HE is a record-breaking Olympic medallist; she swam the Channel.
Together, sport legends Derek Ibbotson and Eileen Fenton shone in the spotlight as they reminisced over their triumphs.
The pair were brought together yesterday for a special event at the Tolson Museum in Moldgreen.
Joining a panel of other local sports experts they took part in a one-off talk, filmed to be used as part of the museum’s major new sporting exhibition.
They charmed an audience of fans with their fascinating tales of how they got to the top of their sports and what it was like to be a superstar athlete in their day, impressing the crowd with their enduring passion for sport.
Derek, originally from Berry Brow, was a world-class athlete, famed for setting a new world record for running the mile.
He delighted telling his audience about how he made history when he competed the course in 3min 57.2secs in front of a crowd of thousands at London’s White City Stadium on July 19, 1957.
He also told the crowd how a year earlier he took home a bronze medal for Britain in the 5,000 metres race in the Melbourne Olympics, but was disappointed that he was denied entry in the 1,500 metres race, which he believes he would have won.
Derek, 75, still works hard to promote the importance of fitness and sport and his appearance at yesterday’s event was one of many he has made across Kirklees.
Proudly displaying memories of his sporting days, including his Olympic medal and a picture showing all the record holders of the mile race from 1937 to 2008, he told the Examiner that he still loved to reminisce over the sporting triumphs of his youth.
He said: “It all started at Berry Brow. I used to play football and cricket and I thought I was quite good at them. My dad came to watch me at Almondbury Grammar School and I played reasonably well, I asked my dad how I did and he said I had lots of energy – but no idea at all.
“He told me to be a runner. I wanted to play with a team, but in those days when your dad said you’re a runner you were a runner!
“It’s important to promote the sport, though it has changed a lot since my day. When I got going there was no coach in the North of England and I did a lot of training myself, which I had to fit in between work.
“There was none of this drugs business when I was running, although I heard of some people who were doing it.
“A bloke asked me what I was on when I beat the world record. I said ‘nothing, not even an aspirin!’ ”
Derek, who has received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Examiner’s Community Awards, was also made an MBE last year and is now waiting to visit Buckingham Palace for what will be his fourth trip.
He said: “That’s something I’m looking forward to. It’s been a long time coming; it took 50 years for me to get my MBE, when for some it only takes a few years!”
In 1950 Dewsbury teacher Eileen Fenton was just 22 when she tackled one of the greatest and most formidable sporting challenges, swimming the English Channel.
She was one of just nine swimmers out of 24 to make it across the difficult stretch of water in the Daily Mail’s first International Channel Race.
Eileen, who was once the chief swimming coach for Yorkshire, finished in sixth place, but scooped the £1,000 prize for being the first woman in the race to reach England’s shores.
She told her audience that she couldn’t remember a time when she couldn’t swim and that she had swum her first full length by the age of two.
After early success in local swimming competitions and completing a tough swim of Morecambe Bay at the age of 19, Eileen decided to enter the Channel race.
After initially being told by the organisers that she was not big enough to compete she proved that she was up to the challenge by completing gruelling, freezing cold swims in the sea off Scarborough.
She said of her Channel swim: “It was pitch black and very cold; we could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow.
“When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand.
“I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours.”
The museum’s exhibition, entitled Our Sporting Greats, will open next month.
The display, organised by Kirklees Museums and Galleries, will include interviews from sporting stars and memorabilia, including the swimsuit and cap Eileen wore and Derek’s medals.
The first-ever woman to swim the Channel was American Gertrude Ederle in 1926.