Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Thursday, December 27, 2018

V 8 N. 72 Some Idle Thoughts and Memories of Long Time Track ( Athletics) Fan

March 17 2018-03-17

Some Idle Thoughts and Memories of Long Time Track ( Athletics) Fan*

by Geoff Williams

The Carshalton Ponds

I was born in England just to the southwest of London in a town called Carshalton in 1934 and
started High School just as the Second World War finally came to an end.  The school was what
was called a Grammar school and had a boys’ only content.

Sport was a very important part of education in those days and I enjoyed the cross country running
and track and field events-although I was fairly mediocre at each.  I managed to get on the school
cross country team in my later years and had the ( possibly doubtful) privilege of being the first
pupil to represent the school at throwing the javelin. As I had a fairly slight build it was only
because nobody else seemed to want to do it.  My career was a very short one.

I did however find that I enjoyed what we called Athletics and was fortunate in that the White
City-then London’s premier running track was within cycling distance of my home and the sport
was very popular following the 1948 London Olympics.  My first visit to a major meet there was
in 1950 and I immediately became a fan. The stadium could hold about 50000 and usually it would
be full for most meets. To my great regret I never kept any of the programmes and this is largely
a summary of some interesting happenings that I saw at meets from that time until I emigrated
to Canada in 1959 –with a break in 1953-55 while I did my National Service with the RAF in
Holland and Germany.  I also have had occasional memories of meeting some well known athletes
over the years.
White City 1930s

1937 Program

I usually cycled to London with one or two friends and on other occasions would take public
transport.  I am not sure of the actual cost of getting in to the stadium-but I do not think it was
more than about 2 shillings.  The most important meets were the AAA ( National) Championships
and the British Gameswhich used to attract a good number of European and other foreign athletes.  
At other times there were inter city meets between London and usually European Capitals which
featured 2 athletes a side in each event.

Derek Ibbotson
Czech dual meeting?
The first significant race was in 1950 or 1951 and it was a 6 Mile race featuring a young
( I think 19) Gordon Pirie who set a World Record.  It is interesting to note that in those days
many athletes from other Commonwealth countries ran for England. I specifically remember
E. McDonald Bailey a West Indian from Trinidad who had run in the 1948 Olympic 100m final
under the GB colours and in fact won a medal in the 1952 200m.  He had little local competition
and I believe that if he had he could well have competed for the gold in 1948 and 1952.

Gordon Pirie in Action  clik here

E. McDonald Bailey

One meet that stands out for me was in 1952 after the Helsinki Olympics.  It was a dual
meet between the USA and the British Commonwealth ( Empire in those far off times).  The
quality was very high and of course the US won most events handily. I was awed by such giants
as Mal Whitfield, Arthur Wint, Parry O’Brien and Sim Iness, Jim Dillion, and Fortune Gordien
among many others.
Fortune Gordien

Parry O'Brien

Arthur Wint

Mal Whitfield, Herb McKennley

A good friend of mine from school named Ian Boyd was a year ahead of me chronologically
and light years ahead in skills.  He had set school records for the 880yd of a fraction under two
minutes and the mile at just about 4;20. For 1952 these were very good times and he was selected
to run in the London schoolboy mile that year.  He won and to add to our great excitement a
second runner from our school was in the field. Ian went on to Oxford where he ran with
Bannister and others and was picked to go to the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver where he
won bronze in the 880yds and ran in the famous Miracle Mile.  As an addendum to this I emigrated
to Vancouver in 1959 and then went on to Victoria BC where I was a volunteer in the 1994 (then)
Commonwealth Games and had the great experience of meeting Roger Bannister and John Landy
at a luncheon where we had a chat that included talking about Ian .  (although then 60 I was still
schoolboyish enough to take my copy of Bannister’s “First Four Minutes” with me and had both
of them autograph it.)
Empire Games Vancouver 1954
Landy, Halberg, Boyd, Baillie, Bannister

In September 1953 I was called up to serve my National Service in the RAF.  I had decided
to get that out of the way before giving any thought to further education and as a result missed
out on University altogether.  After the obligatory 8 weeks of “square bashing” I was sent to
RAF Fassberg in Germany ( 8 years after the end of WW11).

