I had been trying to run under four minutes for the mile since 1973 when, as an 18-year-old Scottish Junior Champion, I won the Scottish Senior 1500 metres Championship. It was a target I really wanted and this win made me believe I could do it.
In July 1977 I got my first senior Great Britain cap against France in Nice at 5000 metres. I was concentrating on the 5000 to try to make the Scotland team for the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, the following year. As the end of the 1977 track season approached, I made up my mind to have a last go at the mile at the Edinburgh Highland Games.
The British Caledonian Airways Mile was the feature race on the track. In a packed Meadowbank Stadium, John Robson and I, representing Scotland, lined up alongside the New Zealander, John Walker, the Olympic 1500 Champion and hot favourite. The wind was blowing strongly down the back straight and there had been a shower of rain making the track wet and slippy.
We struggled round with no pacemakers, reaching the bell in 3 minutes 4 seconds. Once out of the wind, we had a mad sprint for the finish. John Walker won from John Robson, his first sub-four mile. I finished third and just one fifth of a second over the four minutes. I was pleased at being third, but missing the magic of breaking the four minute mile by so little was awful! My chance for the year, perhaps forever, seemed to be gone.
The following week, Stan Long (Brendan Foster’s coach) phoned to invite me to Gateshead to run in an end of season meeting. John Walker had agreed to take part. A Scots Olympian, Frank Clement, was also going, so we could share the cost of a car (they say the Scots are mean – what about the Geordies!). We drove down from Glasgow in the morning, arriving in time for lunch. I had a chat with John Walker and a few of the North Eastern athletes before resting in the afternoon.
It was a cool evening with some late September sunlight but again a strong breeze. Pre-race nerves took over. Going through my usual warm up ritual I wondered why I had agreed to race. I didn’t feel great and my legs knew that it was the end of a long, hard season.
Out on the track the air was cold on the skin. We jogged about trying to keep warm as we were introduced to a full Gateshead Stadium. I got a warm welcome from the North East crowd. They always gave the Scots a lot of support.
We were called to the mark. The gun went. I got a good, clear start reaching the bend in fourth place. With no pacemaker, the first lap was just over 60 seconds. I was pleased with the time and felt better than I had during the warm up. I tried to relax, drop my arms in the wind on the back straight, keep with the pace and out of trouble. The timekeeper shouted out the time for the second lap, "Two one, two two", so a sub-four was still on. I moved into third place but John Walker passed me on the back straight into the breeze. I had to concentrate as the pace was starting to really hurt me. I reached the bell in "Three two, three three" and we started to bunch up at the front. I fought to hold my place and not get boxed in.
The next two hundred yards were into the wind and the pace was slowing. Some barging was going on as we jockeyed for position and waited for the break to be made. Keep calm, keep the arms down, and don’t tense up! At two hundred to go, the break was made with both Frank and John Walker going for the big finish. I got a clear break on the inside and took my chance to chase the two in front. Frank was running wide round the bend and, as he hit the finishing straight he opened up a slight gap. I was just hanging on behind them trying to hold my form. I knew I must have a chance to break four minutes if I could just keep in touch, but I was struggling to keep going with tired legs and lungs bursting for oxygen. The training sessions at Ravenscraig Stadium in Battery Park and along Greenock Esplanade were all about this, not tying up and using my arms to drive me sprinting to the finish line. Walker passed Clement to win. I crossed the line, arms pumping hard. I was third. These were the days when electronic clocks round the track were rare. John and Frank thought I had broken the barrier. The announcer read out the result: I was third in 3 minutes 58.8 seconds. I felt so good after so long trying to break the Four Minute barrier. Placing third behind two runners who finished first and fifth at the Olympic Games the previous year, was a sweet way to break four minutes for the first time!
I was the 223rd person to break the magic barrier, the 49th Briton and the 10th Scot. Not bad for a boy from Greenock! What a way to end the season and set me up to make the team for the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton the next year.
