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OH Dave Travis: ‘Commonwealth Gold helped me go up a level’

By Sam Colvine

Participating in multiple Olympic Games, Dave Travis OH (1964) is one of Hampton’s most successful sporting alumni. Talented in a plethora of disciplines, he specialised in javelin, winning gold medals in the 1967 World Student Games and the 1970 Commonwealth Games.

During his time at Hampton, Travis immersed himself in the sporting side of the curriculum, excelling in athletics and rugby, as well as dabbling in basketball and weightlifting: “I got through lessons to get out on the field or to the gym and participate in all those sporting activities I loved.” He fondly recalls the tutorship of Bill Foster and Johnny Watterson, members of the PE department, who helped to nurture his sporting talent and had a lasting effect on his attitude to his passions, being Travis’ “inspirational force” while he was at school.

The annual Sports Day was the highlight of the school calendar in Travis’ eyes. Competing for Pigeon House, he was able to exhibit his supreme sporting ability in front of hordes of boys and watching parents: “a chance to show off!”, he jokes. These first experiences of showcasing his talent in front of masses of onlookers proved to be the catalyst for an insatiable urge to exceed in every sporting field he entered, allowing him to experience a career that any Hamptonian would envy.

Whilst studying, Travis began to take his talents to more notable platforms, achieving national status in javelin, decathlon and rugby by the time he left Hampton. The vast array of disciplines in which he engaged himself were all available to Travis at the School, and he became proficient in any sport he attempted: “I had such a mix of sporting opportunities at Hampton, from rugby in the winter and athletics in the summer and many other activities too such as basketball, weight training and ‘5s.”

Eventually, he made his English Schools Championship Debut in 1960, placing second in the U15 shot, a first experience of success that would be a constant feature of his career. Simultaneously, he began to thrive with a javelin in his hand, garnering two consecutive titles in 1963 and 1964. However, this was not the limit of his sporting ability as Travis won England Schools Rugby caps in 1964-65. Yet this left him at a crossroads when his tenure at Hampton came to an end: it was clear that he could make a career out of any sport he dedicated himself to, but which one was it to be?

Describing himself as “a bit of an individual and not particularly ‘clubbable’”, the team mentality and collective cultures and traditions of rugby held no appeal for Travis; it was athletics, specifically javelin, that was his calling. Here, he was able to rely on solely himself to achieve, enjoying the cut-throat nature of selection: “you set a performance and you are either good enough or not.” Places at major events would not be conflicted by personal preference or chemistry with other team members as was the case with rugby. It was down to him and the javelin, a distinct sense of individuality which enticed Travis as he journeyed into the sporting world.

The notion of adventure and travel was also a factor in his decision. Pursuit of javelin glory would take him across the globe whereas rugby would confine him to the mundanity of game cycles at Twickenham, Cardiff and Edinburgh. As he departed school, javelin endeavours seemed entirely more exciting: “I was potentially headed for the ‘66 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, ’67 Student Games in Tokyo and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and I could see quite a good career ahead of me.”

Travis made his senior international debut in 1965, the first outing in what would prove to be an exceptional time on the global javelin scene. An initial landmark success would arrive at the 1967 Tokyo World Student Games where he won gold, a performance which would earn him a place on the team for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Nonetheless, his best was yet to come; in 1970 he set a British record of 82.22m, an effort that would stand for four years. In the same year, he won gold in the Commonwealth Games which took place in Edinburgh, the zenith of an already monumental career. Travis was thriving: “I could now hold my own at a world class level. It was a great year!” Finally, in 1974, he won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand.

While becoming a major figure internationally, Travis dominated the domestic arena, winning seven Amateur Athletic Association javelin titles between 1965-74.

This prolonged success was only possible due to hard work and determination. Under the tutelage of Colin Smith, a stalwart of the javelin scene and previously Britain’s most successful javelin thrower at international level, Travis dedicated ample time to gym work: “I just became fitter and stronger and everything went up a level.”

A particular highlight of Travis’ time on the international circuit was the chance to mingle with javelin royalty. The Russian-born Jānis Lūsis was a pre-eminent thrower at the time and one of Travis’ sporting heroes. In fact, one of his most treasured possessions is a photograph including himself, Lūsis and the 1972 Olympic Champion, Klaus Wolfermann: “I knew them well on the circuit and it was great to see myself with two of the greatest in the sport.” It is obvious that the relationships and experiences Travis amassed during his time as a senior javelin thrower are of enormous importance to him.

Travis, Lusis, and Wolfermann

Travis enjoyed further education at Loughborough College and when he left in 1968, he was thrust into an amateur sporting environment which forced him to enter the workplace. He became a teacher and worked for 23 years in London and Coventry, finding posts at many different schools. According to Travis, Hampton was another notable influence in this aspect. The varied views and backgrounds of the students instilled a sense of tolerance and understanding in him: “I strongly believed that it helped me to fit in late on and feel comfortable with myself and others…and look more deeply at what made people tick. Important skills for a teacher!”

Then, in 1991, Travis chose to leave teaching and return to his sporting roots, entering a new career of sport development which was, in his view, “my best career move.” He became the Director of Sport for Bristol, assisting in cultivating the evolution of young athletes, coaches and competitions in 17 years of satisfying work: “I like to think I had an impact on coaches going into schools, developing competitions in inner city schools and opening up opportunities for children and sport.” It was in this position that he felt most comfortable, helping others to pursue the goals that he had once aimed for, and in some cases achieved, in previous years.

This piece can be aptly concluded with some erudite advice, from a man well acquainted with sporting success, for any current Hamptonians who wish to embark on a similar career: “Seek out a mentor, an advisor, a coach.  Listen to the wisdom that they’ve got and try to feed off of them on the way you might move through life.” However, Travis also places emphasis on the importance of independence when working out what is best for yourself: “Then, when you have worked out what you want to do, work hard effectively.”

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