This was a large station and airfield located on the Luneberger Heide near Hanover and only
about 20 miles from the East/West border.

We were all required to learn to drive as the Russians were considered likely to make a
move on us . I had never driven before but started on a 3-ton Thornycroft truck that was used
for picking up supplies for the Officers mess at a nearby town. I was terrified but seem to have
managed to get the thing running.

 I recall that the turn signal consisted of a long plank behind the driver’s head that had to
be manually pushed out to indicate a turn. In addition one had to turn a crank on the front of
the vehicle to get it going. On one occasion driving on a local road I managed to run into the
back of a horse and cart but happily no humans or animals were injured  and I seem to have
avoided the attention of the local constabulary.

I was only at that station for about six months and I am sure all the natives were relieved
when I was posted to RAF Eindhoven a large city in the south of Holland-the home of Phillips
Electric and now whereyou will find the famous Dutch soccer club PSV Eindhoven.  It was not
an airfield but a supply base for other RAF stations in the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Europe.
No need for driving to evade Russians which was a great relief. It was the only RAF station
in Holland and I spent the next 16 months there until demob-quite happily.  I found out fairly
quickly that if you were able to get on a sports team you could only compete against teams in
Germany which usually took at least two days to reach. I was competitive enough to get on the
cross country and track teams and took several train trips to parts of West Germany. I never
produced any notable results but we had a great time.  We had some dual meets and also
entered in the overall 2nd TAF cross country championships. I believe I finished a glorious
142nd or so. In 1954 we went to a town in Germany for the 2nd TAF track championships .
I ran the 1500m and did not qualify for the finals – not surprising as it was won by a fellow
called John Merriman.

We occasionally had five day weekend passes and I took advantage of them by going-with
a group of friends to both Luxembourg and Paris.  We also enjoyed going into the city of
Eindhoven where the citizens were still well disposed towards us that soon after the war and
where good food and Dutch beer ( Heineken) was to be found.)  I made one trip to Amsterdam
to see a soccer game between a Dutch and a Brazilian team. In the intermission they had a fairly
high level mini track meet. The biggest sports event we attended was the 1955 World Table
Tennis championships in Utrecht.  It was highlighted by being the first time that the Japanese
played in it and they totally dominated.

In September 1955 I was sent back to UK for demob and returned home in time for my
21st birthday.  I seem to recall that I got to the White City that month for one or two meets
but the details escape me.

From then on until I emigrated to Canada in February, 1959 I saw several inter city meets between
London and such European rivals as Warsaw. Paris and Prague as well as the British Games and
AAA championships each year.  These were men only events (the inter city matches) and continued
the idea of two men per side for each event. The quality was very high and we had a lot of top
class Americans running in the open meets. It was a time of great competition following the
breaking of the four minute mile and the Brits always had good middle and longer distance runners.

Pirie and Zatopek

Competing for Prague in ( I think) 1956 was Emil Zatopek and he was a bit late in his career
and was beaten by Pirie and another British runner but still impressed the crowd and got the
obligatory “Zat O Pek”cry.  He autographed a copy of the book on his life by Frantiszek Kozik
after the meet and it is now my prized possession. As Jim Peters was sitting behind us I also got
his autograph.. In the match against Paris Alain Mimoun ran for France and of course the cry
then was “Allez Mimoun”.

When Warsaw came Poland was one of the strongest teams in Europe and included
Kzryszkowiak, Zimny, Chromik and Sidlo amongst other world class athletes.  Some great
competition ensued. They were all floodlit meets and the stands were virtually full every time.
During one of the meets Derek Ibbotson set a new world mile record which of course brought
the crowd to its feet.

In another meet –against a team from the US the meet directors had a wonderful idea.  
They thought it would be great if they turned off the stadium lights during the Hammer Throw.  
It is my recollection that the States were represented by Hal Connolly and Marty Engels and I am
sure the latter was throwing.  They attached fireworks to the hammer and Marty sent it skywards.
As it passed over the nearby High Jump pit the fireworks became detached and the hammer could
not be seen.  Happily it landed safely, but that was the end of that experiment.