Frank and I stopped in a pub for a pint on the way back north. I never knew English beer could taste so good!
I did make the team for the Commonwealth Games and was a finalist in the 5000m. I also had the privilege to meet Roger Bannister, at Crystal Palace in May 1979, where I took part in a mile race for sub-four minute milers to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of his breaking the four minute mile. That was another special night!
When I first visited Sacramento in late November 1984, the Saltire was flying proudly from the roof of the State Capitol building in recognition of the local Scottish community’s St Andrews Day celebrations. It must have been a lucky omen because, a few days later, finishing on Capitol Mall, I ran probably the best race of my life to take second position in the California International Marathon in 2hr 11min 50sec. It was an Aberdeen AAC club record, a personal best by more than two minutes, and it placed me top of the year’s Scottish rankings and fifth in the UK behind world record holder Steve Jones (2:08:05), Olympic bronze medallist Charlie Spedding (2:09:57), Boston marathon winner Geoff Smith (2:10:08) and London marathon runner-up Kevin Forster (2:11:41). According to the American magazine Track and Field News, I was also ranked 40th in the world. It also came during an amazing period for UK marathon running as 75 men, including 14 Scots, cracked the 2hr 20min barrier that year.
My performance proved to be the quickest marathon I would ever run. I completed 29 marathons between 1981 and 1992, 22 of them faster than 2hr 20min, and despite some notable victories, my Sacramento effort will always remain vivid in my memory. I went on to compete in the California International Marathon on a further six occasions, and despite once again finishing runner-up and never placing lower than eighth, I never quite reproduced the form of my first appearance.
California became my second home during this period as I commuted regularly between Aberdeen and the American west coast, and I met many people there who remain friends to do this day. My first trip was in February 1983 when I was invited to run in the Oakland marathon. Oakland sits south of Berkeley, just across the Bay from San Francisco. I expected beautiful sunshine, but wind and rain lashed the course, which actually suited me fine, as I won comfortably in 2:18:18. I defended my Oakland title in 1984, clocking 2:15:21, and that led to my invitation to Sacramento, 90 miles north-east of San Francisco, in December of that year.
I travelled to Northern California knowing I was in decent form, but was nevertheless feeling somewhat apprehensive. It was only nine weeks since I had competed in the Berlin marathon where I had finished strongly to finish sixth, repeating my Oakland time of 2:15:21, but feeling I could have run much quicker. Sacramento, however, was to be my fifth marathon within the previous twelve months so I wasn’t sure if I would be fresh enough for the challenge. Performances over shorter distances had, nevertheless, been encouraging. I won the Ayr Land O’ Burns half marathon in early November, after a 90 mile training week, clocking 64:53 to narrowly defeat Peter Fleming. I also clocked 32:05 on the seven mile sixth stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow road relay, and I recorded 30min dead in the Aberdeen six mile road race off the back of a 100 mile training week.
But I was nervous in the days leading up to the Sacramento race as I read through the list of invited runners. The event doubled up as the US championships, so there was a decent domestic field. An impressive list of overseas runners added to the quality and I reckoned I was no better than 15th ranked of all those taking part.
