THE METRIC ERA 1969-1985

Athletics in the United Kingdom turned metric in 1969 with events like the now established 100 metres, 800 metres, replacing the 100 yards and 880 yards, and 3 miles and 6 miles races being replaced by their metric equivalent of 5000 and 10000 metres. The period from 1969-1985 was when international matches reached their peak with 69 internationals taking place and 443 athletes gaining Scottish representative honours, compared with 34 and 325 in the period 1946 to 1968. 

An Indoor First

The first Scottish international of the period was of historic note. In 1969, Scotland competed against the three other home countries at RAF Cosford in our first-ever indoor international match. England won and Scotland had 2 winners, Don Halliday and Rosemary Stirling. It might be thought that this would lead to other indoor internationals but after a match in 1970 against Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions, there was not another indoor international for 19 years, wen Scotland competed in Athens in 1989.

Eyes on the Friendly Games

Scotland were to host the Commonwealth Games at Edinburgh in 1970 and all focus was on this in th lead-up to these as athletes vied for places at the big event. The 1969 season started with the British Isles Cup at Grangemouth where the old reliable, Crawford Fairbrother, won the high jump and Lachie Stewart took the 5000 metres. The match was notable for the debut of the 17-year-old Edinburgh Academy schoolboy, David Jenkins. Running the 3rd leg of the 4x400 metres, he took off around 10 metres behind John Cooper, the England 400 hurdler, and not only reined him in but handed the baton over to Andy Wood, the individual 400 winner, some 5 metres ahead. Wood could not hold on to the lead against Martin Bilham and match-winners England won the relay.

The Opening of Meadowbank

Scotland's women only competed in a limited-events match against Norway at the Edinburgh Highland Games that year, Helen Golden recording a sprint double, but they ha the honour of hosting the Claude Graham-White Trophy on 2 May in 1970, an event that heralded the official opening of Meadowbank Sports Centre. The match did not augur well for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in one way at least, The Glasgow Herald's Ron Marshall laying into the presentation as he described the 15,000 spectators as being "abysmally uninformed, misinformed, and ignored in turn by an information service that never was". If that took away from the enjoyment of the day, that was a shame, as the Scots rose to the occasion to beat off the English counties, Wales and Northern Ireland. There were all-comers' and native records galore on the new Tartan track and individual victories in the A events for Helen Golden (100), Avril Beattie (400) and Rosemary Payne (Discus), with Beattie and Payne setting native records in the process.

Commonwealth Games success

(The following extracts on the Commonwealth Games are taken from the book, The Past Is a Foreign Country, by Colin Shields and Arnold Black)

Meadowbank’s large grandstand, together with seating on temporary stands along the back straight, allowed 30,000 spectators to view the athletic events inside the stadium, with capacity crowds watching enthusiastically on most days.

Lachie Stewart celebrates as a dejected Ron Clarke walks away
Lachie Stewart celebrates as a dejected Ron Clarke walks away

For every major sporting event, especially one such as the Commonwealth Games which extends for over a week, there must be both a good start and a good finish to the event. The good start, necessary to raise the public’s consciousness of the event, came in the 10,000 metres in the first track final of the Games. Quiet, unassuming Lachie Stewart, a little known distance runner from Vale of Leven, emerged as a national hero after winning in 28:11.72, defeating Australian multi-world record holder Ron Clarke in a sprint finish in what was to be the fastest time recorded in the world that year. This unexpected Scottish victory sets the Games alight ensuring a ticket sell out for the rest of the Games and the best publicity that anyone could ever have hoped for.


The finish par excellence, came on the final day in the much anticipated final track event before the emotional closing ceremony. Here, to the delirious delight of the capacity 30,000 crowd, Scots Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty fought out a bitter duel for the 5,000 gold medal all the way up the finishing straight; Stewart just getting to the tape first in 13:22.85 with McCafferty inches behind, a finish that was the most exciting ever seen, leaving the spectators, both in the stadium and those watching entranced on television at home, emotionally drained and remembering the thrilling finish for a long time after the Games were over.

