With a newly upgraded athletics track completed and officially opened in November 2020, Hedydd Davies, president of Carmarthen and District Harriers Athletics Club, looks back at the history of Carmarthen's track.
Carmarthen Town Park was the venue in Carmarthen for many years for cycling and athletics events Very well attended events were held in the Park every Easter and August Bank holiday Mondays.
The Carmarthenshire Schools Athletics Association held their first championships in the Park in 1948 and Welsh Schools held their championships in Carmarthen Park in 1949.
Carmarthen and District Harriers Athletics Club was formed in April 1948 with Ron B Evans as its chairman, a position which he held until 1981 when Hedydd Davies became chairman and remained in the post until 2017.
In 1954 the Welsh Colts and Youths championships were held in the Carmarthen Park on a horribly wet day.
During the 1950’s Carmarthen Harriers members trained on the grass in Carmarthen Park and the excellent Trinity College Playing Fields in Johnstown.
In this period there were very few athletic stadia in Wales and the annual Welsh Championships were held in the Maindy Stadium in Cardiff. After the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in the Arms Park Cardiff in 1958 the cinder track there was transferred to Maindy Stadium.
A major step forward was in 1964 when a 440 yard cinder track was opened at the Ystrad Tywi secondary site in Llansteffan Road Johnstown (no Carmarthen Leisure Centre to be had in those days)
Many well known Welsh athletes competed at the opening event in 1964 and a large crowd was in attendance.
The Welsh secondary schools’ athletics championships were held on the Track at the Ystrad Tywi School site in 1966.
Ron Evans organized many top class events at this cinder track with many British internationals competing. Lynn Davies the 1964 Olympic long jump champion broke the GB long jump record at the Carmarthen Track but was not ratified as the runway was slightly downhill.
The Ystrad Tywi cinder track was well used in the 1970’s by Carmarthen Harriers and Carmarthenshire/Dyfed secondary schools and many Welsh League matches were held at the Carmarthen cinder track.
The 1967 and 1970 Welsh Marathon Championships were held in Carmarthen with the start and finish on the Carmarthen Athletics Track.
However, the Ystrad Tywi cinder track began show its age. It was almost impossible to use it in the winter months and in the summer, it was too hard and flooded very easily.
In the late 1970’s all-weather synthetic tracks were being built and in Wales Cwmbran Stadium synthetic track became the main track in Wales for major athletics events
New all-weather synthetic track in Carmarthen
To maintain its position in Welsh Athletics it was soon realized that Carmarthen had to upgrade its athletics facility.
In 1986 the Carmarthen Harriers chairman Hedydd Davies put forward a plan for grants from Dyfed County Council, Carmarthen District Council, Carmarthen Town Council and the Sports Council of Wales to provide a new modern all weather synthetic track at the Carmarthen Leisure Centre site in Johnstown Carmarthen.
The submission was supported by John Phillips the Dyfed Director of Education.
However, at the February 1987 Dyfed County Council Education Committee meeting there were two projects under consideration for one grant.
New Carmarthen Athletics Track and indoor toilets at St Dogmaels Primary School Cardiganshire.
The vote was 12 for the Carmarthen Athletics Track and 12 for the indoor toilets at St Dogmaels primary school.
The Chairman Cllr AD Lewis from Aberystwyth cast his casting vote in favour of the Carmarthen Athletics Track project.
Carmarthen District Council, Sports Council for Wales and Carmarthen Town Council were also asked for grants towards the cost of installing an all-weather running track adjacent to the Carmarthen Leisure Centre and QE Maridunum School.
In the end grants totaling £166,000 were obtained as follows:
- Dyfed County Council £68,000; Carmarthen District Council £68,000, Sports Council for Wales £20,000 and Carmarthen Town Council £10,000
Tenders were invited for the project and Master Sport were successful. Peter Turvey from the Dyfed County Council’s Architect’s department was responsible for overseeing the work.
The work on the track commenced in July 1987 but came to a stop in October that year. It was not possible that year to lay the top surface and to complete the work.
Work recommenced in April 1988 with the aim for the new synthetic track to be ready by June that year with an opening ceremony planned on the day of the Dyfed AA championships on Saturday 4 June 1998.
It was found that the old track was 441.5 yards long instead of 440 yards.
