A Norfolk man who competed in the 1964 Olympics and has been described as one of Britain's finest race walkers has died, at the age of 86. 

Ray Middleton came 13th in the 50km event at the Tokyo game, taking four hours, 25 minutes, and 49.2 seconds to complete the course. 

The event is the longest athletics contest in the Olympics, with a course five miles further than the marathon.

The sport is defined by two crucial rules that distinguish it from running: that an athlete's back toe cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched, and that the supporting leg must straighten from the point of contact with the ground and remain straightened until the body passes directly over it.

Two years after his Olympic appearance, Mr Middleton, who lived in Poringland, would go on to earn a silver medal in the 20 miles race walk at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

Mr Middleton finished in two hours, 45 minutes, and 19 seconds – just over half a minute after the winner. 

Eastern Daily Press: Ray MiddletonRay Middleton (Image: Newsquest)

During his long career, Mr Middleton also set a series of world walks bests, including five in one race at the New River Sports Centre in London in 1974 where he completed the 40 miles in five hours, 56 minutes, and 29 seconds.

His personal bests included 3,000m in 13 minutes and 25 seconds, 10,000m in 46 minutes and 59 seconds, 20km in one hour, 34 minutes and six seconds, and 50km in four hours, 15 minutes, and 51.4 seconds. 

Domestically, he won Race Walking Association titles in 1963 and 1965 and brought home medals on 14 occasions. 

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Raymond Christopher Middleton was born in Marylebone, north London, on August 9, 1936, and was the son of Christopher Middleton, a railway worker, and Florence Middleton (née Crick). 

As a schoolboy, sport was important to him and he tried his hand at high jump and half-miling.

When he was 15, he entered a one-mile race walk for novices and really enjoyed it. He had found his niche.

Two years later, on May 11, 1953, he joined the Belgrave Harriers athletics club and began competing internationally for Great Britain in his 20s. 

Eastern Daily Press: Two Tokyo Olympians, Callum Wilkinson in 2021, and Ray Middleton, who competed in 1964Two Tokyo Olympians, Callum Wilkinson in 2021, and Ray Middleton, who competed in 1964 (Image: Ron Wallwork MBE)

He later became a postal worker and competed in the European Postal Walking Championship, which saw postmen from across the continent compete while dressed in their uniforms and each carrying a mail sack.

He won the race in 1970 and received much coverage including in the Daily Mirror and on the BBC’s Blue Peter. 

He had lived in Poringland for the last few decades with wife Jean, who he married in 1959.

Mrs Middleton would often help out at race events, selling tickets and programmes. 

The couple had two daughters, Lesley and Deborah. 

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Mr Middleton worked at Golders Green Post Office in London, before moving to Norfolk. 

In December last year, after enjoying what his family said was a "great Christmas", Mr Middleton succumbed to illness. 

After a brief stay in hospital, he died on January 8 from suspected lung failure following an infection.  

His daughter Lesley Smart said: “Dad’s knack at putting people at ease with his witty comments and good humour, together with his incredible talent and determination on the open road, made him an unforgettable and exceptional human being and a pleasure to have known.

“He was also a fantastic husband to Jean and a brilliant father to Deborah and I - big old walking shoes that cannot be filled by anyone else." 

Eastern Daily Press: Ray MiddletonRay Middleton (Image: Newsquest)

She is hoping that friends who knew him and have memories of his race days will be able to attend his funeral next month. 

“We would love you all to come [to the funeral] and reminisce of the old days as we have managed to find his scrapbook with newspaper cuttings, photos and autograph book from Tokyo and his career, together with his medal that we will have on display at the Railway Tavern (in Framingham Earl) following the funeral," she said. 

“Let’s tell the locals of Poringland – and beyond – of the star athlete that was living alongside them for so many years.” 

His funeral will take place on Friday, February 10 at 12.30pm at Earlham Crematorium, Norwich. 

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