'˜He was an incredible talent' '“ tributes paid as Sheffield Olympian dies aged 97

A legendary Sheffield athlete who competed at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki has passed away aged 97.

Thursday, 17th January 2019, 16:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th January 2019, 16:54 pm
Lawrence Allen with his dad after a race.

Champion race walker Lawrence '˜Lol' Allen died at Broomcroft care home in Sheffield after a short illness.

A GB international who appeared for the famous Sheffield United Harriers, he competed at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, lining up in the 10,000m event.

Lawrence 'Lol' Allen.

Born in 1921 in Sheffield, Lol worked as a forgeman in the steelworks for 44 years, toiling in the heat and smoke of the mills during the day and training in the evening and at weekends.

He also competed at the 1950 European athletics championships, was a five-time national race walk champion and also won several Northern and CAU titles between 1949 and 1961.

Lol's daughter Elaine Sharp, aged 55, said: 'He was an incredible talent. If he hadn't have had the job that he did goodness knows what he could have achieved.

'I have letters from judges asking him to compete in the 50k race walk because they believed he could have broken the world record.

Lawrence 'Lol' Allen (photo submitted).

'He worked three shifts - morning, afternoon and night - and depending on which shift he was on determined when he could train.

'On several occasions did night shifts, got changed at work, got on a coach and then went and won a 20 mile road walk in record time - it is just unbelievable.'

A member of Sheffield United Harriers, Lol had a great race walk rivalry with another British athlete, Chesterfield's Roland Hardy, in the early 1950s.

One of their contemporaries John Eddershaw, now aged 85, knew them both from the late 1950s.

The 1952 Helsinki Olympics team.

He said: 'From the point of view of Sheffield sporting history, Lol and Roland Hardy were the two great walkers in Great Britain.

'They were the Emil Zátopeks of race walking - they taught us what speed was.'

'They were the best two in the country,' agreed Elaine.

'They broke most records that there were to break.'

Lawrence 'Lol' Allen, with wife Contance and their three daughters, Elaine, Sylvia and Denise.

Lol and Roland were both favourites for the 1950 European games and the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, but were disqualified in controversial circumstances.

Jack Crump, the British team manager, described the decision in Helsinki as '˜the most atrocious, unfair occurrence I have ever know in more than 20 years of first class athletics'.

The row ultimately led to the 10,000 metre event being dropped from the Olympics entirely and by the time of the 1956 games in Melbourne, it had been replaced by a longer 20km race.

After Lol's death on Sunday, December 16 was announced on the Yorkshire Race Walking Club's Facebook page, athletics fans paid tribute to one of the true greats of the sport.

Tony Taylor said: 'One of my early heroes, along with Roland Hardy, even if they were from t'other side of the Pennines.

'At the time I thought Lol was the most stylish, fluent walker I'd ever seen. RIP.'

At Lol's funeral, which took place at Hutchcliffe Wood Crematorium on Thursday, January 10, his coffin was draped with the Olympic flag.

In 2012, when he was already in his early 90s, Lol was honoured at a special Olympians' tribute lunch in London to celebrate the forthcoming 2012 games.

'Very few people can carry the Olympic flag with honour and pride,' said Elaine.

'We are so proud that dad was one of those people.'

He is survived by his wife Constance and daughters Elaine and Denise. The couple's eldest daughter, Sylvia, sadly died some years ago.