Rosemary Stirling wins the 800 from Pat Lowe
Rosemary Stirling wins the 800 from Pat Lowe

No Scottish woman had ever finished in the first three in any event, let alone won a gold medal, in the 40-year history of the Games to date. However, Edinburgh inspired the women’s team and they gained 2 gold and a bronze in just 6 days’ competition. Coincidentally, both the gold medallists were named Rosemary, but one medal came in the discus and the other in the 800 metres. Kelso-born Rosemary Payne, the 37-year- old mother of twin boys, had first competed in the 1958 Games at Cardiff. The U.K. record holder threw 54.46 metres in the second round to win, with only Australian Jean Roberts (51.02 in round 5) coming close to the Scot. Her win completed an unprecedented husband and wife double gold medal triumph for the Paynes as 40-year- old husband Howard (England), retained his title in the hammer earlier in the day. Rosemary Payne went on to win the silver medal at Christchurch four years later where she became the oldest ever medal winner at the age of 40 years 252 days.


Rosemary Stirling, New Zealand-born of Scottish parents, won the other gold medal on the penultimate day of competition. After comfortably qualifying in 2:04.96, she was caught up in a slow-run final. The favourite, Sheila Carey (England) fell in the bumping and barging on the back straight with Stirling racing through in the finishing straight to win by the narrowest of margins in 2.06.24. In a blanket finish the Scot won by just 0.03 sec from Pat Lowe (England) with just a yard covering the first three finishers.

Of the leading half dozen marathon runners in the world, only Olympic champion Mamo Wolde (Ethiopia) was missing. The field of competitors assembled for the race from Meadowbank to the turning point of Longniddry and back to the stadium promised a fascinating contest. The defending champion and silver medallist from Kingston, Jim Alder, and Bill Adcocks were there, together with Australian Derek Clayton, holder of the world’s fastest time for the marathon of 2:08:34. Ron Hill, 1969 European champion over the classic course from Marathon to Athens was also present with Jerome Drayton of Canada, winner of the Fukuoka race in Japan the previous December a runner, just five days after recording 28:45.0 for 10th in the 10,000. The marathon takes a man into the far reaches of pain and courage unimaginable to anyone who has not contested the event and everyone knew the winner would have contested a hard fought race. 

The early pace of the field of 32 competitors was fast, with 5 miles passed in 23:31 and 10m in 47:45. Further 5 mile splits for Hill of 24:33 and 25:14 brought the leader to 20 miles in 1:37:32 with defending champion Alder in second place 79 seconds behind. Hill reached the 25 mile point, within sight of the stadium floodlighting pylons, in 2:03:10 and holding a lead of exactly 2 minutes from Jim Alder, with the younger competitor in the race, 21-year- old Don Faircloth (England) a further 10 seconds behind. Hill's winning time of 2:09:28, U.K. and Scottish All-Comers’ records, was the fastest winning time in a major championship race and the second fastest ever behind Clayton’s world best at Amsterdam. Among Europeans the only other man to have run faster than Alder’s second place of 2:12:04 (Scottish native and national records) and Faircloth’s 2:12:19 in 3rd was Bill Adcocks, 6th on this occasion. British runners dominated the race with England placing their three competitors in the first 6 home and the 3 Scotland runners in the first 8, with Fergus Murray 2:15:32 and Donald Macgregor 2:16:53 excelling themselves.

In addition to the historically high tally of gold and silver medals, Scots won two bronze medals at Edinburgh in such differing events as the men’s 20 miles walk and the women’s high jump. 31-year- old London policeman Bill Sutherland from Scone was Scotland’s only walker, not surprising as the walks had only been reinstated to the Scottish championship programme three years earlier. In dull, cold and blustery conditions, the red-haired Scot improved his position from 7th in the early stages to 3rd at the turning point. Walking steadily he won the bronze medal behind two Australians with Ron Wallwork, the English winner from Kingston four years earlier, 5th, almost 3 minutes behind Sutherland.

Such was teenager Moira Walls’ versatility that she was selected to compete in three separate events during the Games. Her marathon stint consisted of four days’ competition inside five days, including the high and long jumps plus the two-day pentathlon event. Despite clearing the national record distance of 6.39 in the pentathlon long jump, she finished 4th with a national record of 4,704, failing by the narrow margin of just 32 points to win bronze. 24 hours later she cleared the lesser distance of 6.20 for 5th place in the individual long jump behind Alix Stevenson (6.23). Not deterred on the final day by rainy conditions, the Western AAC girl finally won a medal when finishing 3rd in the high jump. She equalled her season’s best height of 1.70 behind 17-year- old Canadian star, Debbie Brill who, using her own jumping style of the Brill Bend, won with a height of 1.78, 3cm above her own height.

