Paul Nihill, probably Croydon’s greatest ever Olympic competitor, is to get a road named after him in Addiscombe tomorrow.
The road-naming ceremony will coincide with the event in which Nihill made his name, the 50-kilometre walk, taking place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Nihill won the silver medal in the 50km walk at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, on his Games debut.
The 50km walk is longest event on the athletics programme, five miles further than the 26-mile marathon, and when Nihill stepped up for his medal-winning performance, he was racing for 4hr 11min 31.2sec, finishing just 19sec behind the gold medallist, who needed to break the world record to beat the Croydon walker.
Nihill went on to compete at a further three Olympics – 1968, 1972 and, at the age of 37, in 1976, making him the first Briton to compete at four Games.
He enjoyed an outstanding, record-breaking career. Between 1967 and 1970, Nihill won 85 of his 86 walking races, his only defeat coming in the Olympic 50km at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when in the thin air of the high altitude, he pushed himself to a standstill, collapsing within four miles of the finish.
Nihill then concentrated on the 20km distance, becoming European champion in 1969 and winning a European bronze medal in 1971, setting a world record in 1972.
Brought up in Addiscombe, Nihill attended Davidson School and joined a boys’ club at the Sir Philp Game Centre when he took part in a range of sports, including football, cricket, boxing and some athletics.
“I absolutely love Croydon and Addiscombe,” Nihill maintains. “My home,” he calls it, and he has continued to visit the town since moving to Kent.
Addiscombe councillors have lobbied the developers of a new road on the site of the former Roman House, Grant Road, close to Nihill’s former home on Lower Addiscombe Road, to be named after the Olympic medal-winner.
Nihill, now aged 76, continued competing until three years ago. He is expected to attend the ceremony.
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.
On the Addiscombe Labour website, the councillors state, “Croydon has a proud history of producing world-beating athletes, and has honoured them by naming roads after them. Indeed, Croydon has a named a number of roads after Olympic champions even though some of these had no connections to the borough.
“Paul Nihill is different, he grew up in Addiscombe and attended Davidson School, and also the Sir Philip Game Centre in Morland Avenue.
“Local residents were concerned that Croydon has not honoured our local hero, especially when others with less connections had. It therefore seems fitting that this new road, which is just around the corner from where he lived in Addiscombe as a boy, should be named after him.
“As local Councillors we are keen to celebrate Addiscombe’s successes and we are pleased that we have been able to Paul the recognition he deserves.”
Listen to a long, and sometimes harrowing, interview with Paul Nihill, talking about his upbringing in wartime Croydon, his life as a young man and his development into an international race walker here.
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