COUNTY NEWS: Oldest living Olympian celebrates his 100th

Celebrations have kicked off this week for the oldest living Olympian who has turned 100.

Bill Lucas, 100, the oldest surviving British athlete of the 1948 London Olympic Games. Picture: Derek Martin

Bill Lucas, from Cowfold in West Sussex, ran the 5,000 metres at the 1948 Olympics in London after the war ruined his chances in the 1940 Helsinki games and were subsequently cancelled in 1944.

The centenarian hit the milestone on Monday (January 16) and it has been a week of celebrations for the former Belgrave Harrier and RAF pilot, who was a hot prospect for a gold medal and world record in the 1940 games.

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Relatives and friends travelled down to celebrate with Bill on Tuesday (January 17) at the Princess Marina House in Rustington, Littlehampton.

South Downs MP Nick Herbert paid the Olympian a visit last Friday (January 13)

Bill said: “We had a marvellous party and I thank everybody who has sent me best wishes. And also, I’d like to thank all the people who’ve sent me presents. I can’t write to them all and thank them because I’m too old, but I hope this message gets to them. God Save the Queen.”

The RAF veteran went on to fly 81 missions as a bomber pilot to be awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, before competing in the 5000 meters at the 1948 games at the age of 32, competing against Emil Zatopec. He was also mentioned in Dispatches.

Known as one of the ‘Bomber Boys’, Bill lives with his second wife, Sheena, whom he has been married to for 37 years but his health and mobility has suffered since the pair were involved in a car accident in November near Burgess Hill.

The couple were on their way to a signing ceremony when the car carrying them overturned. They both had to be cut out from the wreckage, which left them in hospital for with broken bones.

The former Bomber Command pilot celebrated with his wife, Sheena and relatives and friends on Tuesday (January 17). Picture: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

Tony Hibling, a friend of Bill’s and responsible for publicity at the Royal Air Forces Association branch (RAFA) in Haywards Heath said the ‘trauma’ of the accident had ‘hit them both physically and mentally’ but praised the Olympian’s ‘fitness and health’ for making the milestone.

He said: “When Bill went to a see a medic before he went into the RAF forces they told him he had an enlarged heart and they were not sure whether he should join. However, Bill told them that all athletes had an enlarged heart so they let him join!

“I would like to congratulate Bill and give him my best wishes for the future as I am sure the members of the branch will join me in doing so.

“Bill is known for his tireless efforts in support for the recognition and setting up of the Bomber Command Memorial.

Pilot Joe Rigg and Navigator Mark Swinton (XV Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth) paid a surprise visit to Bill on Tuesday (January 17). Picture: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

“After his stint in the Olympics he went on to be a very prominent character in athletics including commentating at the White City Stadium, and recently receiving an award from the Belgrave Harriers which he joined in 1935 as their longest serving member of some 81 years and at this time he is Britain’s oldest living Olympian.”

As a member of the Haywards Heath branch which meets at the United Services Club in Wivelsfield Road, the Olympian was the previous president and now has the position of life vice president.

Born in 1917, Bill discovered he liked running at school. He left at 15 and joined an insurance company, which encouraged sports. He soon became an outstanding athlete in the company attaining county standard.

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert paid a visit to Bill on Friday (January 13).

It has been a week of celebrations for the centenarian. Picture: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund

He said: “I am sure that many people will join me in wishing Bill a very happy 100th birthday. He is a remarkable man who gave great service to his country, competed in the Olympics, and has led a full and active life in subsequent decades.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier also wished the Olympian a Happy Birthday.

He said: “On behalf of the RAF and a grateful nation, I would like to offer heartiest congratulations for your 100th birthday, we all hope you had a wonderful day.”

Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, Chief Executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund said the team were ‘delighted’ that the Olympian celebrated amongst fellow Bomber Command veterans at the respite centre on Tuesday and were ‘honoured to be part of the special occasion’.

He added: “The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund wishes Bill a very happy 100th birthday and congratulates him on this wonderful milestone.”

The 100-year-old has hit headlines recently after not making the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. He was put forward by a friend in Scotland, but was rejected.

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