World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that leading athletics writer and statistician Mel Watman died of cancer on Friday (17) at the age of 83.
Best known for his contributions to Athletics Weekly, Athletics International, the World Athletics website and many other publications, the prolific journalist was admired by fellow writers and fans all around the world.
Watman was often described as the ‘doyen’ of athletics writers, having earned an air of authority through his trackside reporting, a career which spanned eight decades.
Born in London in 1938, Watman was bitten by the athletics bug during a school trip to the 1950 AAA Championships. Aged 12 at the time, he picked up a copy of Athletics Weekly during the trip and decided soon after that his dream job would be to become the magazine’s editor.
Within a few years, he started contributing to Athletics Weekly and his first byline appeared in a 1954 edition when he was just 16. In his late teens he trained as a journalist and set off around the world to report on major championships and interview top athletes.
Soon after becoming one of the founding members of the National Union of Track Statisticians, Watman joined Athletics Weekly full time in 1961, working alongside the magazine’s founder and editor, Jimmy Green.
“For the next 26 years, although working crazily long hours, I could not have been happier in my work,” Watman said. “My salary was much lower than what my Fleet Street colleagues were earning but that was more than compensated by the job satisfaction and opportunity to travel the world.”
Watman became editor of Athletics Weekly in 1968, giving increased prominence to international coverage and ensuring a more balanced treatment of men’s and women’s events. He remained editor until the late 1980s when ownership of the magazine – and, with it, the content – changed. He briefly edited a short-lived rival magazine, Athletics Today, but later started contributing to Athletics Weekly again in the late 1990s when it was bought by a new owner.
In recent years he was inducted into the England Athletics hall of fame and was awarded the Ron Pickering Memorial Award for Services to Athletics.
Aside from the magazines he has edited and the numerous books he has written, for almost 20 years Watman co-edited the Athletics International newsletter with fellow statistician Peter Matthews, most recently covering the Tokyo Olympics. Shortly after the Games, however, Watman collapsed at home and was later diagnosed with an inoperable cancer in his spine. His illness progressed and he died peacefully with his wife Pat at his bedside holding his hand.
“For as long as most of us in athletics can remember, Mel Watman has been a colossal figure both on and off the page,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “Informed, insightful and passionate; a life lived through athletics. He will be missed.”