Conditions were perfect as the race got underway at sunrise near Folsom Dam as we retraced the steps taken by the gold prospectors of the 19th century. A group of between 20 and 25 runners stuck together at a steady pace over the opening roller-coaster hills. The steady pace suited me as we clipped along at a little outside five minute miling. But by 10 miles I began to slip of the tail of the group and within no time the leaders were pulling away, opening up a gap of 70-100m. I decided it was make or break time. If I let them go I would be on my own and would probably struggle to keep up the momentum. If I tried to get back to them I might blow up disastrously. It was time to take a chance. So, I made a huge effort to catch the leading group. The decision paid off and by the halfway point I was back in the pack. I felt surprisingly good and was able to relax as the course levelled out and began to drop into Midtown Sacramento. By the 16 mile point I realised I was getting into a comfortable rhythm. I pushed the pace at irregular intervals and on any incline, and every time I did so, a few runners dropped off the group. I kept putting in these testing surges and on each occasion a few more fell away. This went on until the 22 mile point when there were just three left – myself, American Ken Martin and Swedish Olympian Kjell-Erik Stahl. I pushed even harder and Stahl, who had finished fourth in the previous year’s inaugural world championships in Helsinki, began to falter. At the 23 mile mark I tried to shake off Martin but the sub-four minute miler, making his marathon debut, looked ominously comfortable. With one mile remaining Martin suddenly took off and sprinted away, utilising the speed he had acquired on the track to open a vital gap which widened by the finish to over 150 yards. I couldn’t raise my game any more, so I concentrated on holding off Stahl who was still close behind. Martin, who would later run 2:09 at New York, continued to power away and went on to win in 2:11:24. I was 26sec behind and Stahl a further 10secs further back in third position. My time remains the fastest non-winning performance in the history of the California International marathon.
Among those left trailing was England’s Gerry Helme who had beaten me in the 1982 Aberdeen marathon and had finished second in the 1983 London marathon in 2:10:12. Gerry struggled home in 24th position in 2:22:45.
I travelled home in high spirits and recovered quickly. A little over three weeks later I finished second behind Allister Hutton in the Morpeth to Newcastle New Year’s Day 14.1 mile road race, passing through the half marathon distance in 62:54. Allister would, of course, go on a few months later to set a Scottish marathon record of 2:09:16 which has stood for more than 20 years and, judging by the current state of Scottish marathon running, will remain on the record books for the forseeable future.
When I took up running as a sport at Aberdeen University in 1974, aged 19, I could never have imagined how big an impact it would have on my life over the next 30 years. My running days provided many memorable moments including representing Scotland at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, finishing 10th in the marathon despite being below par on the day of the race. I was also thrilled to represent Great Britain in three World Cup marathon meetings. I never competed in the Scottish marathon championships until the twilight of my career, but nevertheless, between the ages of 37 and 42 I succeeded in winning the title five times in five appearances without having to run any faster than 2:23.
I had many good memories from international competition around the world but also treasured personal achievements at a more fundamental level in domestic competition. I was proud to be a member of the powerful squad of Aberdeen AAC distance runners of the 1980’s who three times won the prestigious 8-stage road relay race between Edinburgh and Glasgow and also finished third on four other occasions during the decade.
Other memories I treasure were winning the Scolty hill race at Banchory for the 16th time in 18 years and winning the annual Morpeth to Newcastle 14.1 miles New Year’s day road race from a top class field of British runners after many unsuccessful attempts to win this classic race.
I would love to have been able to say that my greatest race was when I won an Olympic, European or Commonwealth title, but I wasn’t good enough to do that. Few of us are. So my performance in the California international marathon in Sacramento will remain at the head of my list of great athletic memories.
by Doug Gillon
FOR ME, it was the defining moment of the golden age of British athletics: three Britons charging up the home straight, side by side, to sweep gold, silver, and bronze in the 800 metres at the European Championships in Stuttgart. “Like three Spitfires coming out of the sun” was how one illustrious colleague colourfully styled it. The year was 1986 and the wingtip-to-wingtip fighters were Sebastian Coe (1:44.50), Tom McKean (1:44.61), and Steve Cram (1:44.88).
The Scot, McKean, had led until 20 metres out, and 20 years on, the Bellshill Bullet rates that the most memorable race of his career. It tells something about a man who won more international 800m honours than any other British athlete, that he chose a race he lost, rather than one which he won. Yet it is appropriate. Tom McKean was many things: frustrating, elating, infuriating, inspiring . . . but never predictable.
When he was in shape to win World Championship gold, in 1987 and 1989, an apparent cert for a medal, he blew it. The Rome world final in 1987 was his only defeat that year. He finished last. His under-performance at two Olympics prompted mean-spirited buffoons to brand him a failure. What Britain would give to have a ‘failure’ like McKean now.
