British Skating Legends

Unsung British heroes of roller speed skating

TONY MARRIOTT

MARRIOTT TEE'S UP A PASS ON JOHN C. FRY - LETCHWORTH 1991

Tony Charles Marriott (No.50 in the list of male British team members) was born in London on 12th August 1970.  He was born into a family that was already an established name in speed skating.  His mother, Gwen Marriott, was herself a speed skater but was looking now more towards being on the inside of the track as a judge, rather than on the track itself as a competitor.

Tony first strapped a pair of skates on aged about four.  He also competed from an early age and was seen racing local club events for the North London Roller Speed Club alongside his older brother, Paul, well before his tenth birthday, but it wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that he started to make a name for himself.

In 1984 he was selected to represent Great Britain as a Junior on home soil, competing at the Junior European Championships in Birmingham, where his mother would be National Team Manager.  His results were nothing spectacular, finishing 25th out of 27 on the road and 23rd out of 28 on the track.  If truth be known his performances went unrecognised, being overshadowed by team mates Ashley Harlow and Lisa Smith who would both win gold medals at this event.  Undeterred Marriott continued to work hard and on 13th July 1985 won his first British title, the Junior Boys 11 - 16 years 3000 metres on Birmingham Wheels.  Both Ashley Harlow (Herne Bay Flyers) and Andrew Newton (Fenland) had moved into the senior age group which left the way for Marriott to make his mark.  The following day he was beaten into second place in the 300 metres time trial by Sean McGeough (Alexandra Palace), who set a time just 7/100 ths faster.

In 1986, no-one was going to stop Marriott this time.  Just shy of his 16th birthday (at that time you turned senior on your 16th birthday) Marriott took all three Junior British titles, 300 metres, 500 metres and 3000 metres, on the newly laid 166 metre banked track at Herne Bay.  Later in the year, now a senior skater, he would win the Jesson Cup Open Handicap Championship off 60 metres - his first senior win and first major medal.  Just 12 months later he would take his first senior British Championship, the 20000 metres on Tatem Park.  It was a photo finish with Mark Tooke (Fenland) but Marriott just got the nod by 3/100 ths of a second.  Marriott's performances were deservedly rewarded with a place on the British team for the 1987 European and World Championships.  His first performance in a British shirt was fairly average and at times he looked somewhat overawed by the experience - but people forget that he was just 17 and his rise domestically had been nothing short of meteoric.

Despite this the experience proved invaluable and he readied himself for the World Championships in Grenoble, France, just a few weeks later.  But fortune was not shining on Marriott and just days before the start of the event he took a fall in training and broke his collar bone.  This obviously meant that he was unfit to skate in his first World Championships and was a bitter blow to a youngster trying to make his mark.  Marriott's place was taken by reserve skater Hugh Doggett (Anglia) who had managed a 4th place in the European Championships on the track a few weeks earlier.  Whilst the injury may well have been a setback for Marriott he didn't let it phase him. He returned to England and began his winter training in preparation for the following year.

1988 was the start of a dominant few years domestically for Marriott.  Only one man could be described as being on a par with him and that was Ashley Harlow.  Harlow had been senior for a couple of years now and was already a multiple senior British Champion and former Junior European Champion.  He was fast, very fast, and if he was still there at the end of a distance there was only ever likely to be on outcome.  Marriott knew this and so his tactics were to simply go out from the gun and make the race as hard as possible.  He knew he had to take the sting out of Harlow, and the only way to do that was sustained speed.  Marriott only knew one place in a line up generally, and that was the front.  For a period in 1988 it was the Marriott and Harlow show. With most races being distance events it was invariably Marriott that came out on top.

That year he got the call up again to represent Britain at the European Championships in Gujan Mestras, France.  Team Manager that year was John (Dai) Davis, also coach and mentor for Marriott back home.  Alongside him was Harlow, Tooke and new boys to the team, John C. Fry and Sean McGeough, both of whose father's had been former British team members and European Champions.  The first event was the 300 metres time trial where he would finish 16th.  Then came the 10000 metres, and this time he did produce a performance.  Marriott gave World Champion, Patrizio Sarto (Italy) a run for his money up the long finish straight and was just pipped on the line by the Italian.  Suddenly amidst his own euphoria came belief.  He had been dominant all year back home and now had proved that on the international stage he could mix it as well.  Although no more medals on the road he would still get 4th in the 1500 metres and 5th in the 5000 metres as well as 4th in the relay with team mates Fry and McGeough.