The last major meet that I attended before leaving for Canada was the Cardiff Common-
wealth ( Empire) Games in 1958.   I went with two old school friends and we saw the entire
track programme as well as two or three other sports. They put on a marvellous show at the
old Cardiff Arms Park rugby ground .  I believe that there were only two world records but over
all the standards were very high. It proved to be the last major meet for the South Africans who
were soon after banned due to Apartheid,  One of their athletes the superb 440yd hurdler Gert
Potgeiter was one of the record breakers.
Gert Potgieter
I was saddened
to hear that some years after he lost an eye in some form of accident. The other record
went to Anna Pazera of Australia – a refugee from Poland , in the womens javelin throw.

Anna Pazera
 The English team looked
strong but was outperformed by the Aussies and NZ team and the
South Africans got good results. Herb Elliott continued his winning ways by taking both the
880yds and mile.
Elliott takes the Empire Games Mile
Cardiff Wales 1958
Also in the mile was my
old friend and schoolmate Ian Boyd who was near the end of his
career and failed to quality for the mile final much to our great regret.  One of the most exciting
events was the mens hammer. There was a strong rivalry between the England thrower Mike Ellis
and Iqbal of Pakistan. Ellis prevailed but not before officials moved a section of the grandstand
crowd where we were sitting because of fears that they would throw the implement into the stands.
It did reach the track surface but fell short of the stands themselves.  While Jamaica and Kenya
had some success they were not the powerhouses that we have seen in recent years.

A few months after that I emigrated to Canada and as I worked for a Canadian bank in London
everything was paid for and they even gave us spending money.  It was a five day trip across the
Atlantic from Tilbury near London and we left on Friday 13th of February 1959. One never forgets
such dates. The trip was quite rough due to the time of year but the three of us who were travelling
together did not miss a meal. I won the ship’s table tennis championships no doubt helped by good
sea legs –quite an experience.

We landed at Halifax on a very cold early morning on the famous Pier 21 and immediately
realised that our clothing was not suitable for a Canadian winter.  Then on to Toronto for a few days
orientation in our new country and after that a four day train trip across a frozen wilderness. A
wonderful way to see Canada.

I was placed at a bank branch in Burnaby and in the spring joined the track club at Brockton
Oval.  I am not at all sure what I expected but found it contained a good variety of athletes at all
levels including international.  They were very welcoming and I was reintroduced to Vic Stephens
a local miler who I had met in London when he was visiting for the 1958 Empire Games.  He never
quite made the top echelon but ran in the 4:10 to 4:12 range. The most interesting one was a young
lad of 18 called Harry Jerome.
Harry Jerome running for North Vancouver Track Club

Harry Jerome Still Runs near Stanley Park Vancouver
He was just completing high school and often ran with us in Stanley Park on a Sunday.  Very
soon after he broke 10 secs for the 100yd. and then went off to Oregon U. in Eugene. I saw
him run in a few races and even was a track official at one where he ran and Field Marshal
Montgomery presented awards ( goodness only knows why).    Harry of course went on to a
great career but I never met him again although I did take a Greyhound bus down to Eugene in
1960 for what ultimately became the Pre meet.  He won the100m in a good time and soon after
went on to the Rome Olympics to represent Canada.

Life in Vancouver was good and I was encouraged to stay in Canada and will celebrate the
60th year of my arrival in 3 months.  We had a few mid level track meets in Vancouver . There was
one Indoor Meet I attended in the early 60s but the only event I recall is a 300m which Lee Evans
won handily in World record time.  It was not ratified due to a mismeasurement of the track.

Around the same time there was a world class field in Vancouver for a meet .  The mile
featured Jim Grelle and Dyrol Burleson but the star was Peter Snell.  There was great excitement
of course. A good pace was set but Snell quickly fell back.  Some of the less informed even started
a mild booing but it was evident there was a problem.  He gamely finished the race in something close
to 4:20 and it turned out some time later that he had severe food poisoning.  I think Grelle beat out
Burleson in around 3:55. After the meet there was a sort of meet and greet with the athletes and
I chatted to a British miler from the sameclub as Brian Hewson ( Mitcham-very near my home).  I
also remember speaking with weightman John McGrath. For some reason the subject of drugs came
up and his opinion was even at that early date that they were in wide use by athletes.

