In the latest of our monthly series on Hillingdon's finest sportsmen and women of yesteryear, DON TAYLOR talks to track judge Laurie Kelly.
THE popular saying is that those that can, do, and those that can't, teach, but with Laurie Kelly it was a case of those that can do no longer, judge.
Laurie was a promising sprinter, although not world class as one stop-watch would have it, until his career was cut short playing football, his other sporting love.
Not long after completing national service and winning his first senior Middlesex vest, Laurie, who went to school in Dover but moved to Hayes on an engineering apprenticeship, sustained a horrific injury while playing for Harrow Town.
"I heard a great crack and was carried off and an x-ray confirmed four vertebrae were displaced," he said. "Various treatment and operations followed including a long period in plaster from head to waist and I was in terrible pain."
After two years there was some improvement and he asked the consultant, 'When can I start training again?'
The doctor was horrified and advised Laurie to retire but he still wanted to be involved in what he describes as 'the simple sport' - after all, the first things children want to do are to run, jump and throw.
The obvious choice was to go into administration and officiating at a time when Harold Abrahams, of Chariots of Fire fame, Les Cohen and Les Golding, held eminent positions in the field.
Like many athletes of his age, Laurie, now 73, got into his sport as a result of the 1948 London Olympics.
"I was lucky that friends of my parents bought me tickets for every day of the athletics programme at just 3/6 per day," he recalled. "Then when I arrived at the stadium I was given VIP tickets which gave me the opportunity to mix with the athletes."
He met British sprint star Sylvia Cheeseman, high jump silver medallist Dorothy Tyler and sprinter Ken Jones, who also played rugby for Wales, as well as Trinidadian sprinter Emanuel McDonald Bailey.
Laurie showed lots of promise as a sprinter while at Dover Grammar School and after moving to Hayes and joining Queens Park Harriers Athletics Club, who were based at the famous Paddington track, he trained alongside the great Jamaicans Herb McKenley, George Rhoden and the tall, majestic Arthur Wint.
He soon won his first junior Middlesex vest before in 1954 national service called and Laurie was posted to Malaya, yet his sprinting career continued to progress as he took part in inter-service championships, running one memorable race in particular.
"Once I was given a time of 10.00 seconds for 100 yards which was world class but I knew it was a mistake as the track was uphill and when it was measured afterwards it was found to be two yards short as well," he recalled.
After his back injury Laurie moved into administration and then into judging when he volunteered for the London Business Houses Championships.
He later underwent training and took his first exam at the well-known Regent Street Polytechnic and at the same time became secretary to the London Business Houses Athletics Association - a position he still holds 43 years later.
By 1969 Laurie was sufficiently qualified and experienced to be track referee for the Southern Championships at Crystal Palace and three years later he was handed his first assignment as an international track judge, for the traditional post Olympics, Great Britain versus USA match which featured Olympic gold medallists.
Another 20 international assignments have since followed, including being named meeting director at the 1987 European Junior Championships in Birmingham and in 1988 he was a judge at the Europa Cup, a team event in which the continent's best eight countries compete.
By 1991, then 56, Laurie reduced his commitments as a judge to devote more time to his family but did become Middlesex team manager, another position he still holds and is proud of his record in charge.
He said: "I find the job stimulating and satisfying, mixing with and motivating the athletes and in those 17 years Middlesex has only been out of the top three counties twice and has been champion county three times."
Between 1991 and 2004 Kelly was also referee for the nationally recognised Finchley 20 miles road race around Ruislip and Ickenham and held the same position for the last five years of the prestigious Polytechnic Marathon. He admitted that his greatest disappointment was not being able to continue his career as an athlete but he has at least seen many big events and many of the world's finest athletes, judging some in headline grabbing performances including what he considers the greatest race he adjudicated.
"It was the International Athletes Club meeting at Crystal Palace when the popular Dave Bedford (now director of the London Marathon), already the world record holder for 10,000m, attempted the 3,000m steeplechase for the first time," he said. "The crowd support was immense and surprisingly he broke the British record."
Difficult decisions are par for the course and his toughest one was at the 1988 Olympic trials.
"Mike Whittingham was the British number one and won the 400m hurdles but his trailing leg went around the hurdles a number of times for which I disqualified him," he went on. "There were a number of complaints but in these situations you must stay firm and he remained disqualified."
Laurie has received a number of awards during his career and the one he values most is the Federation of MiddlesexSports Official of the Year in 1993, because the other officials who were nominated included Arsenal manager George Graham, Brentford boss Dave Webb and John Emburey, the former England spin bowler.
Laurie predicted that GB will win three medals at Beijing - two in the women's heptathlon from former Brunel student Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis, and the third from Phillips Iduwu in the triple jump.
And if his eye for talent is as keen as it was at the tape, where he once called all eight positions correctly at a national sprint championship, confirmed by the photo finish camera, expect that prediction to be spot on.
WHO do you want to read about in Gazette Sport's new monthly look at Hillingdon's top sports stars of days gone by? Subjects must have a strong connection with the borough - e-mail email@example.com or call 01895 445198 with your suggestions.