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Celebrating our great Welsh sporting heritage

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Every sport likes to honour its heroes from the past.

Whether it’s teams or individuals, a nod to those who have gone before can prove inspirational to everyone – whether they be elite performers, grass roots enthusiasts, or youngsters trying a new activity for the first time.

National Sporting Heritage Day – September 30 - is an annual opportunity to raise awareness of sporting achievements across the whole spectrum.

For swimming in Wales, this year’s event is providing a launch pad – or maybe a diving block – to head towards 2022 when the organisation will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Swim Wales was able to celebrate six current heroes this year, when Matt Richards, Callum Jarvis, Alys Thomas, Dan Jervis, Harriet Jones and Kieran Bird all competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games – a record contingent of Welsh swimmers.

Paolo Radmilovic dives into open water in front of a crowd of people
Born in Cardiff, Paolo Radmilovic would be a superstar if he was around today. He appeared at five Olympic Games and won four goals medals from the 1908, 1912 and 1920 Games


Richards and Jarvis ended the 108-year wait for Welsh swimmers to win gold at the Olympics when they were part of the Great Britain 4x200m freestyle relay squad that stormed to victory.

It tied up a century-long loose end. Not since 1912, when Irene Steer won gold at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, had Welsh simmers stood on top of an Olympic podium.

What better reason for swimming in Wales to celebrate not only the brilliance of Richards and Jarvis this year, but also acknowledge all the great Welsh swimmers – like the pioneering Steer – who have gone before.

Each year the National Sporting Heritage Day has a different theme. This year's theme is: ‘Inspire, Share and Celebrate’. 

The focus is on inter-generational activities and learning and conversations between generations will be encouraged so that children and young people can learn from the sporting pioneers that came before them.

The day is designed to be inspirational and aspirational and it aims to inspire and motivate children and adults to learn more about sports and sporting heritage.

Who couldn’t fail to be inspired by Wales’ greatest swimmer, the one and only Paolo Radmilovic?

“Raddy” as he was known – became the first Welsh athlete, in any sport, to win an Olympic gold medal in 1908. He went on to win three more.

Steer followed – the first Welsh woman to win an Olympic gold – before their legacy was taken up by the Welsh heroes of the pool through the decades. 

Those who came after included Valerie Davies, John Brockway, Martyn Woodroffe, Robert Morgan, David Roberts, Jemma Lowe, Jazz Carlin, Ellie Simmonds, David Davies and others.

if you’re wondering what happened to Raddy, he moved to Weston-super-Mare to play for their water polo team and lived for much of his life on that side of the Bristol Channel.

He became a legendary figure in the town, running several bars and hotels there.

There is a bar named after him on the seafront, Raddy’s, and there is also a Blue Plaque at the Imperial Hotel, on South Parade, one of the hotels he ran and at which he displayed many of his trophies.

Sadly, his Olympic medals have gone missing. Swim Wales and the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame are always on the lookout. 

If you happen to come across them, let them know!

In the meantime, if you want to see Steer’s 1912 Olympic gold medal and swimsuit, and other swimming medals, head to St. Fagan’s for the Wales Is …Olympics exhibition.

Swimming is not the only sport who have used heritage day as a chance to celebrate heroes and achievements to inspire others.

Welsh cricket has a special project underway marking the contribution of Herbert Merrett, a leading Welsh industrialist of the 20th century who helped fund the growth of both cricket and football.

Merrett was involved in both Glamorgan and Cardiff City and his role in both sports is being recognised by the CC4 Museum of Welsh Cricket in Cardiff, Glamorgan Cricket, and pupils of Radnor Primary School in Cardiff.

Andrew Hignell, heritage and education co-ordinator at Glamorgan Cricket and the curator of the Museum of Welsh Cricket, said: “The story of HH Merrett is a very inspiring one, with a sports-mad youngster rising from a humble background to become one of the leading entrepreneurs in South Wales during the inter-war period, besides being a generous patron of cricket and football.”

Find out more about Herbert Merrett and his links with cricket.

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