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John Disley

Full name: John Ivor Disley
Gender: Male
Height: 5-10.5 (180 cm)
Weight: 157 lbs (71 kg)
Born: November 20, 1928 in Corris, Gwynedd, Great Britain
Died: February 8, 2016 in London, Greater London, Great Britain
Affiliations: L.A.C., London (GBR)
Country: GBR Great Britain
Sport: Athletics

Related Olympians: Husband of Sylvia Cheeseman.

Medals: 1 Bronze (1 Total)


Born in a small village in North Wales and educated at Oswestry Boys' High School, John Disley’s running was confined to cross-country and grass track racing until he enrolled at Loughborough College in 1946. In 1949 he won his first senior title, the Welsh mile championship and the following year he competed in a major international championship for the first time and reached the final of the European Championships in his more favoured 3000 m steeplechase.

Disley made a breakthrough into the higher echelons of the steeplechase in 1952 by setting a world best time for the 2000 m steeplechase in winning the AAA Championships – a performance which helped him to qualify for the British team at the Olympics Games. He won his heat in Helsinki, becoming the first Briton to break nine minute for the 3000m steeplechase, and then took a further eight seconds off his best time as he won the bronze medal behind [Horace Ashenfelter] and [Vladimir Kazantsev].

Disley was unlucky that the British Empire and Commonwealth Games did not include a steeplechase during his time as an athlete so instead he contested the mile at the 1954 edition finishing fifth in his heat and failing to reach the final. Earlier the same year he had produced an undistinguished performance at the European Championships.

Despite the lack of championships in 1955, he performed well enough to be voted Welsh Sportsman of the Year after setting a British record in a GB-USSR match in Moscow in a time which would have been a world record if set a month earlier.

He arrived at the Melbourne Olympics as top-ranked Briton and with a good shot at another medal but a bout of Pneumonia caught whilst mountaineering in Snowdonia hampered his preparation and instead it was team-mate [Chris Brasher] who won a surprise gold medal with Disley trailing in sixth place. He retired after competing in the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.

In all he broke the British steeplechase record 5 times during his career and was AAA champion in 1952,1953 and 1957

A member of the London Athletics Club, he first worked as a psychical education teacher in Isleworth, Greater London before taking up an appointment as chief instructor at the National Mountain Sports Centre at Plas y Brenin in Wales. He also served as a vice-president of the UK Sports Council during the seventies.

Disley was an accomplished climber and served as a pioneer of the sport of orienteering in the UK.

He published books on all three of his sporting interests. Disley was appointed a CBE in 1979 for his work in outdoor education and was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

After being inspired by the New York Marathon he and Chris Brasher decided to start a race modelled on the event in London. From humble beginnings in 1981 the London Marathon has become one of the world’s major marathon races.

Personal Best: 3000S – 8:44.2 (1955).


Games Age City Sport Event Team NOC Rank Medal
1952 Summer 23 Helsinki Athletics Men's 3,000 metres Steeplechase Great Britain GBR 3 Bronze
1956 Summer 28 Melbourne Athletics Men's 3,000 metres Steeplechase Great Britain GBR 6

Men's 3,000 metres Steeplechase

Games Age City Sport Country Phase Unit Rank T(H) T(A)
1952 Summer 23 Helsinki Athletics Great Britain Final 3 8:51.8 8:51.94
1952 Summer 23 Helsinki Athletics Great Britain Round One Heat Two 1 QU 8:59.4 8:59.59
1956 Summer 28 Melbourne Athletics Great Britain Final 6 8:44.6 8:44.79
1956 Summer 28 Melbourne Athletics Great Britain Round One Heat One 2 QU 8:46.6 8:46.93
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