MARRIOTT GETS SILVER IN THE 10000 METRES - 1988 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS - GUJAN MESTRAS, FRANCE

Marriott's individual track performances were less impressive with a 5th and two 11th placings.  On the back of this he asked Team Manager Dai Davis to drop him from the last event, the relay, in favour of Harlow.  Davis refused and told him he had to skate it alongside Fry and McGeough.  It was to be a crucial decision for Marriott.  The three youngsters (Fry was the oldest aged just 21) were up against World and European Champions such as Oscar Galliazzo (Italy), Frank Peyron (France) and Harald Hertrich (Germany) - but unlike 1987, fortune this time was shining brightly.  The Italians and French were half a lap up on the rest of the field at around half distance, then the Italians fell leaving the French out in front all alone.  Spain, Belgium and Germany were all chasing like mad to close the gap and Britain were hanging on in there.  Slowly, the other countries fell away.  First Spain and then Germany and then as Belgium got within touching distance of the French, so they died too.  At this point John Fry Senior ran from the crowd to the track side and screamed at the inexperienced trio to go straight round the French and keep the pace high until the end.  What happened next will always remain speculation.  It's a fact that Fry and McGeough had switched positions due to a mixed up changeover (Fry was initially on to finish up against Peyron - but now it was McGeough up against the Frenchman) and whether this confused Peyron is unclear.  As the last changeover took place Marriott gave the push to McGeough.  McGeough sprinted the last lap with Peyron tucked in close behind him, but Peyron failed to make a move.  That was how they crossed the line...and Marriott and his two team mates were European Champions!

A few weeks later Marriott took to the track at Cassano d'Adda, Italy, in his first World Championships.  He achieved the highest place of any British male skater with 9th in the 1500 metres (Lisa Smith won bronze in the ladies 1500 metres) and his overall positions qualified him for the 1989 World Games in Karlsruhe, Germany.

1989 was a contrasting year.  Domestically he was virtually unstoppable.  In the 27 domestic races he entered he won no fewer than 23 times.  In the other four races he was 2nd three times and only finished outside of the placings once, in the 300 metres British Championship time trial.  It was a record of unequalled domination and remains to this day the most one sided season in British men's speed skating history.  Sceptics will tell you that he was helped by a mid season 6 month ban dished out to Harlow, but for those who witnessed his achievements first hand know that in the other 6 months of the season that they met, Harlow only beat him once.

Despite this, his performances at the European Championships in Madalena, Pico (Azores) that year were pretty unremarkable.  The track was tight and slippery and the road was the same except it also had one or two right hand bends thrown into the mix.  Marriott didn't like it one bit.  It was evident to team mates that he was not enjoying the Championships and for the first time that year looked unsure of himself, but not because of any particular skater, it was by circumstances and a technically difficult race circuit that gave him doubts.  That said, it is worth mentioning that he managed 4th in the 10000 metres on the track despite his misgivings.

His performances again picked up in time for the World Games and again for the World Championships which were in November in Hastings, New Zealand.  In fact, it was at these Championships that he put in his best performance with a 6th place in the 10000 metres points race.  The race (or rather Marriott's heat for the race) was unusual in so far as it was halted with most of the distance skated due to bad weather.  Marriott had already secured a place in the final by amassing enough points when the race was stopped.  The race reconvened in better conditions the following day with just a few laps remaining of the initial 50.  No one at that time, least of all Marriott could foresee that this would be his last race for Britain at a World Championships.

MARRIOTT (No.26) COMPETES IN HIS LAST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS - 1989 HASTINGS, NEW ZEALAND

In 1990 he was no less dominant domestically, and in fact would win every senior British title available to him, the first person to do so since Mick McGeough in 1973.  What is more remarkable is that when McGeough won them all there were only three events.  By 1990 this had increased to six events.  Again, as expected, he was selected to represent Britain at the European Championships in Inzell, Germany, and again it was the 10000 metres that would be "his" event.  On the track the surprise winner was Wouter Heytens (Belgium) with Marriott taking silver.  On the road, this time it was Arnaud Gicquel (France) taking gold with Marriott another silver.  In fact, Marriott competed in all 14 events at those Championships and such was his performances that he was first in the overall standings on the track.

It was at these Championships that Dai Davis dropped the bombshell that Britain would not be sending a team to the forthcoming World Championships in Bello, Colombia.  After consulting the British Foreign Office the Roller Speed Committee were advised to "travel only if necessary".  As it happened Marriott also stated that he was reluctant to compete in Colombia anyway so the outcome had little, if any, effect on him.

Another fantastic domestic year in 1991 saw Marriott again up for selection at the European Championships in Pineto and Pescara, Italy.  Although results would show him only winning two British titles that year, he was instrumental in helping his team mates, David McFarlane and Adrian Wordsworth, win titles of their own.  When the European Championships finally came round it was clear that all was not well.  Marriott's performances were pretty much sporadic and "middle of the road" (although he would raise his game yet again with a 4th place in the 10000 metres on the road) and not really in keeping with someone of his obvious talent and strength.  On his return from Italy he was diagnosed with a blood disorder and once again he found himself unable to attend yet another World Championships - this time in Ostende, Belgium, a track that like most British skaters he knew so well from the annual Zandvoorde International event.  In fact Marriott was a previous winner of this prestigious event and the track was well suited to his style of skating.  Unfortunately it was to be yet another "no show" for the London youngster.

