British Skating Legends

Unsung British heroes of roller speed skating

JOHN FOLLEY

JOHN FOLLEY - SHOWING AUSTRALIA THE WAY - c.1973

John Folley (No.26 in the list of male British team members) was born right in the middle of the Second World War in Oxford in 1942. 

He joined the National Skating Association in 1959 and was still a relative youngster in the South London team that won that year's British Inter Club Relay Championship at the old Brixton Rink.

By 1964, Folley was beginning to make a name for himself.  His first individual medal in a British Championship came at the Alexandra Palace rink on 15th February of that year when he finished second behind Les Woodley of the Midland club.  The finish was so close that Folley believed he had won, although the decision went Woodley's way.  Woodley later acknowledged that Folley may indeed have crossed the line first but he believed that he had been a "victim" of an identical circumstance when Jim Lipyeat won the One Mile in 1959 on the Herne Bay rink.  Despite Folley's obvious talent, domestically he would not win another individual British Championship medal until 1968.

In 1967 he was selected for his first major international when he represented Great Britain at the European Championships in Inzell, Germany.  In his first outing in a GB shirt he won bronze in the 1000 metres knock-out.

In 1968 he won both the One Mile and Five Mile - two of the three British titles that were then competed for.  On the back of his victories he was again selected to represent Great Britain, this time  at the forthcoming World Championships in Montecchio (Vicenza), Italy - his highest placing being 6th in the 20000 metres.

1969 would see Folley elevated to the pinnacle of any skaters career.  Early in the year he retained his One Mile Championship but was narrowly beaten in the Five Mile by Mick McGeough.  In December, however, he was one quarter of the first British team, managed by Bob Halford, to compete in a World Championships outside of Europe.  The venue was the new 200 metre banked track in Mar del Plata, Argentina with the event being held over two days.  On the first day Folley won a silver medal in the 20000 metres just behind New Zealand skater, Dean Hayes.  Full of confidence he went into the second day and obtained 5th in the 1000 metres knock-out before stepping onto the track to compete in the very last event, the 10000 metres.  Going into the last bend in 3rd place, behind Dean Hayes (NZ) and Gerry Glover (NZ) he skated right round the top of the banking and used "the hump" off the bend to launch himself between the two Kiwis down the finish straight and become World Champion!

DECEMBER 1969 - JOHN FOLLEY - 10000M WORLD CHAMPION

Despite no European or World Championships in 1970, on 30th March he would win the Half Mile British Championship meaning that he now had a gold medal in all three events.  In fact this victory would mean that Folley would become the last senior man to win a British title at an "imperial" distance.  In 1971 the British Championships all became metric.  The Half Mile was now the 800 metres, the One Mile became the 1500 metres and the Five Mile became the 8000 metres.  On the 28th November 1970 (the 1971 season) Folley became the first British Champion at a metric distance (1500 metres) and by April 1971 became the first man to win all three British titles in a single season since Alf Martin in 1948.

As if that wasn't enough, 1971 would cement Folley in the annals of history as one of the true greats in British speed skating.  At the European Championships in Wetteren, Belgium, that year he would finish 3rd in the 5000 metres, 2nd behind team mate John Fry in the 500 metres time trial and would win outright the 1000 metres knock-out to become the first and, to date, only post war British skater to be crowned World AND European Champion.

This event would see Folley bow out of the sport at the very top of his career.  Part of his decision to stop was the fact that there would be no World or European Championships in 1972, and worse...no British Championships.  Although Folley no longer had anything to prove, he also felt that the potential rewards for the effort he was putting into his training were not being granted by those with the authority to do so.  In 1973 he emigrated to Australia with his family to set up a new life "Down Under".  Whilst there he became national team manager of the Australian Speed Team and took them to their very first World Championships in Mar del Plata in 1978 - a track he knew so very well.  He has since returned to these shores and now lives in West Sussex and although he is seldom seen around a race track he is still remembered as one of the true legends of our sport and a real gentleman to boot.

JOHN FOLLEY PICTURED IN JUNE 2011