A record four European Cup titles. One World Cup gold. Unique European titles indoors and out in 1990. World indoor gold. Two Commonwealth silvers. Assuredly, Coe won Olympic gold, but despite being world 800m record-holder, Coe never matched McKean’s catalogue of 800m successes. Since McKean retired to join the police, no Briton has won a European 800m gold, indoors or out, or even another medal, nor a single European Cup 800m title. Since he hung up his spikes, no Briton has ever run as quick, or claimed so many scalps of world-class Kenyans. McKean went below 1min 44.5 seven times and ranks fifth on the GB all-time list. “I won other races which meant a great deal to me, but Stuttgart was the most memorable,” he said. “Coe was a world record-holder. Cram was a world record holder. I was just a wee boy, learning the circuit.” Some ‘failure’. Some ‘wee boy’.
McKean had won 34 races at 800 metres, many while labouring on building sites, before he took the first of four successive European Cup titles in 1985, a late replacement for Coe. He had also been served up as anticipated cannon fodder by the meeting promoter when Steve Cram returned to a local hero’s welcome, having just smashed the world mile record with 3:46.32 in Oslo. McKean beat him over 1000m on his home track at Gateshead.
The emotions of his era live with him to this day. The hype before the 800 final at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986 was extravagant. His coach, Tommy Boyle, is adamant that had McKean not been launched into the European Cup arena in 1985 (prematurely for Boyle’s preferred development plan) McKean would have been an unknown quantity in Edinburgh, and would probably have claimed the Commonwealth title. With the monkey of major championship gold off his back, there’s no saying what McKean might have subsequently achieved at global level.
It is not something McKean dwells on at all as he maintains a healthy daily lifestyle, training young police officers, and playing a mean game of golf off 12. That’s a handicap for which he should assuredly be locked up and the keys thrown away.
“I am very patriotic, and three Brits sweeping the Stuttgart medals was awesome. These two guys, especially Coe, were my heroes, and there I was jogging round on a lap of honour with them. It was absolutely magic”.
That race came immediately following the Commonwealths in Edinburgh, for which Coe had been favourite. But he was a late withdrawal from the final, because of illness. McKean¹s prospects were racked up a notch, but this was no one-horse race. Cram was at the peak of his powers, and the formidable Yorkshireman, Peter Elliott, was a remorseless front-runner who had led all three rounds at the inaugural world championships in Helsinki before finishing fourth. From a working-class background like McKean, he thought the Scot was a bit of a poseur, because of a sponsorship and support deal from car dealer Glen Henderson. So there was an edge to their rivalry.
It took the fastest championship run of Cram’s career to derail McKean who broke the Scottish native record. The finishing order was: Cram 1:43.22, McKean 1:44.80, Elliott 1:45.42.
Coe was quickly restored, and any doubts about his recovery were soon defused in Germany. McKean did not particularly fancy his chances: “Coe and Cram were both faster than me. So was the Dutchman Rob Druppers. Cram had just beaten me with a fantastic time at the Commonwealth Games, and now Coe was back. But in the final, I felt great. Coe kicked with 200 to go, and I was able to respond. Then Cram was behind me, and I was in front. But then Coe came again, and I had nothing left”. He edged in front in the final 20 metres, winning by .11 of a second.
“I am a proud Scot, but I was proud to be British that day. It is hard to separate some of these races, to put one in front of another, but I think that’s the one for me. I was very proud to win the European indoor title at the Kelvin Hall in 1990. With the home Glasgow crowd cheering, it made the hairs on my neck stand on end. I was wearing a British vest, but I was prouder to be Scottish that day. I so desperately needed that win. Despite all those European Cups, it was my first championship title. I had just come back from the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. I was in shape to win there, but ran badly, and it was no consolation that Coe had not run well either. I had blown another championship chance.”
“I had qualified, but was not very good in my heat, and I was anxious. If I could not win on my own home turf, where would I do it? It was awesome. I knew I just had to win. I was sitting chatting to Frank (Dick, then UK director of coaching), and he said: ‘If I were to ask you how you thought you could win, what would you say?’ ‘Get to the front and stay there - front-run it’, I told him. I was faster than anyone. “Well why worry. Just do it,” he said. So I did.”
That became the tactic of the year. It was to bring McKean his three greatest championship victories. The European outdoor title in Split completed a double in the same year which neither Coe or Cram could claim. Indeed, no other Briton has ever achieved the European indoor and outdoor 800 or 1500m double.
McKean¹s other memorable front-run was in the Toronto Skydome. In heats, semis and final of the 1993 World Indoor Championships he was never anywhere other than in front, finally claiming global gold. “I was really proud to be Scottish that day, because Yvonne Murray won the 3000m, and David Strang took silver in the 1500m. If we’d been an independent nation, Scotland would have been third in the medal table.”
McKean’s time was modest, 1:47.62, but tactical perfection with the field including former champion Jose-Luis Barbosa. “I knew, even with 300 metres to go, that I had it. They showed mne an incredible amount of respect.”
I prompted McKean on numerous races, attempting to overturn his assessment. How about his lifetime best, the Scottish record of 1:43.88 in 1989, when he beat Olympic champion Paul Ereng? “Yes, that was a great feeling, especially feeling sure that I could go even quicker.”
“At the Scottish championships that year I had won in 1:44.79. Tommy told me to be sure to get through 600m in 76 seconds. A Dutch guy came up and offered to go through 400m in 52 seconds if I paid him $200. I told him there was just one problem about that - I was going through in 49 seconds.”
True to his word, McKean shot off: 200m in 24.78, 400m in 49.91, and 600m in 76.22. “If I’d had someone with me over the last 200 metres that day, I could have run 1:43 flat.”
As it was, he improved by one hundredth, his native best from the Commonwealth Games three years earlier. It also set him up for the following Friday’s London Grand Prix. The last rites were being read over the corpse of Brittish endurance running. Kenyans won the 400m, mile, 3000m, 5000m, and steeplechase that night at Crystal Palace, with Cram among the casualties. Then up stepped McKean, in the red vest of Bellshill YMCA.
Ereng had been undefeated in 18 races since winning the Olympic crown the previous year in Seoul, and had already beaten the Scot twice that season, in Stockholm and London a fortnight earlier. But here, he set a perfect pace, and McKean simply followed. “He went through 400m in 50.14, slower than I’d run alone the week before. All I had to do was follow. He was setting the pace and I was doing no work.” He reached 600m in 76.57, slower than McKean the previous weekend, yet managed to gain a metre round the bend. “I kicked, got on his shoulder, and kicked again. I hit the front about 35 metres from the line, but won on strength in the home straight, rather than speed. I know from that race that I could go faster, but it never happened. I think I could probably have dipped just below 1:43. It’s depressing to see the state of British 800m running now.”
Coe is a peer. Cram has the MBE. McKean has a police constable’s warrant card. He was shamefully overlooked by the honours office, yet is content. He cycles 25 miles a day to and from work, runs six miles at lunchtime, and puts trainees through their paces. At 42, he covers six miles on the road in 32 minutes. He runs police cross-country races, and wins veteran medals.
He recalled every race vividly and accurately, even split times. “These were great days, fabulous fun, but I never felt I went before my time,” he said. “I’ve no regrets at all about retiring when I did. It was time to go.”
By Doug Gillon, athletics correspondent of The Herald
It’s a measure of the number of headline victories in her career that Liz McColgan actually hesitated when we asked her to name her most memorable race.
