and his Silver Medal in Tokyo (just 17 seconds  off of Gold) following on from Don Thompson s gold in Rome 4 years earlier proved  the strength and depth we had at 50k.  But Paul was equally at home doing 20k or even just 3k.As a club mate in the 1960 s I got to know his back very well almost to the point, when I was close enough…not very often….of having a conversation with his shoulder blades.  He liked to be in front and made sure that that is were he remained. He particularly enjoyed going up hills and had a knack of getting to the top and where most would  take a short breather, he upped the pace by 10%, one reason why he won many races. 

I believe Paul started out as a boxer and when he was racing you could sense his jabs especially going up hill until at a certain point in the race he produce the “killer” punch and surge on to victory.  I am sure that many of the top walkers at that time (the world over) were beaten by Paul’s sheer tenacity, he was not a natural athlete but one whose determination had no equal……he had a dry and ironic sense of humour but liked nothing better than a good chat after a race. His early progress was very much guided by Dickie Green who did so much for  many young walkers and novices whether they be in Surrey Walking Club or the Stock Exchange.  Sport generally and athletics in general then did not show quite the interest or support now offered to our top performers but I suspect Paul may not have wanted it any other way…….. Farewell to a truly brilliant walker and athlete you inspired many of us.  

Paul Blagg – Very sad news a great champion and gentleman

John Lees – So sad to learn of the passing of Paul Nihill.  He was a nice man – a true gentleman – and to my mind the greatest race walker this country has ever produced.  Paul, himself, would always give that honour to Ken Matthews. But Ken was a sprinter, whereas Paul could beat anybody from 3K to 50k. And just think of his longevity – 14 years as an International – 4 Olympics – a record 27 National titles – and then continuing to take part way after his best days.  I remember Dave Ainsworth ringing me up many years after I’d stopped racing to say “You must take part in the 400th Essex League Race”. I replied that I had not appeared in any of the previous 399 editions but turned up to be delighted that Paul had also entered.  I first met Paul in late 1971. He won a race in Brighton on the Saturday, then stayed overnight to do a 40 mile training spin with Dave Boxall and myself.  I prayed that he wouldn’t talk about his projected trek across the States but out came the news. This was a hammer blow to me because having walked Lands End-John O’groats in 1971 and joined in that year’s London-Brighton [unofficially 15th in 9 hours 23 mins], my chief reason for walking was that I intended to take on Bruce Tulloh’s 54 day record from LA to NY. I had not told this to anyone in the sport. How now could I undertake this and undercut my hero?  I confided all to Alan Buchanan who said ‘Just tell him’. And when I did, Paul could not have been nicer.  After I had returned from America, Paul invited me to his home in Thornton Heath and after our training sessions he would leave me to sleep overnight on his couch. He didn’t have to do this but what a boost it was to an aspiring walker.

For a while in the 60s, Paul was as good as anyone in the World so it is sad that he didn’t win an Olympic Gold. Mind you, it was no disgrace to finish second to Abdon Pamich in the Tokyo 50k in 1964.  The thin air of Mexico in 1968 was too much for the great Ron Clarke – and for Paul as well. He told me that his planning had been wrong – he shouldn’t have done the 50k but gone for the 20k instead. A year later he was completely dominant when winning the European 20k Gold in Athens.  In the 70s we had an, ultimately successful campaign to Keep Walking in the Olympics which centred on a March to Parliament. Going into a Government Minister’s office seemed quite daunting – but not with Paul aboard. The Minister for Sport, Dennis Howell, was one of Paul’s biggest fans.  Paul said one thing to me that I’ll never forget – he had no time for any sportsman who was great on the field of play but a complete jerk off it.  A boxer in his younger days, Paul Nihill always played by the Queensbury Rules. Best regards .

Don Cox – How much worse can 2020 get?  All of our friends and heroes are dying. I suppose at our age that’s what happens but you never think it would happen to our great Paul Nihill. I’m so sad. I started race walking in 1968, at that time Paul was out there in front, the first ever great athlete I met,  PAUL NIHILL, just saying his name brings back memories, that little blue book, Athletics Weekly (AW) always had Paul’s race results and race reports. Paul was a race walking hero long before I got into the sport, one time 20k world record holder.  All we ever saw in a race of Paul was his back, the nearest I ever got to him was 2nd in the Inter County track championship. Very sad. RIP Paul.

