Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz. Olga Korbut — we all remember the great Olympians, but what of the Scots? As the modern Olympics celebrate their 100th birthday and this year‘s athletes Iimber up for Atlanta, Lorin McDougall looks back at some of Scotland‘s greatest success stories.
oscow. 25 July [980: as Scotland‘s Allan Wells and Silvio Leonard of Cuba flash through the finish line simultaneously. the Russian announcer initially gives Leonard the verdict. But the action replay tells a different story and confirms the Edinburgh sprinter as winner ofthe Olympic l()()m. the Blue Riband event of the Games. Wells’s epic victory in the Lenin Stadium and his 200m silver medal three days later (not forgetting the frantic trackside shrieks of wife Margot) established him as one of Scotland’s greatest Olympians. However. he was by no means the first Scot to strike gold in the sprints.
The I908 Games in London could not have been further removed from the Communist propaganda of Moscow. That this was an altogether more innocent era was clearly illustrated by Lieutenant Wyndham Halswell‘s bizarre «l()()m triumph. When one of the four finalists was disqualified for obstruction. his two American team-mates pulled out in protest. leaving Halswell to run round alone before collecting his inedal
Success did not come qttitc so easily in Paris sixteen years later as the legendary Eric Liddell required a world record of 47.6 seconds to emulate Halswell as quarter-mile champion. Any self-respecting filmgoer will know from the Oscar-winning Chariots Of Fire that the international rugby winger would rather have contested the l()()m. but was forced to withdraw on religious grounds as the qualifying heats were held on a Sunday. Had the timetable allowed. how would Liddell have fared against Harold Abrahams‘.’ The pair actually met in the 200m. Liddell taking bronze and the Englishman trailing in last.
Dundee‘s Dick McTaggart. one of the finest amateur boxers ever. was another true Olympian who won lightweight gold at Melbourne in I956. While later champions such as Ali. Frazier and Foreman used the Games as a springboard to a professional career and riches beyond avarice. the RAF corporal remained amateur and competed in two more Olympics. claiming bronze in Rome and bowing out at the quarter-final stage in Tokyo.
‘There was no money involved in amateur boxing then. and there still isn’t.’ says
‘Atter my final, I was about to go out celebrating, but I was told to hang back because I had a good chance of winning the trophy.’
h’lc'l’aggart. now agcd ()0. ‘But that didn't bother me. I didn’t really think about it — Ijust wanted to enjoy myself. and i did. Professional boxing is a hard. hard game. You have to train seven days a week if you want to be any good. and I couldn't do that.‘
Nevertheless. Mc'l‘aggart scaled prodigious heights in Melbourne. where the Sue? and
Hungarian crises supplied the political backdrop that Afghanistan and President
Carter's boycott were to provide in I980. Victory over Germany’s Harry Kurschat gave Mc'l‘aggart gold in his weight division and also earned him the prestigious Val Barker trophy as the outstanding boxer of the Games. Even Hungary‘s Lazlo Papp. whose light- middleweight triumph gave him his third successive title. had to take second best for once.
‘lt was the highlight of my career. especially winning that award.” he recalls. ‘After my final. l was about to go out celebratine. but i was told to hang back because I had a good chance of winning the trophy.’
Unlike the brain-damaged Ali. Mc'l‘aggart‘s story has a happy ending. As a coach to the British team. the Scot attended three more Olympiads in Los Angeles. Seoul and Barcelona. He also received a supreme tribute from his home town of Dundee when a new sports centre was built in his name.
In the last of the so-called Friendly Games. in Tokyo in NM. Scots swimmer Bobby McGregor came within a whisker of a fairytale victory in the l()()m freestyle. A mere tenth ofa second separated McGregor and American golden boy Don Schollander. yet although perfectly matched. their preparation could not have been more different. While McGregor had trained as best he could at the public baths in Falkirk. Schollander — who won two other events in Japan — benefited from the finest facilities and coaching.
Twelve years on. Edinburgh‘s David Wilkie calculated that the only way to topple the Americans and turn his I972 silver into gold was to adopt their own training methods. And so Wilkie based himself at the University of Miami in the run-up to Montreal. Having been narrowly pipped by John Hencken in the IOOm final. swimming’s quickest moustache took handsome revenge in the 200m breaststroke in a
Eric Liddell (top) strides to another victory while nick Mci’aggart (above) returns to Dundee as outstanding boxer at the 1950 Olympics
time that decimated the world record by over three seconds.
Since Wells’s moment of glory in Moscow. Scottish competitors have found success elusive in the glamour events. but the ﬂag has been proudly held aloft in other events. Indeed. the medal-winning exploits of marksman Alistair Allan. three-day event rider lan Stark and hockey’s Alison Ramsay have maintained a standard that McColgan. Obree and the rest will do well to match in Atlanta this summer.
The List 12-25 Jul l996 is A