Scotland's largest Games team (55 athletes) had produced 4 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 2 bronze. 

The closing ceremony, in the presence of the Queen and the Royal Family who had attended every sport during the Games, was an unforgettable success. Competitors entered the stadium in an uninhibited manner with athletes of all nations linking arms and dancing or jogging round the track. Some moved to the grass infield, formed a conga line, snaking and cavorting through the serried ranks of the massed military bands in joyful spirits. Edinburgh had taken the Games and their competitors to its collective heart, and the Games competitors thanked Edinburgh and the supportive crowds with an outpouring of spirit that gained the Games the title of the “Friendly Games” from then onwards.

Commonwealth Aftermath

In the aftermath of a successful Commonwealth Games, the next international matches were, not surprisingly, something of an anti-climax. Before the 1974 Games took place at Christchurch, New Zealand, there were only 6 international matches, 4 of them in 1971. A Scotland v Northern Ireland match was introduced into the Kirkintilloch Highland Games in 1971 and repeated at the Bearsden Highland Games two years later, the latter notable for a re-appearance in Scotland of the 1970 Games winner Ian Stewart. Scotland also recorded a win over Belgium at the 1971 Edinburgh Highland Games where the young David Jenkins, later to disgrace himself, won on his individual debut for Scotland. 


Scotland's success in 1970 was not emulated at the 1974 Games where Rosemary Payne, gold medallist in 1970, was the only Scottish medal-winner, 2nd in the discus. In six events, a medal was missed by just one place, with David Jenkins (400), David Kidner (decathlon), Mary Stewart (1500), Ruth Watt (high jump), Myra Nimmo (long jump) and the women's 4x400 team all finishing in fourth place.


These Games took place in January/February 1974 and seemed to mark a downtown in Scotland's fortunes. In July, the men's team were thrashed in Oslo by Norway and Bulgaria, although Frank Clement and Adrian Weatherhead were successful in the 800 and 1500, and the women's team were well beaten by Canada at Cwmbran, Myra Nimmo's hurdles win being the only Scottish individual success.

Allan Wells, long jumper

1975 saw the emergence of a future Scottish star. Allan Wells was to become an Olympic 100 metres champion in 1980 but at Cwmbran in Wales in August 1975, he finished a distant last in the match v England, Wales and Northern Ireland, not in the event in which he became famous but with a distance of 6.51 metres in the long jump and running the 3rd leg in the 4 x 400 metres relay. In other ways as well, it was not the most auspicious of debuts - team manager Bob Quinn discovered that all the team vests had been left in Edinburgh and a visit to department store was needed to resolve the situation. A successful visit to Iceland followed later that month, where hurdler Stewart McCallum recorded 4 victories - in the 110 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 4 x 100 & 4x400 relays. 


The Scottish women lost to England at Grangemouth in 1975, a match that saw the introduction of the 3000 metres into the programme for the first time. The women lost out to Belgium but beat Wales in a match at Coatbridge the following year. Now a stalwart of the team, Helen Golden recorded a 100/200 double, Margaret Coomber won the 800 and Myra Nimmo won the long jump with an excellent 6.54w in what was to be her last Scotland appearance at the age of 22. Scotland's men beat Iceland at the Edinburgh Highland Games with as strong a team as they had mustered for some time - Wells won the 100/200, Roger Jenkins the 400, Frank Clement the 800, Nat Muir and Allister Hutton one-two in the 5000, Jim Dingwall and John Graham similar in the 10000, David Wilson and Gus McKenzie won the hurdles, Brian Burgess, Willie Clark and Chris Black were successful in the field. 


England were tougher opposition, however, and in the match at Wolverhampton, Scotland barely managed half of England's score but finished ahead of Wales. Jim Dingwall was the only Scottish winner across the men and women, beating England's Charlie Spedding to win the 5000.


