Robert Matthews (athlete)

Robert Matthews, MBE (26 May 1961 – 11 April 2018) was a British athlete who competed in blind middle- and long-distance events. He won eight gold medals across seven Paralympic Games, and has been referred to as an "iconic athlete".

Robert Matthews
Personal information
Born(1961-05-26)26 May 1961
Strood, England
Died11 April 2018(2018-04-11) (aged 56)
Auckland, New Zealand
Country United Kingdom
SportParalympic athletics
Disability classB1 / T11

Personal lifeEdit

Matthews was born in Kent.[1] He was born with the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa which he inherited from his father.[2] Matthews started to have significant difficulties with his vision when he was 11,[2][3] and by age 18 had lost most of his sight. He attended a school for the partially sighted from the age of 13, and went on to study at a college for the blind.[2] In 1993, he moved to Leamington to work for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.[1]

Matthews' first wife, Kath, died suddenly, in November 2003, aged 38.[3] Three years later, he met the woman who would become his second wife, Sarah Kerr, while he was on a holiday in New Zealand, and soon thereafter emigrated to the country to be with her.[2][4] The couple had two children.[1]

In 1987, Matthews became the first Paralympian to be appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He was awarded honorary masters of arts degrees from Warwick University in 2001, and from Worcester University in 2006.[5][6] Matthews was inducted into the BBC Midlands Hall of Fame in 2004.[6][7]

Matthews was also a sports-massage therapist, and motivational speaker. His autobiography Running Blind was published in 2009.[2] The writer of the 2014 film Blind Ambition told Matthews that it was his performance at the 1988 Paralympics that had inspired the story; Matthews helped show actor Robson Green how blind running worked, and received a small part in the film.[6] Matthews was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2017,[4] and died on 11 April 2018.[8]

Sporting careerEdit

Matthews first competed at the Paralympics in 1984 at the Stoke Mandeville/New York Games. He started off in the B1 class middle- and long-distance events, winning gold in all three disciplines: the 800 m, 1,500 m, and 5,000 m. Four years later, at the Games in Seoul, he retained all three titles. He again won the 5,000 m in 1992, and finished with a silver in the 800 m and bronze in the 1,500 m. This brought his medal tally to 13, eight of which were golds.[9]

Matthews broke 22 world records, and won six world championship and 15 European championship gold medals.[6] In 1986, he became the first blind runner to run the 800 m in under two minutes, breaking his own world record in the process.[2][6] He was listed as one of eight "iconic athletes" in the London 2012 Guide to the Paralympic Games.[10]

Matthews retired from track and field athletics after failing to win a medal at the 2004 Games in Athens and failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games despite setting a new New Zealand record for the 1,500 m event.[1][9][6] He began to concentrate on a new sport and competed in blind cycling events at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London as a representative of New Zealand.[1][11] Matthews also represented New Zealand as a triathlete from 2009.[8][12]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Bob Matthews aims for eighth Paralympic Games". BBC News. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rattue, Chris (24 October 2009). "Paralympics: The blind runner with a crystal-clear vision". NZ Herald. APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b Rowbottom, Mike (18 September 2004). "Athletics: 'Running is like a safety valve. It helped keep me sane and it gave me a goal'". The Independent. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  4. ^ a b Cary, Tom (11 April 2018). "Robert Matthews - one of the most successful Paralympic athletes of all time - dies, aged 56". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Coventry 2012 - Hall of Fame". Coventry City Council. Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Golden Leamington legend Bob retires". Leamington Spa Courier. 24 July 2008. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  7. ^ "BBC Midlands Sports Awards 2004". BBC Press Office. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  8. ^ a b Bob Matthews: Eight-time Paralympic champion dies at the age of 56 - BBC Sport
  9. ^ a b "Athlete Search Results - Robert Matthews". International Paralympic Committee. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  10. ^ "London 2012 Guide to the Paralympic Games" (PDF). London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. 2007. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  11. ^ "Weir fired up for seventh London Marathon title". World Para Olympics. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Rob Matthews - Inspiring blind Olympic Gold Medalist | SpeakerLink Find the Right Speaker". Speaker Link New Zealand. Retrieved 12 April 2018.