Brian Hewson topping Herb Elliott (14)
I moved to Victoria in 1964 and they held an annual track meet that in the right years attracted
some fine US  athletes and a few from other countries. I recall seeing the likes of Steve Scott and
Sydney Maree . After around 1970 I moved to other parts of BC  and it was not until the 80s that I
saw any worthwhile track. The annual Victoria meet still attracted the top Canadians, some
Americans and as usual a few from elsewhere.  In later years as we moved into the 90s Canada had
such first class runners as Kevin Sullivan and Graham Hood so the quality was fairly high.

Then Victoria was awarded the 1994 Commonwealth Games-an event that transformed our city
of about 250,000 .  It was very well organised but those running it managed to keep a lid on costs
and it turned out to be one of the few that came out ahead on the balance sheet.  My wife and I
volunteered early on and joined a final group of some 14000 citizens on various committees. Kathi
got to take photos of arriving athletes with the very earliest digital cameras and became quite
absorbed in it  despite not being a track nut of any kind.

I was a marshal for the road events ( cycling , marathon and walks) as well as being mysteriously
selected for the Volunteer Clothing Committee- mysterious because I am almost totally colour blind.  
My wife found it hugely amusing. Nevertheless I spent a happy 30 months or so on the committee
and made a few long term friends. After we had come up with all sorts of great ideas the overall
committee decided to take on Reebok as a major sponsor and they mad all the final decisions.

Opening Ceremonies at U. of Victoria Track

Victoria Harbor

We lived near University of Victoria where the Track events were held and as a result often
saw athletes pounding the roads near our home.   A regular walker by our house was George Heller
a local businessman who was in charge oif the Games Committee. We had a few interesting chats.  
I got tickets to most of the track events and there were many exciting performances.

The Games went very smoothly but as usual not totally without incident.  Prior to the Games
there was much publicity about a young sprinter from Sierra Leone who had some problems ( I think
with equipment or something of that kind).  His name was Horace Dove-Edwin and the city rallied
around to help him. He finished in 2nd place in the 100m behind Linford Christie but was
unfortunately subsequently disqualified for a drug offense.  Christie won easily and with true sporting
class left almost immediately for home. In the Pole Vault Okkert Brits the prohibitive favourite
from South Africa failed to record a height largely due to high winds.

Over following years Victoria continued to hold the Annual International Track Meet but that
seems to be on a biennial now and does not attract the same level as it did in past years.  I had a
chance to meet and talk to Gary Reed a few times over the years. He held Canada’s 800m record
for many years until he lost it in 2018. A very stylish runner he came close to glory by placing
second in the Worlds Championships- a mere 1000th of a second behind the winner.  I found him
very pleasant and friendly.

I managed to get to one more major event and that was the Prefontaine Meet in Eugene Oregon.  
Every track fan should see that at least once in a lifetime. A great meet with a crowd that knows
the sport and  athletes from all over the world who obviously are delighted to be there. There were
the usual high quality performances but perhaps the one I remember best was Maria Mutola
winning the 800m in her last race there.

Now the best I can do is follow on line or on TV and that of course is not the same as being part
of the cheering crowd.

George Brose, John Cobley, and Geoff Williams

* Please note that all of the photos in this article except for the one directly above, have been scooped from the internet.  None have been provided by Geoff Williams.  One interesting note of the picture of Brian Hewson defeating Herb Elliott causes us to assume that this was an 880 yards race.  Herb was not known to have ever lost a mile or 1500 meters race. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

V 8 N. 71 A Christmas Story

This came to us from David Agosta (Lancaster , OH)  and Bruce Kritzler (Sea Island, GA)
I'm not sure who first published it.


Not a story of a child in humble beginnings but a comment on the demands our sport makes on those who are trying to reach or stay on the highest peaks.

 Cast aside the second helping at the dining room table.  Put dessert on hold and get out for a few laps around the block.

Best wishes to all of you for 2019.

George , Roy, and Steve

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary...