David Keir Gracie, b. Bonnybridge, 26 January 1927; d. Edinburgh, 26 October 2020. Scottish hurdler who was an Olympic semi-finalist and British record holder.
When the Olympic year of 1952 dawned, David Gracie was virtually unknown outside his native Scotland. In spite of winning the flat 440 yards title in 1949 in 50.2 seconds, the third fastest winning time since Eric Liddell’s championship record of 49.2 set in 1925, almost a quarter of a century earlier, and equalling the time when finishing runner up in 1950. In 1951, he achieved a double victory in the 440 flat and 440 hurdles events again recording 50.2 for the flat title and a championship best of 56.7 at his first championship attempt over the one lap hurdles race which had only been introduced to the championship programme in 1947. In his first year of hurdling, he equalled Tom Livingstone-Learmonth’s long standing Scottish 440 yards hurdles record of 56.2, set at the Rangers Sports at Ibrox in 1927, the year Gracie was born and went on to set a best of 55.5 when placing 5th at the AAA Championships at London's White City.
Displaying vastly improved form in the early 1952 season, the 25-year-old Glasgow University student opened his season in London’s White City Stadium at the Caledonian Games in May. There, competing against Britain’s international duo of one lap hurdlers over 400 metres hurdles, Angus Scott and Harry Whittle, he won in 53.6, defeating Scott (54.0) and Whittle (54.3). Gracie also won the 400m flat in 49.1 at the same meeting. The following month, Gracie recorded 54.0 for third at the AAA 440yH Championships behind Whittle’s British record winning time of 53.3. In July, Gracie made another big jump in form when winning the Home Countries triangular international match and moving into international class in 52.6 (400mH) from Whittle (53.2), just 0.4sec outside Lord Burghley’s 20-year-old metric record set in the 1932 Olympic Games at Los Angeles. His hurdling technique was praised by coaches and fellow hurdlers, even though he had to overcome the lack of proper training facilities for his event by making do with training over heavy, handmade wooden hurdles on the local Royal Albert football ground at his Larkhall home.
Selection for the Helsinki Olympic Games followed these top-class performances. Nearly 70 years have elapsed since these Games and he remains the last Scottish male athlete to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games 400 hurdles event. At Helsinki, rounds 1 and 2 of the 400 hurdles heats were held on the opening day of the Games, just 3 hours apart, and the semi-finals and finals were on the second day just 24 hours later. The leading pre-Games contenders’ ranking lists had Gracie as 12th fastest at 52.6 and he was 7th fastest European and 3rd best Commonwealth hurdler as well as being the top ranked Briton in the event.
Gracie won his first round heat in 54.2 and qualified easily in 53.9 in the quarter final in the afternoon. The 12 semi-finalists were split into 2 races in the morning with the top 3 finishers from each semi-final to qualify for the afternoon final. The Scot ran in the first semi-final which was won by Yuriv Lituyev (USSR) from John Holland (New Zealand), both recording national records of 51.90 and 52.23 respectively. The contest for the third qualifying spot was won by Anatoliy Yulin (USSR) in 52.28 (52.1) from Gracie 52.65 (52.4), his time making him the 2nd fastest ever Briton for the event.
The second semi-final was won by the favourite Charles Moore (USA) in 52.08 from Whittle (GB) 52.98, who qualified for the final in a slower time than Gracie recorded in 4th place in the preceding race. Indeed, Gracie was the 5th fastest runner over the 2 semi-final races but did not progress to the final. It is worth noting the quality of his run when his 52.4 would have taken 4th position in the final.
Shortly after the Olympic Games the traditional USA v British Empire match was held in front of 50,000 spectators at London’s White City on 4 August and Olympic champion Charles Moore (USA) equalled the world record for 440yH of 51.9 with Scott 2nd in a British record of 53.2 and Gracie 3rd in 53.4. In a hectic period of high class competition, Gracie continued his improvement when on a brief Scandinavian tour, winning at Malmo in 52.3 (400mH), a time that would not be bettered by a Scot for 18 years, and just 24 hours later won an international race at Gothenburg in 52.5. Just 5 days after the USA v British Empire match and in his 4th race in that period, he met Moore again at the same venue for the British Games before 40,000 spectators. In high winds and heavy rain, Moore won in a new world 440yH record time of 51.6 with Gracie turning the tables on Scott to break the British national record in 52.7. He ended the month with a 52.9 run against France at Paris.