There was plenty to consider: back-to-back Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres gold medals; three world records at 10,000m on the road; a world half marathon title in world-record time; world records at 5000m on the road and indoors. Numerous Scottish, British and Commonwealth records. There was the time in Budapest when she smashed Zola Budd’s world indoor 3000 metres record by five seconds, only to be beaten to the line by Elly van Hulst who had been towed in the Scot’s wake all the way. There was the time the roars of the crowd drowned the stealthy approach of Joyce Chepchumba who stole past to deny her a successful London Marathon defence by a single second in what was the tightest finish ever. That was in 1997, a year after McColgan had ensured financial security for life with a massive victory over the same Kenyan. There was a New York Marathon victory in the fastest debut time ever, another in Tokyo. “Brash McColgan wins with bold debut,” spluttered the New York Times after Liz had the temerity to eclipse their ex-Olympic champion, Joan Benoit, in 1991. She collected $45,000 and a Mercedes with the registration L12 RUN for that one.
There was Olympic silver in Seoul, two Scottish indoor titles inside 45 minutes, national titles 18 years apart, during years when she would sometimes check into hotels under an assumed name to escape media attention. The titles were still stacking up as she approached her fortieth birthday. Yet as all these recollections kaleidoscoped, McColgan fixed her mind’s eye on none of them. “It’s between my first 10k victory over Ingrid Kristiansen, and the world 10,000 metres title in Tokyo. . . but I think it has to be the world title,” she told the Scottish Athletics Yearbook. “It’s not as easy a choice as you might think. “I raced Ingrid Kristiansen over 10k in Bali, and it was the first time I’d beaten her. She hadn’t lost a race for years, and I was the first person to beat her. “Ingrid was a very strong person, very dominant. I went to that race and nobody rated me at all. Not her, not anybody. I didn’t get a mention. So when I won the race, it was really the first time I was recognised. When you beat a world record-holder for the first time, it’s quite an achievement.”
Bali was billed as the world’s richest race, with $500,000 on offer for the world record which McColgan was subsequently to hold, but despite several attempts, Liz never did land that bonus. The standard winner’s fee was $25,000, in an era when the exchange rate was far better than today. Local timber magnate Bob Hasan put up the money for anyone who broke the world best, but the road was rutted, temperatures rose into the 80s, and humidty was 90%. Hasan was subsequently jailed for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar forestry scam, and was dismissed as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2004. “Beating Ingrid in Bali was crucial to me. It gave me enormous confidence. I realised then that I could do much better.” And all that finally gelled in most spectacular fashion on Liz’s most memorable athletics night in 1991. The scene was Tokyo, and the stage was the World Championships.
Initially, McColgan’s half-hour production was upstaged by the greatest long jump contest ever seen. This was the night on which Carl Lewis was first to jump further then Bob Beamon’s world record, oldest in the books. But he did it with wind assistance. And no sooner had he done so, but Mike Powell jumped 25 centimetres further than he’d ever gone before. Legally. Lewis was beaten, and so was the magical mark set by Beamon in Mexico City 23 years earlier. There was absolute uproar, and McColgan’s entry for the 10k was delayed for some 15 minutes. “I was so focussed I didn’t know a thing about what had happened until afterwards,” recalls Liz. “I didn’t even realise my race had been delayed. Normally I would have done, because it would have affected my warm-up. But the weather was so strange, so hot and so humid, that I hardly did a warm-up at all. “I was sitting on my own at the warm-up track, and was watching those Romanians and everybody else running about and warming up. I ran one 400-metres lap, and stopped. I thought if I did any more I’d be exhausted. I only did one lap, and I’m sure it was my saving grace. When I got onto the track I did just a couple of strides, then banged right into the race.”
The glowering sky was as black as a Ninja warrior’s suit, and McColgan’s attack as deadly and merciless as those of Japan’s feared martial men. Furnace-blast winds had closed Tokyo’s Narita Airport earlier that day, and the typhoon alert had sent the Japanese fishing fleet scurrying for the sanctuary of Honshu’s harbours. Even in the so-called evening cool, the temperature was 80 degrees, and humidity 78%. A typhoon had been building all day. A printed warning was delivered to spectators in the stands only minutes before McColgan stepped on the track. It gave instructions on how to prepare and take shelter. But there was no cover on the track as the Tayside Typhoon struck. “I went in thinking that no matter what, I’d cover any break, but I never intended to take it out from the start,” recalls McColgan. “Not with people like Ingrid in it. I thought a pack of about five or six might go away. My aim was to sit in till about 5k, then make a decision. “But the pace was so easy from the start that everyone was together. It was so bunched I thought I would get out of trouble, and went to the front. You can’t go in with just one plan. That’s the downfall of many people. I had several plans, but never thought for a moment I’d be leading that early. Whatever pace was set I was determined to go with it, but I was just running consistent laps. It was not blisteringly fast. It suited me to do what I do.”
