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Steve Backley

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Steve Backley
Personal information
Full nameStephen James Backley
Born (1969-02-12) 12 February 1969 (age 55)
Sidcup, England
Years active1989–2004
Height1.95 m (6 ft 5 in)[1]
Weight102 kg (225 lb)
Country Great Britain
SportTrack and field
EventJavelin throw
ClubCambridge Harriers
Achievements and titles
Regional finals
Personal bestsNR 91.46 m (1992)
Updated on 10 February 2014.

Stephen James Backley, OBE (born 12 February 1969) is a retired British track and field athlete who competed in the javelin throw. He formerly held the world record, and his 91.46-metre (300.1 ft) throw from 1992 is the British record. During his career, he was a firm fixture in the British national athletics team. He won four gold medals at the European Championships, three Commonwealth Games gold medals, two silvers and a bronze at the Olympic Games, and two silvers at the World Championships. Currently, he is an occasional commentator for athletics competitions, especially the field events.


Early life

Backley was educated at Hurst Primary School, Bexley, and later at Bexley and Erith Technical High School for Boys (now Beths Grammar School) in his teens. He was a member of the South East London-based Cambridge Harriers Athletics club,[2] and competed for Bexley in the London Youth Games.[3] He enrolled at Loughborough University in October 1988 to study for a BSc Honours degree in physical education, sports science and recreation management. Although he completed his first year there and remained a student until 2002, the time he dedicated to the javelin prevented him from completing his studies. However, on 16 December 2002 Loughborough University[4] honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Technology honoris causa.

Backley's first significant title, was won in 1987 when he threw 75.14 metres to pick up the European junior title, ahead of Vladimir Sasimovich (73.24) of Russia and East German Raymond Hecht (72.78). In 1988, Backley won the silver medal at the 1988 World Junior Championships. He also broke the world junior record that year.

1990–1993: World records

In July 1990, Backley set a world record of 89.58m in Stockholm, Sweden.[5] The record was then bettered by the Czech thrower Jan Železný a few weeks later, but Backley then regained the record with a throw 90.98m at Crystal Palace, London, to end the year as the world record holder. Finland's Seppo Räty then bettered the record in 1991. The records set by Železný and Räty, as well as Backley's 90.98m throw, had all been made using new 'Nemeth' javelins, however in August 1991 the IAAF declared this type of javelin illegal and all records set using them were retrospectively deleted. As a consequence, the world record reverted to the 89.58m mark that Backley had set in 1990. Backley then set another world record of 91.46m in January 1992 in New Zealand, a record which stood until 1993, when it was bettered by Železný.[5]

2000 Olympics and 2001 World championships

Backley started the year recovering from knee surgery throwing 82.19m against the U.S. in Glasgow, Scotland. The injury forced him to withdraw from the European Cup Super League meeting in Gateshead, England in early July. Due to injury his second competition came in August, taking second (85.84m) to Finlands Aki Parviainen in the Norwich Union Grand Prix and improved to 86.70m in winning the AAA Championship.

At Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Summer Olympics he beat the qualifying mark with his very first throw (83.74m), although the favourite, Jan Železný, threw an enormous qualifying throw of 89.39m. In the final, Backley set a new Olympic record with his second throw of 89.95m, but in the third round two-time champion Železný threw a distance of 90.17m. Subsequent rounds did not see improvements from either competitor and again Železný won the gold medal ahead of Backley. Sergey Makarov took bronze.

With the 2001 World Championships in Athletics to look forward to, he threw over ninety metres for the first time since 1992 at the British Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on 22 July. He had trailed behind Latvian Ēriks Rags (86.47) and American Breaux Greer (85.91) who had both produced personal bests before he pulled out a huge 90.81 with his final throw.

This should have given him an enormous for boost for the worlds in Edmonton, but on 10 August Backley had not taken his A-game to the show. He could only manage 81.50 in the qualifying rounds and when both pools had finished this left him way down in thirteenth place. One consolation was that his teammate Mick Hill had qualified well, but even this good news was short lived as Mick unfortunately picked up an injury and only managed to record one distance in the final, finishing last.

Jan Železný took gold with a championship record of 92.80 ahead of Aki Parviainen (91.31) and Konstadinós Gatsioúdis of Greece (89.95). American, Breaux Greer once again increased his personal best to 87.00 in finishing one place outside the medals.

Such was his disgust at his performance he had been contemplating retirement but re-appeared in Gateshead,[citation needed] for the Norwich Union Classic and gained a little revenge by beating world silver medallist Aki Parviainen with a throw of 86.74. Of his six throws this day five of them would have qualified for final nine days earlier.

Backley then travelled to Brisbane in September to take part in the Goodwill Games but despite leading after two rounds, the up and down season continued and he could not improve to leave Jan Železný on top once again ahead of Ēriks Rags and Breaux Greer.

2002 Commonwealth and European champion

It was going to be a busy with two major back-to-back competitions, the Commonwealth Games on 25 July – 4 August and the European Championships on 6–11 August .

On 31 July was the first test and with no major competition he knew that he had reclaimed his Commonwealth title after his very first throw of 86.81 in the City of Manchester Stadium. Runner up Scott Russell of Canada was nearly eight metres back with (78.98) and England's bronze medallist Nick Nieland managed only 78.63. This gave Backley a hat-trick of Commonwealth titles.

The European Championships in Munich would be much stiffer task with all of the World's leading exponents on show. Producing an opening throw of 86.29 and then surpassing that marginally in the third with 86.37 it was obvious that he was in form but he still trailed behind Russian leader Sergey Makarov who had sent out a massive 88.05 first round throw.