Steve Barry –  Without doubt ‘The Guv’nor’. Paul wrote many letters to me during my career offering advice and encouragement. We also had lots of chats about his and my passion for boxing. I for one won’t forget. RIP Mate.

Shaun Lightman – Paul and I trained together for several years. He had some stories to tell. He wanted to train 200 miles in a week – counting trips to the paper shop. He reached 199 but could not find the strength to go the last mile! He turned up to a Surrey Walking Club 5 mile race hoping for an easy one without realising I was going to be there. He upped the pace and left me in the dust. He is the only person I know who can talk extensively on pop music fo the whole of a 50km session. He also said that when he began in the 60s there was this whippersnapper who regularly broke 7 mins for the mile and thought I could do that! In 1969 before the European Games in Athens where Paul won his gold medal, we regularly had sessions at the Crystal Palace – 6 x 800m each one in 3m 15s.

John Paddick – Remembering the days in Japan [1964] when we roomed together. He was always aware that his major opponent was Abdon Pamich. Great memories pal – RIP

Mescari Mohamed – un grand marcheur que j’ai toujours suivi.

Brian Adams finishing 9th in the Olympic 20k in Montreal. Photo by George Herringshaw

Brian ‘Bernie’ Adams – Paul was a hero for me to look up to in the 60’s, be it from a distance. His feats during this time have already been listed. The 1976 Olympic trial was the first one to have a strict selection of the first three to finish. Paul had made a comeback and he passed me in the closing stages to push me out of third spot and out of the Olympic team, until Roger’s unfortunate collapse allowed me back into the team via the back door. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought of sharing a room at the Montreal Olympics with the great Paul Nihill at his fourth Olympics. A long forgotten comment or joke meant that from then onwards Paul always greeted me as Bernie! What a tribute, and a reflection of the encouragement he so willingly gave to others that so many youngsters have benefitted from being part of the England ‘juvenile’ team to take on the Irish opposition in the Nihill Shield.

Guy Goodair – Fifty six years ago I got the Friday afternoon off work and went down to London, watched GB v Poland athletics match at the White City in the evening and the following morning got the train to Hastings for the annual Hastings to Brighton walk. I was the only Northerner in the field and Paul asked me who was my attendant. I confessed I hadn’t got one. I was OK early on but as time progressed got increasingly uncomfortable when not getting drinks when I needed them (other walker’s attendants always reckoned they hadn’t any to spare)

That day for some reason Paul retired around 28-29 miles but he remembered I’d no one looking after me and very generously arranged for his attendant to look after me for the rest of the race, enabling me to finish 5th in 6h 7m 25s just behind Dickey Green and a couple of minutes in front of Colin Young

RIP Paul – though no doubt Paul is already limbering up for his first celestial walking race

Mike Parker– The day before yesterday while on one of my infrequent visits to those rare few race walking sites that retain my interest I read the news of the very sad death of Paul Nihill.  I add my name to the very long list of people who have passed on their condolences already to Pauls’s family and also to the wider race walking fraternity particularly in the UK, but also to others around the world who knew Paul and have been impacted by his passing. 

 My own particular memories of Paul Nihill go back to the earliest days of my own athletic career. The Olympic Games of Tokyo  1964 was a great Games for New Zealander’s, Peter Snell (who also died in 2020) was receiving blanket coverage in the media on account of his two gold medals. As a very young lad of 11, it was not Snell who inspired me though, it was watching Ken Mathews on television win the 20 km walk in such a dominant style that piqued my interest. A month or so later my parents took me to the cinema to watch “Tokyo 1964” and there I viewed the tussle between Abdon Pamich and Paul Nihill in the 50 kms. These guys along with Vladimir Golubnichy and Dieter Linder became my heroes.  Before that year’s end, after pestering my poor mother witless, she had contacted the local athletic club and enrolled me. I was the club’s third race walker. Training for me was never a problem, I had the company of my heroes we would be fighting out some imaginary race at the Olympic Games, somewhere or other and I was usually the winner!