Hair tied, bouncing above her head like a tiny bonsai, McColgan continued remorselessly, with Tyneside’s Jill Hunter by her side. “I was watching the screens, and saw people dropping off one by one.” By 3000m (9-16.26) only 15 of the 25 starters were in touch; one kilometre later (12-25.85) the lead group was reduced to 10. The Norwegian world-record holder, Kristiansen, was struggling. Yelena Romanova, who had taken Olympic 3000m silver ahead of Yvonne Murray in Seoul had dropped out. At 5000m (15-34.15) the attritional procession had reduced the lead group even more, with Hunter among the victims, now back in sixth. McColgan, who had been lapping metronomically at between 75-76 seconds, increased the tempo just slightly, with two of 74. The German, Katrin Ullrich, who had darted past McColgan for 1987 world bronze, fell away.
Suddenly, only Derartu Tulu was left. The Ethiopian had outsprinted the Scot for world cross-country silver in Antwerp earlier that year, and stuck ominously to McColgan until just after nine laps to go, then moved to head McColgan for the only time in the race. It was a dying flourish, and Liz immediately read it. “She was trying to slow it down, and I sensed it immediately,” she said. “My pace judgement was so good I knew she had slowed it right away. I thought that if she was going to beat me, she would have to do it at my pace. I’d planned to go really hard for the last kilometre. But I knew then she was paying for her sprint finish in the heat, so I went back in front. I said to myself: ‘I want it, so go for it. Work. Work. Work.’”
With just under six laps left, Tulu faltered slightly. In two strides the gap was two metres, then five. Within one lap, McColgan was alone, 50 metres clear and picking off celebrity stragglers like Annette Sergeant-Palluy, who had so cruelly outsprinted her when the 1987 world cross-country title had seemed at the Scot’s mercy on Scotland’s farewell appearance in these championships.
“My only one bad moment,” Liz reflected, was when Tulu had clipped her heels, and spiked her. She was sent stumbling, with one foot off the track. “She kept tripping me,” said McColgan, “and I thought I might be disqualified for putting my foot off.” The UK director of coaching, Frank Dick, quite awe-struck, said immediately: “Liz approached that race like a tank at a demolition derby. She slowly ground forward and destroyed everybody. It is the most impressive demonstration of power and endurance I have ever witnessed.” The statistics, in the end, were simple. McColgan won in 31min 14.31sec from what was then the strongest field ever assembled for the most brutal women’s track event. She lapped half the field, finishing more than the length of the home straight clear of the Chinese silver and bronze medallists, Huanda Zhong (31:35.08) and Xiuting Wang (31:35.99).
Kristiansen, favouring the white gloves beloved of the local taxi drivers, was so far out of touch that even had she hailed a cab, she would have struggled to get to the finish ahead of the Scot. She finished seventh, almost a minute down. Peeling off the gloves, she churlishly ventured: “I’m impressed ¬ but she's still got a minute to go before she is in my world record form.” A record, incidentally, set before a home crowd in the cool of Oslo.
But nothing could detract from the first track gold medal at World or Olympic level by a British woman since Ann Packer’s 800 metres title in the same stadium 27 years earlier, at the 1964 Olympiad. “Scotland got the gold,” shouted Liz in triumph as she walked from the track with her husband, soaked to the skin. The typhoon had broken as Liz carried her new sponsor’s shoes aloft on her lap of honour: “We did it - me and Peter.”