It was touch and go to finish the new track on schedule with grass in the centre of the track at least 20 cm tall in the week before the opening event.
On Saturday 4 June 1988 a Dinner was held at 12 noon in QE Maridunum School before the new track was officially opened at 1pm by Cllr John Thomas Chairman Dyfed County Council with Cllr Wilf Davies Chairman of Carmarthen District Council, Cllr Sian Morris Mayor of Carmarthen and Mr. Myrddin John Sports Council of Wales member in attendance. Also present were Welsh Athletics officers.
After the opening ceremony, the Dyfed AAA championships were held with many international athletes competing.
Highlight of the afternoon was Carmarthen Harrier Bob Brierley’s attempt to break the over 70 British record for the 1500m.
Value of the Carmarthen Athletics Track in the period 1988-2020
For a long time, the Carmarthen Track was the only all-weather synthetic track in Dyfed. A new track was installed much later at Sir Thomas Picton School Haverfordwest and at Parc y Scarlets, Pemberton Llanelli
Ceredigion is still without a synthetic running track and the Ceredigion secondary schools’ championships are always held at the Carmarthen Athletics Track.
In the last 30 years the Carmarthen Athletics Track has been the venue for all Carmarthenshire and Dyfed primary and secondary competitions and the many competitions organized by the Carmarthen and District Harriers Athletics who have been instrumental in bringing many events to Carmarthen.
Below is the list of major athletics events held in Carmarthen on the synthetic Track at Johnstown.
All events from 1988 on the new Carmarthen Athletics Track
1989 Welsh U17 and U20 Championships
1989 Celtic Games (Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Ulster)
1990 Wales v Welsh Schools v Midlands v American High Schools U20 match
1990 Welsh U13 and U15 Championships
1991 Welsh U13 and U15 Championships
1992 Welsh Schools Championships
1994 Welsh Schools Cup Final
1995 Welsh Schools v Scottish Schools U20 match
1999 SIAB Schools (England. Ireland, Scotland and Wales) international
2000 Welsh Schools Championships
2001 Welsh U17 and U20 Championships
2002 Welsh Schools Combined Events Championships
2003 Welsh Schools international (Wales, Scotland)
2005 Celtic Games (Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Ulster)
2005 Welsh inter regional championships
2006 Welsh schools combined events championships
2007 Welsh U13 and U15 championships
2009 Celtic Games (Wales, Scotland, Ulster)
2010 Welsh U17 and U20 Championships
Facilities at the Carmarthen Athletics Track
Carmarthen was extremely fortunate to have the new Track in 1988 otherwise the major events listed above would not have been held at Carmarthen.
Carmarthen Harriers are the athletics club based at the Carmarthen Athletics Track and the Club has had tremendous support in many ways from Dyfed County Council, Carmarthen District Council, Carmarthen Town Council and since 1996 Carmarthenshire County Council.
Without the support of the Councils and the Manager and staff of the Carmarthen Leisure Centre it would not have been possible also to provide the opportunity for young athletes from a very wide area to take part in organized athletics competition.
However, it was soon realized in 1988 that that the new Track was short of the following supporting facilities
Spectator stand, Administrative buildings and floodlights
The 1989 major events were held with TA tents for athletes and Rees Sound bus for the administration and announcements
It took many years, a lot of hard work fund raising and with the support of many organizations to provide the following improvements:
Two administrative portacabins
Floodlights around the whole track
An all-weather synthetic running track must be resurfaced every 8 -10 years
The Carmarthen Athletics Track has been resurfaced in 1995 (Dyfed County Council ), 2000 (Carmarthenshire County Council), 2009 (Carmarthenshire County Council (2009 – it should have started in 2008 but bad weather prevented any work at all in 2008)
In 2020 there has been a major refurbishment of the facilities at the Carmarthen Leisure Centre.
This has involved the resurfacing of the Carmarthen Athletics Track and its upgrading to an 8 lane running track suitable for major athletics in the future.
Carmarthenshire County Council are once again are to be congratulated on their investment in sport and the healthy wellbeing of not only that of the local community but also of a wider area.
Photo/Llun: Track Re-opening in 1964 (440 yard cinder track was opened at the Ystrad Tywi secondary site in Llansteffan Road Johnstown)