By the end of his 1952 Golden Year, he held five of the seven fastest runs by a Briton over 400m/440y hurdles and was ranked 8th in the world rankings, 4th fastest European, 2nd fastest Empire, and top Briton.
In 1953, he achieved one of the best wins of his career when taking the World University Games title at Dortmund, sprinting through a strong field to win in 52.7 and also won a silver medal as a member of the British 4x400 relay team which recorded 3:19.3, behind the winners West Germany (3:16.0) and continued his performances as an international hurdler. After a successful 1953, he was ranked 15th in the world rankings and remained as the top Briton over the one lap hurdles. His achievements can be judged by the fact that at the end of the 1950s decade, he was still ranked 8th fastest Briton of all time at the 400m/440y hurdles event. Gracie had the handicap of requiring to wear a steel harness to protect a slipped disc throughout his running career.
He continued to run competitively but not at the same high level, and at the end of 1954, found that after qualifying as a veterinary surgeon, his focus and energies were taking up so much time that he ceased running. He worked for a number of years in general practice. However, he decided that he did not want to spend every day of his working life “with his arm up a cow’s behind” and switched careers to working as a civil servant in the Scotland office of the Department of Agriculture in Edinburgh.
He kept very fit and trim in his post athletics years and, when attending the 50th anniversary dinner of his club, Larkhall YMCA Harriers, wore his Olympic blazer which fitted him perfectly over 40 years after his Helsinki competition. He passed away at the age of 93 in 2020, the year he celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary with his wife Marion.
In March 2019 David Gracie recalled his life in an interview on the website www.ymcaheritage.com. You can read the interview here.
|400 metres||48.9||White City, London||7 August 1950|
|440 yards||48.7*||Fir Park, Motherwell||14 June 1952|
|400m hurdles||52.3||Malmo, Sweden||6 August 1952|
|440y hurdles||52.7||White City, London||9 August 1952|
|There is doubt about the accuracy of the track measurement at Fir Park|
|400 METRES/ 440 YARDS|
|400 METRES HURDLES/440 YARDS HURDLES|
|WORLD STUDENT GAMES|
|400m hurdles||52.7||Dortmund, Germany||1953|
|4x400m relay||3:19.3||Dortmund, Germany||1953|
|BRONZE MEDALS (2)|
|440y hurdles||54.0||White City, London||1952|
|440y hurdles||53.7||White City, London||1954|
|GOLD MEDALS (7)|
|440 yards||50.2||Hampden Park, Glasgow||1949|
|440 yards||50.2||Hampden Park, Glasgow||1951|
|440 yards||50.5||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||1952|
|440y hurdles||56.7||Hampden Park, Glasgow||1951|
|440y hurdles||54.7||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||1952|
|440y hurdles||55.1||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||1953|
|440y hurdles||55.6||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||1954|
|SILVER MEDALS (1)|
|440 yards||50.2||Hampden Park, Glasgow||1950|
|1952||400m hurdles||1, heat 7||54.2||Helsinki (FIN)|
|3, qf 2||53.9 (53.94)||Helsinki (FIN)|
|4, sf1||52.4 (52.65)||Helsinki (FIN)|
|GREAT BRITAIN & NORTHERN IRELAND INTERNATIONAL APPEARANCES (4)|
|1952||Olympic Games||400m hurdles||4 sf1||52.4|
|4 x 400 metres||2||3:13.6|
|4 x 400 metres||2||3:17.0|
|4 x 400 metres||2||3:15.8|
|440y hurdles||52.7||White City, London||9 Aug 1952||14 Aug 1954|
|SCOTTISH NATIVE RECORDS|
|440y hurdles||56.2||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||5 July 1951||17 May 1952|
|55.5||Westerlands, Glasgow||17 May 1952||7 June 1952|
|54.7||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||7 June 1952||28 June 1952|
|53.8||Ibrox Park, Glasgow||28 June 1952||1 August 1953|
|53.7||Ibrox Park, Glasgow||1 August 1953||2 August 1958|
|SCOTTISH ALL-COMERS' RECORDS|
|440y hurdles||54.7||New Meadowbank, Edinburgh||7 June 1952||28 June 1952|
|53.8||Ibrox Park, Glasgow||28 June 1952||1 August 1953|
|53.7||Ibrox Park, Glasgow||1 August 1953||7 August 1954|