By 1992 other talents were beginning to emerge.  Sutton Atkins (Derby), Michael McInerney (Fenland) and Errol Spence (Northampton) to name but a few.  Whether through his illness or simply that he was burning out, Marriott's domestic domination was on the wane.  By the time the British Championships came around again he found himself mixing it with the rest of the pack as opposed to winding it up from the front.  He did manage a bronze and silver on the first of two days racing but then on the second day, nothing, right up until the last event, the 20000 metres.  The race came down to the wire and the Birmingham Wheels duo of Simon Davis and John Fry (Junior) had led out team mate Chris Stafford to try and secure him his first British title.  As Fry moved over at the bell to let Stafford through, Marriott grabbed Stafford and hauled himself between the two Birmingham skaters and went on to win the event.  Many onlookers felt that Marriott should have been disqualified and it didn't help matters that it was his mother who was the bend judge where the incident occurred for that particular race.  Somebody cruelly suggested some time later to his mother that the name on the trophy that year should have been "Mrs G.Marriott" and not "T.Marriott". Naturally she vehemently defended the outcome.  Either way, it was a last ditch attempt at winning a British title that year and Marriott succeeded.  Nobody could take away from him his desire to win and whether fair or foul, his actions were no more than any other competitive skater would have done if the same situation were presented to them.

Once again Marriott was selected to represent his country, this time in Acireale, Sicily (Italy) for the European Championships, and this time things really were different for him.  Right from the off he distanced himself from the rest of the team.  It has been suggested that his personal life at that time was playing a big part in his performance, or rather, lack of it.  His whole demeanour suggested that he was not enjoying himself and the spark and confidence he had exuberated so well in recent years simply wasn't there.  Another possible contributor was the emergence of inline skates.  Marriott had already proven he was a master on traditional quad skates, but mastering inlines was going to be a whole new ball game to him.  Not only that but the likes of John C. Fry, Michael McInerney and Sutton Atkins had been training on inlines for almost 12 months in anticipation of their introduction.  In contrast, Marriott had only toyed with them, either through lack of interest or simply that he had "missed the boat".  Either way it was looking increasingly likely that he was going to lag behind his domestic and international rivals on these "new" skates for some time to come.

On 25th July 1992 he stepped onto the road circuit in Acireale along with team mates Adrian Wordsworth and Michael McInerney for the European Relay Championship.  Nobody envisaged that this event would be the last time they would see Tony Marriott in a British shirt.  On his return home, aged just 22, he hung his skates up and was not seen on them again....until 1998.

MARRIOTT CUTS A LONE FIGURE BEHIND THE REST OF THE BRITISH TEAM - 1992 ACIREALE, SICILY (ITALY)

L TO R - MARK TOOKE, ADRIAN WORDSWORTH, TONY MARRIOTT, MICHAEL McINERNEY, JOHN C. FRY

In 1998 Marriott was asked to make up one quarter of the North London team that were vying for victory in the British Inter-Club Relay Championship that year.  He agreed and along with Adrian Wordsworth, Leon Flack and Chris Ampaduh took to the track for one last time.  Despite carrying a few extra pounds and an obvious lack of fitness, Marriott completed the last lap for the team and in so doing picked up one last medal...and secured a new British relay record in the process!

It was inevitable that Marriott would have his critics.  As with most successful athletes people look for a weak spot.  If Marriott had any it was probably his tactical awareness and technical ability.  Internationally, his best performances generally came on wide open roads where passes were made on sheer strength, picking off the opposition one by one as they died towards the end of a race.  John (Dai) Davis was Marriott's coach and he trained him to his strengths.  It was Mick McGeough who once commented that Davis had probably taken Marriott as far as he could go, and he was probably right.  Davis had given Marriott his strength, and from that his speed.  What he couldn't pass on to him was international experience.  How to hold a line or defend a position, how to read a race or how to "use" the opposition.  This sort of information and knowledge could only come from the likes of McGeough who had been in amongst that environment (and been successful at it) for almost 20 years.

Many also felt that Marriott was "protected" within the sport and could do no wrong.  After all, his mother Gwen, was not only an international judge but also an influential figure on the Roller Speed Committee, as well as being an established domestic judge and referee.  In addition, his coach, Davis, was also the National Team Manager during Marriott's golden years, (1988 to 1990).  But this is all just conjecture and speculation.  And even if that were true, it is all immaterial.  In the period he was actively competing, Marriott's domestic record is second to none.  His victories are not only without equal, but they came at a time when British skating was still producing world class skaters - the Harlow brothers, Newton, Tooke, Spence, Wordsworth, Atkins and quite a few others.  Three European silver medals and one gold in six years is also nothing to be sniffed at.

Only Marriott knows the reasons why he walked away at such a young age.  At 22 it is doubtful that he had reached his peak.  He certainly had many more years ahead of him than were behind him.  For the briefest of periods he really was unbeatable, but for the rest of his life he will always be a British Skating Legend.