World record holder Jan Železný again found the European title beyond him and did not manage to record a distance so was eliminated after the third round. This seemed to inspire Backley and the reigning champion went half a metre past the leader in the fifth with 88.54. Makarov couldn't respond to this and ended up with silver with Germany's Boris Henry taking bronze with 85.33. This fantastic achievement made Backley the first British athlete to win four consecutive European Championship golds.

Closing career

Backley began the year having problems with a knee injury, but with an early season win in Sweden under his belt, and another victory on 13 July at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Gateshead, throwing 85.69 to defeat Boris Henry (83.52) and Alexandr Ivanov (81.69), he put injury firmly behind him.

A couple of weeks later at the North Down International at Bangor Northern Ireland his opening throw of 81.42m was once again good enough to see off the competition.

It was therefore disappointing when after managing to qualify for the final, only in seventh position, at the IAAF championship Stade de France, Paris, on the final weekend of August, his third and best throw of only 80.13m could not take him through to the last eight in the Sunday final. Sergey Makarov took the title with 85.44 ahead of Andrus Värnik 85.17 and Boris Henry 84.74 with these all being recorded in the first round.

In Backley's final year of competition in 2004, where he was hoping to add to his Olympic medal haul, he struggled to find form and at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, in a wide-open field, he only made the final as the last non-automatic qualifier. In the final his third round throw of 84.13 metres pulled him up to fourth place but he could not improve on this and finished in that position unable to gain a medal at his fourth consecutive games.

Personal best

Backley's personal best was 91.46 metres achieved on 25 January 1992 at North Shore City, New Zealand. That throw still stands as the British record in men's javelin.

Life outside athletics

Backley was awarded the MBE in the 1995 New Year's Honours list, and then an OBE in 2003. He was inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame in 2009. He was also on a special Olympic medal winners version of Jungle Run. The team collected the most monkey statues ever, getting 3 minutes out of a possible 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The team walked out of the temple with about 35 seconds to spare. The other members of the team were Mark Foster and Iwan Thomas.

Backley competed in the 2008 edition of Dancing on Ice with partner Susie Lipanova. He survived three consecutive skate-offs against Samantha Mumba, Aggie MacKenzie and Tim Vincent. However, Steve ended up in the skate-off for the fourth time in a row, where he lost out to Zaraah Abrahams and her partner Fred Palascak after the judges chose to save her. Steve finished 7th.[6] In 2012 he joined the BBC athletics commentary team for the London Olympic Games, and has commentated at various events for them since. He is the main commentator for field events.

In August 2014, Backley was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[7]

International competitions

Year Competition Venue Position Notes
Representing  Great Britain and  England
1987 European Junior Championships Birmingham, United Kingdom 1st 75.14 m
1988 World Junior Championships Sudbury, Canada 2nd 75.40 m
1989 Universiade Duisburg, West Germany 1st 85.60 m
World Cup Barcelona, Spain 1st 85.90 m
1990 Commonwealth Games Auckland, New Zealand 1st 86.02 m
European Championships Split, Yugoslavia 1st 87.30 m
1991 Universiade Sheffield, United Kingdom 1st 87.42 m
World Championships Tokyo, Japan 15th (q) 78.24 m
1992 Olympic Games Barcelona, Spain 3rd 83.38 m
1993 World Championships Stuttgart, Germany 4th 81.80 m
1994 Commonwealth Games Victoria, Canada 1st 82.74 m
European Championships Helsinki, Finland 1st 85.20 m
World Cup London, United Kingdom 1st 85.02 m
1995 World Championships Gothenburg, Sweden 2nd 86.30 m
1996 Olympic Games Atlanta, United States 2nd 87.44 m
1997 World Championships Athens, Greece 2nd 86.80 m
1998 European Championships Budapest, Hungary 1st 89.72 m
World Cup Johannesburg, South Africa 1st 88.71 m
Commonwealth Games Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2nd 87.38 m
1999 World Championships Seville, Spain 8th 83.84 m
2000 Olympic Games Sydney, Australia 2nd 89.85 m
2001 World Championships Edmonton, Canada 14th (h) 81.50 m
Goodwill Games Brisbane, Australia 4th 83.34 m
2002 Commonwealth Games Manchester, United Kingdom 1st 86.81 m
European Championships Munich, Germany 1st 88.54 m
World Cup Madrid, Spain 4th 79.39 m
2003 World Championships Paris, France 9th 80.13 m
2004 Olympic Games Athens, Greece 4th 84.13 m

Seasonal bests by year

This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living people that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately.Find sources: "Steve Backley" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (June 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

World Record and / or 90m+ in bold.

  • 1987 – 78.16
  • 1988 – 79.50
  • 1989 – 85.90
  • 1990 – 90.98 World record[a]
    • 1990 - 89.58 World record[a]
  • 1991 – 87.42
  • 1992 – 91.46 World record
  • 1993 – 85.10
  • 1994 – 85.20
  • 1995 – 88.54
  • 1996 – 87.44
  • 1997 – 89.02
  • 1998 – 89.89
  • 1999 – 87.59
  • 2000 – 89.85
  • 2001 – 90.81
  • 2002 – 88.54
  • 2003 – 85.69
  • 2004 – 84.13
  1. ^ a b As detailed above, the Németh model javelin introduced in 1990 was retroactively deemed illegal by the IAAF in August 1991

See also


  1. ^ "Steve Backley". Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  2. ^ "Olympians". Archived from the original on 30 March 2023. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  3. ^ "Hall of Fame retrieved 2013-02-19".
  4. ^ "University Honours archive | Graduation | Loughborough University". Retrieved 9 February 2024.
  5. ^ a b "Steve Backley – Personally Speaking Bureau". Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  6. ^ "Blogposts". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
Records Preceded by Patrik Bodén Men's Javelin World Record Holder 2 July 1990 – 6 April 1993 Succeeded by Jan Železný
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Steve Backley
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