In 1977, Scotland lost out to Greece at Meadowbank despite winning 9 out 12 track events, which clearly indicated where the respective strengths of each country lay. In the throws, Chris Black won the hammer but otherwise the Scottish throwers finished in the bottom places. Scotland's women, though, overcame Norway, helped by double wins for Liz Sutherland and Meg Ritchie

Drew McMaster (340) holds off Floyd Brown (Jamaica) (238) and Trinidad's Ephraim Servette (396) to win Commonwealth 4x100 Gold
Drew McMaster (340) holds off Floyd Brown (Jamaica) (238) and Trinidad's Ephraim Servette (396) to win Commonwealth 4x100 Gold

The young ones appear - Williamson and Macdonald

In the build up to the 1978 Commonwealth Games, Scotland's women demolished Greece in Athens finishing 1st and 2nd in every individual track race and winning the two relays on the way to a 102-58 victory, although two months later they lost to Norway in Larvik 78-79. The men's team finished 2nd in a 4-way match in Athens, losing to Greece but ahead of Wales and Luxembourg. 


Competing in her final Scottish international in that match against Greece, Liz Sutherland (pictured left) won the 400 metres hurdles. The top 400 hurdler in the UK, she would be deprived a chance of a medal at Edmonton as the organisers still considered the event too dangerous for women and it would not be added to the Commonwealth Games programme until 1982. Sutherland's Scotland career was an extraordinary one - selected 10 times between 1966 and 1978, she competed in 8 different events (100, 200, 400, 60H, 80H, 100H, 400H, LJ) as well as both relays.


In August, Scotland had a team of 26 athletes competing at Edmonton, Canada, returning home with 2 gold medals (Allan Wells in the 200 and the men's 4x100), one silver (Wells again, in the 200) and three bronze medals (John Robson in the 1500, Brian Burgess in the high jump, and Chris Black in the hammer). This return on the men's side was effectively repeated in 1982 when 2 gold and 5 bronze were won. Since the 1982 Games, Scotland's men have not won any gold medals in the following eight Games.


Despite wins from Wells (100, 200), the young Graham Williamson (mile) and Paul Buxton (hammer), Scotland finished last of 4 to England, Belgium and Norway at Gateshead in 1979. Williamson, making his Scotland debut, won the mile in 3:56.98 beating Brendan Foster by over 4 seconds with Steve Cram down the order in 6th, proving once again how short-sighted the selectors were in failing to select him for Edmonton.


Another precocious talent made her debut in 1979 as 15-year-old Linsey Macdonald made her first Scotland appearance at Grangemouth in a match against Norway and Greece and proceeded to win the 100 and 200 metres in windy times of 11.7 and 23.7. 


Towards the end of the year, there was a rarity in a road walking international between Scotland and Wales over 20 kilometres. While Scotland were well beaten, the team consisted of 6 representatives, a feat that would be impossible in current times.

Moira's 4 records with one jump

Allan Wells and wife Margot
Allan Wells and wife Margot

Into 1980, and the Scottish men easily defeated Northern Ireland and Luxembourg at Meadowbank. In light of the way athletics has gone, it is worth noting that the men's match was contested over 21 events, including the 10000 metres and a 10000 metres walk as part of the programme.


Scotland's women recorded a notable victory over England at Meadowbank, the highlight of the match being a British record-equalling high jump of 1.87 by Moira Maguire, also gaining the Scottish national, native and all-comers' records. Moira had started her international career in 1967 and was to continue it until 1984. Linsey Macdonald was again a star performer on the day with victories in the 100, 200 and 4x400 relay.


Although they recorded a victory at Meadowbank, the lack of depth to the men's teams was showing. In a track-only international at Crystal Palace, they were well beaten by England and Belgium, although ahead of Sweden. When the weaker field events were added, they finished third of 3 behind Denmark and Ireland at Copenhagen, and they were well adrift at Gateshead behind England, Yugoslavia and Norway. 


In 1981, Drew McMaster sped to a 100/200 double against England and Italy, assisted, as he later admitted, by more than just a following wind. In a 4-way international later in the year at Gateshead, Scotland failed to muster 100 points across the 19 events where Gus McKenzie and Frank Clement's 2nd places were the best performances. A young Tom McKean made his debut, 7th in the 400 metres.


Second to Denmark and beating Ireland at Meadowbank was an improvement on the previous year and saw the sprint quartet of Gus McKenzie, Allan Wells, Cameron Sharp and Peter Little set new native record figures of 39.94, the first time a Scottish team had bettered 40 seconds on home soil. Meg Ritchie had a throws double on the women's side in a match in which Yvonne Murray made her international debut, 4th at 3000 metres.


