Leslie Pinder, the mystery all-rounder

Among their numerous successes McDonald Bailey, Harry Whittle, Jim Peters, Ken Wilmshurst and Roland Hardy – all of them seasoned internationals and Olympic competitors – each won four successive AAA titles during the 1950s. So, too, did Leslie Pinder, and even the most studious of track and field “nuts” might be impelled to ask “Who ?” One of only two known photographs of Pinder was enterprisingly published by the McWhirter twins (of “Guinness Book of Records” fame) in the December 1954 issue of their short-lived but highly influential monthly magazine, “Athletics World”, and was justifiably captioned “Britain’s little known AAA Decathlon Champion of 1951-52-53-54”.

Unfortunately, Pinder’s career seemed by then to be more or less over because his name figures only in passing in the results columns of “Athletics Weekly” the next year, placing 2nd in the Yorkshire county championships pole vault. In an era when the decathlon was almost totally ignored in Britain, Pinder was one of a handful of stalwart enthusiasts who regularly took part in the only two competitions open to them – the District and AAA Championships. The first international match for British decathletes did not take place until 1959, and Pinder’s capabilities were never such that he would be considered for the European Championships, let alone the Olympic Games. In addition, there was no decathlon at the Empire/Commonwealth Games until 1966, though even if there had been it is hardly feasible that he would have been sent to New Zealand in 1950 or Canada in 1954.

His scores in his AAA wins were of honest calibre rather than exceptional significance, with a highest total, adjusted according to the 1985 tables, of 6,009 points (6,247 by the 1934 Tables then in use) when he won the 1952 event at Port Sunlight, on the Wirral, in heavy wind and rain. He had been suffering for the previous two months from a torn stomach muscle and had also started the competition in a pair of worn-out shoes which were replaced by new ones delivered to the track by a friend. His performances were as follows: 11.4, 6.77, 10.45, 1.70, 53.7; 15.8, 33.29, 3.20, 50.00, 4:58.0. As can be seen, he was a solid all-rounder.

Pinder was also Northern champion in 1948, 1949, 1952, 1953 and 1954 (the last of these combined with the AAA competition and held in Pinder’s hometown of Doncaster). He had little or no serious opposition in the North, winning six of the 10 events in the 1953 competition – also held in Doncaster, and finishing 898 points ahead of the British pole-vault international, Ian Ward. The 1954 success earned him the “Kingston upon Hull Trophy” for the best field-events performance in the Northern Championships – and he was in good company. The trophy had first been presented the previous year to Britain’s best ever discus thrower, Mark Pharaoh, who won it again in 1956, to be followed in each of the next three years by one of Britain’s best ever shot-putters, Arthur Rowe.

Of course, British standards in the decathlon were moderate in the 1950s, and 6,000 points (1985 tables) had not been surpassed by anyone until Geoff Elliott achieved 6,005 in 1951. He was the one decathlete from Britain who competed in a major championships in these years, though his greater renown was as a pole vaulter, and his 9th place in the 1952 Olympic decathlon was to remain the best performance at the Games by a Briton until Daley Thompson won gold in 1980. The 1952 European rankings were led by Vladimir Volkov, of the USSR, with 7,365pts (1934 Tables), while Elliott was 8th with his Olympic score of 6,789 and Pinder 37th. During the immediate post-World War II years the two other regular supporters of the AAA decathlon were a Danish member of Polytechnic Harriers, Hans Moesgaard-Kjeldsen, and Harry Whittle, from Bolton, who was better known as a low hurdler. Moesgaard-Kjeldsen won the event in 1947-48-49 and Whittle did so in 1950.

