John Watts competed for Great Britain at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games, bringing home silver in the Men's 100 metres Freestyle Open.

John Watts in 2022, with his silver medal from competing in the
Men's 100 metre Freestyle Open at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games

Early life

John, who contracted polio in 1955 which left him with an impaired right leg, began swimming at the age of ten. After finishing his education he started work as a British Railways clerk at the Plumstead goods depot.

He was a member of the Lions Swimming Club, Eltham and Bromley Town Swimming Club where he swam the 100 yards (91.44 metres) in 73 seconds.

After winning three golds at the national Stoke Mandeville Games in May 1966 in 50 metres backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, he was selected to swim for Great Britain, back at Stoke Mandeville, that June. In September 1966 he competed in the British Polio Fellowship national competition in Wakefield.

Life as a Paralympic athlete

John competed at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games, winning silver in the Men's 100 metres Freestyle Open and finishing 5th in the final of the Men's 100 metres Breaststroke Open. 


Posted on LinkedIn on the 72nd anniversary of the first ever Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 in response to Anne Wafula Strike MBEs post, John’s recollection of Dr Guttmann:

I met him a couple of times briefly during the sixties when I was in my peak at Swimming , he was a great pioneer and we owe a lot to him.

To which Anne Wafula Strike replied:

John, you are among the first incredible Paralympians. I celebrate you and your achievements and I hope this nation and the movement gets to recognise your achievements and how you impacted the movement in its early stages. You are our UNSUNG HERO.

When his training schedule allowed John enjoyed ballroom dancing, saying  

I’m not as good as some normal people, but I get by. …. The others, at this ordinary ballroom dancing club treat me quite normally. This is what I want.

Achievements and awards

John's swimming medals

Paralympic Games

John won silver in the Men’s 100 metres Freestyle open at the Tel Aviv 1968 Paralympic Games.

Other sporting events

At the national Stoke Mandeville Games in May 1966, John won golds in the 50 metres backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. 

John (back row, far right) with the Western Region swimming team at Stoke Mandeville in 1989,
the 50th Year of the British Polio Fellowship, with fellow Paralympians, Margaret Gibbs (front row, second from right)
and Sue Carpenter née Bellamy (back row, second from left).


  • I. S. Brittain, From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A history of the Summer Paralympic Games, Champaign, Illinois, Common Ground Publishing, 2012
  • John Watts Collection, National Paralympic Heritage Trust
  • To Swim for Britain – Kentish Independent, June 1966
  • Sheer Guts Wins John an Olympic Medal – Rail News, January 1969