 So in a way, Paul Nihill was a very real part of my career as a racewalker.  When I first arrived in the UK in early 1977 I had several goals I wanted to achieve. Some I attained others I didn’t. One that I feel very sad about was not having the opportunity to race just once against “The Great Paul Nihill”. Paul retired at the end of 1976 so I missed out by a few months. I still feel regret, not being able to say I raced against one of the two greatest British race walkers of all time. At least I got to meet him a few times and I always found him to be inspirational. To be honest, I can’t decide between Paul and Ken Matthews as to who was the best, I feel they were the equal of one another. Nihill’s long list of achievements and his wonderful range of distances, as John Lees alluded to, isn’t quite enough to nudge him past Ken Mathews’s mighty 1964 Tokyo Olympic performance. So in my opinion these two great champions are both the Greatest of the UK’ race walkers.

Paul Nihill will always remain a hero to me a great race walker and a man who believed that race walking should be walking and not the sham that  race walking has become in the modern era.   R.I.P. Paul Nihill. Regards to all, Mike Parker   (}

[ Mike, a New Zealander, was the UK 20 kilometres champion in both 1980 and 1981.]

It would be brilliant to get more additions to these responses – after all not everyone is enamoured of Facebook. Thanks already to Dave Ainsworth for forwarding further responses. If you are so inclined, please post your memories to Tony at


It would be remiss not to draw your attention to Tim Erickson’s meticulous and comprehensive exploration of Paul’s career to be found at A worthy tribute in its own right.

Tim strikes an apt and ironic note when revealing that:

In 2016, Nihill was honoured to have a road in Addiscombe named after him. It was only fitting that the road-naming ceremony took place on the day on which the 50 km walk was taking place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

I did like the comment by the Inside Croydon reporter:

Sadly, we believe that the developers have missed a trick, by opting to call the road Nihill Place. Nihill Walk would have been much more fitting.

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5 Responses to Paul Nihill RIP: One of the Greats of the Golden Era

  1. Francisco Reis says:

    Meet Paul Nihill back in 1984 and since then Paul always been one of my great supporter’s always turning up to races to have a conversation about the sport and always happy to talk to people and support all athletes
    As he was a amazing athlete and a great champion never turned is back to anyone always very happy to support everyone.
    We will miss you Paul, but this is life soon or later happen to everyone.
    My condolences to everyone.
    Rest in peace my friend.

  2. William SUTHERLAND says:

    A really great tribute to the GREATEST ALL ROUND GB RACE WALKER OF ALL TIME, Paul Nihill., MBE. You mention that he was never able to compete in the Commonwealth Games. My BRONZE MEDAL in 1970 at Edinburgh is very much his too as he motivated me and encouraged me so much. One of the first congratulatory telegrams I received was from Paul saying ‘Well done Bill.’ My medal will always be a living memory of Paul Nihill, who led so many to the heights in British Race Walking. Talking of the GB Greats let’s remember too the living Great Ray Middleton! Kind Regards to to many Race Walking friends, Bill and Kth Sutherland

  3. Shaun Lightman says:

    Paul and I trained together for several years. He had some stories to tell. He wanted to train 200 miles in a week – counting trips to the paper shop. He reached 199 but could not find the strength to go the last mile! He turned up to a Surrey Walking Club 5 mile race hoping for an easy one without realising I was going to be there. He upped the pace and left me in the dust. He is the only person I know who can talk extensively on pop music fo the whole of a 50km session. He also said that when he began in the 60s there was this whippersnapper who regularly broke 7 mins for the mile and thought I could do that! In 1969 before the European Games in Athens where Paul won his gold medal, we regularly had sessions at the Crystal Palace. 6 x 800m each one in 3m 15s.

  4. Paul Blagg says:

    Very sad news a great champion and gentleman

  5. Tony Taylor says:

    Francisco, Bill, Kath, Shaun and Paul,
    Your thoughts now incorporated into the tribute post. Many thanks.

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