Pinder was born on 24 May 1928 and competed for Doncaster LNER (London & North Eastern Railway) and for Doncaster Plant Works AC. He was clearly an LNER employee and represented Britain in an inter-railways’ match in Paris on 14 September 1947, competing in the 200 metres, high jump, pole vault and javelin. His name had first appeared in 1946 when he won the Northern junior javelin title at 152ft 10in (46.58m) and was 2nd in the AAA junior pole vault to Ronald Harris, of Plymouth Grammar School. In the Yorkshire senior championships at Harrogate Pinder won the javelin and was 2nd to John Dodd, of Sheffield United Harriers, in the pole vault.

Pinder had made his first AAA decathlon appearance in 1947, aged 19, placing a modest 9th, and one of the other competitors was the aforementioned John Dodd, who also represented the LNER in Doncaster. Dodd, by then 33 years of age, had attended London University and Carnegie College of Physical Education, in Leeds, in pre-war years and had consistently ranked in the top 10 in Britain in both the high jump and pole vault from 1935 to 1938. His best high jump of 6-3¼ (1.91) to win the Northern title in 1937 had actually been the best by a Briton that year. So it may well be that he put his versatile talents to use and provided Pinder with some early coaching help. However, we can only surmise about this because Pinder continued to be something of a mystery man throughout his career. The AAA decathlon was farmed out to various venues between 1948 and 1954, and even “Athletics Weekly” paid the event little heed, giving only a single sentence to Pinder’s first win in 1951 ahead of the holder, Harry Whittle.

Pinder took part in a variety of events at the Yorkshire championships through to 1955, also winning at 120 yards hurdles in addition to the long jump. “The Yorkshire Post” rightly described his contribution to the 1954 Championships as “his usual busy afternoon”, as he had won the long jump, was 2nd in the pole vault to another enterprising Doncaster exponent of the event, Ron Hearfield, and was a solid 3rd in the 120 yards hurdles, won by Chris Higham, who would be the British Empire Games bronze-medallist later that year. Roy Sandstrom, Ken Wood and Peter Cullen – all of them British record-holders to be – also won titles at those 1954 Yorkshire Championships.

The long jump was by far Pinder’s most proficient event, as his best performance was 23ft 2½in (7.07m), set in 1954, which ranked him 5th in Britain for the year. He entered the 1956 AAA decathlon but withdrew because of a recurring back problem, though that did not prevent him winning several more railways’ titles that year. The injury seems to have persisted, though he made a brief decathlon re-appearance in 1959, placing 6th in the Northern event in Doncaster won by Peter Cullen. That’s as much as can be said about Leslie Pinder for the time being, unless there’s an enthusiast in the Doncaster area who can add more.

Pinder took part in a variety of events at the Yorkshire championships through to 1955, also winning at 120 yards hurdles in addition to the long jump. “The Yorkshire Post” rightly described his contribution to the 1954 Championships as “his usual busy afternoon”, as he had won the long jump, was 2nd in the pole vault to another enterprising Doncaster exponent of the event, Ron Hearfield, and was a solid 3rd in the 120 yards hurdles, won by Chris Higham, who would be the British Empire Games bronze-medallist later that year. Roy Sandstrom, Ken Wood and Peter Cullen – all of them British record-holders to be – also won titles at those 1954 Yorkshire Championships.

The long jump was by far Pinder’s most proficient event, as his best performance was 23ft 2½in (7.07m), set in 1954, which ranked him 5th in Britain for the year. He entered the 1956 AAA decathlon but withdrew because of a recurring back problem, though that did not prevent him winning several more railways’ titles that year. The injury seems to have persisted, though he made a brief decathlon re-appearance in 1959, placing 6th in the Northern event in Doncaster won by Peter Cullen. That’s as much as can be said about Leslie Pinder for the time being, unless there’s an enthusiast in the Doncaster area who can add more.

Bob Phillips


Glenn Piper adds more information about Leslie Pinder.
In 1947 he was an apprentice fitter at the locomotive works in Doncaster. In May 1950 he joined the Merchant Navy and was in New Zealand that year. In 1954 he married Barbara Millington and the couple had two children, Claire and Robert. Leslie Pinder died in 1993 and his wife in 2017, aged 88.

 

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