The women's team set a native 4x400 record at the same match, the quartet of Margaret Southerden, Carol Candlish, Alison Reid and Anne Clarkson winning in 3:41.86, and at the end of the month, with Linsey Macdonald and Fiona Macaulay running the opening two legs, set a national record of 3:33.8 in Norway. Clarkson and Macaulay were the sole individual winners in Norway as the women's team were well beaten by the hosts, but the men's team fought out their closest ever international that week in Greece. In a 5-Nations match, Greece and Scotland, with 90 points each and 9 wins each couldn't be separated and shared top spot. McMaster (100/200) and Paul Forbes (400/800) recorded double victories.

1982 gold medal winner Meg Ritchie
1982 gold medal winner Meg Ritchie

Scotland won all 12 track events, including the relays, in Luxembourg in June 1982 on the way to a comfortable victory, with debutant Gus McCuaig earning a sprint treble with wins in the 100, 200 and 4x100, and Tom McKean winning the 800 on his Scotland debut at the distance.


Scotland's women prepared for the 1982 Commonwealth Games with matches at Antrim (for the Claude Graham-White Trophy) and Yugoslavia, where Anne Clarkson's 800 win at Antrim was the only victory across the two matches.


A team of 27 athletes went to Brisbane for the Games, but the javelin thrower Diane Royle injured herself severely in training at the Mount Gravett practice area and had to withdraw from the Games. Four years later, she was selected for the Edinburgh Games only to be dropped when she refused to take a drug test.


The remaining 26 returned with 10 medals, 3 gold, 1 silver and 6 bronze. Allan Wells was the star, wining the 100 and dead-heating with Mike McFarlane for gold in the 200, Meg Ritchie taking the women's discus title. Among the bronze medals was another Scottish record for the women's 4x400 team, the quartet of Sandra Whittaker, Anne Clarkson, Angela Bridgeman and Linsey Macdonald reducing it to 3:32.92.


Yvonne Murray passed up selection for Scotland's match in Belgium in June 1983, electing instead to win the Scottish Schools' 800 metres championship, but she returned the next month to comfortably win the 3000 metres against England. Angela Bridgeman and Anne Clarkson (now Purvis) were the other Scotland winners but they couldn't stop the team going down 98-61 to England. 


At the end of July, Scotland had a double win at Meadowbank, the men winning a 6-way international by 2 points from Wales and the women overcoming Iceland, Israel and Northern Ireland. The men's match saw Scotland set a new native record of 39.59 for the 4x100 with a running order that was only agreed after heated debate. Drew McMaster led off and handed the baton to his bitter rival Wells for the first ever (and only) time with Sharp and McCuaig completing the quartet.


Tullamore in Ireland saw Scotland take part in its first decathlon international in August 1983, finishing last to England and Ireland A and B. This was the first of an annul home countries international which continues to this day, although latterly as a competition opportunity for athletes rather than as a fully-fledged international match.


At the Nike Classic at Crystal Palace the same month, Graham Williamson became the first Scot to break 5 minutes for 2000 metres as he and Geoff Parsons (2.22 high jump) were Scotland's only individual winners along with the successful 4x100 relay team.  Otherwise it was a dismal team showing in the match against England, Hungary and Norway with Cameron Sharp and Paul Forbes the only others to get a top 3 placing.

1984 saw international matches with a slight twist to them. Scotland took on Catalonia at Meadowbank in a match which might be labelled the fight for independence if held now, before going on to Birmingham to meet an unusual mix of opponents in Iceland, Birmingham and Liege.


The following year, Scotland triumphed in Tel Aviv against Israel, Wales, Greece and Northern Ireland with successes coming on the track from Elliot Bunney (100), Cameron Sharp (200), Brian Whittle (400) and Tom McKean (800), Geoff Parsons in the high jump, and the two relay teams on the men's side and from Sandra Whittaker (200), Yvonne Murray (1500), Jayne Barnetson (HJ) and Jackie Barclay (javelin) on the women's team. 


Previously, Scotland had gone to Swansea to meet Wales, Catalonia and an England Under-23 team in a match which saw the first appearance of Liz Lynch, one year ahead of her Commonwealth Games triumph. Although England won the match, Liz triumphed in the 3000, winning by nearly 12 seconds in 9:13.4.


There was time for one final international in 1985, in September at Floro, Norway against the Norwegians and Ireland which Norway won convincingly. The names were changing but Scotland were still strong in the sprints with individual victories for Sam Lee, George McCallum and Mark McMahon, but an "old reliable" was still there as Anne Purvis won the 800 in her 16th international, a new record for the women's team.



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