On this Day 50 years ago
20/07/2020 00:00, In Blog /
Clive Williams tells the story of Welsh athletes
at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1970 British Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh where a large team of 42 Welsh athletes made the short journey to Meadowbank to take part in the 9th Games.
The first Games - then called the British Empire Games - were held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada, and since then, they have been held every four years apart from the wartime years of 1942 and 1946. There have been several name changes, with the event being called the British Empire Games until 1950 before becoming the British Empire and Commonwealth Games from 1954 through to 1966. The 1970 Edinburgh Games were renamed British Commonwealth Games to include the 1974 Games in New Zealand before adopting the current title of Commonwealth Games for the 1978 Edmonton, Canada gathering.
Most of the Welsh team were competing in the Games for the first time in Edinburgh, but Lynn Davies, the reigning long jump champion from the previous Games in Jamaica and Britain’s 1968 Olympic captain, Ron Jones, were competing in their third and fourth Games respectively. The team of 42 was the same as that represented Wales in the Cardiff Games of 1958. We are unlikely to see that sort of number ever again representing Wales in the Games. The Edinburgh Games were the first to adopt metric distances, although a 3,000m steeplechase was added to the men’s schedule at the 1962 Games in Perth, Western Australia.
Lynn’s third Games and he retains his title
Although 1964 Olympic champion Lynn was the only medallist as he retained his long jump title with a windy 8.06m, a large number of personal bests were set and 15 athletes reached their finals plus both men’s and women’s sprint relay teams, so on balance the Games were very successful for Wales. Additionally eight Welsh records were broken.
For Lynn it was his third and final Commonwealth Games. As a 20 year-old in the 1962 Perth Games, despite breaking the British record with 7.72m, he failed to win the bronze medal by 2 cms finishing fourth. And his jump was wind free whilst all medallists achieved their jump with wind assisted performances. Said Lynn at the time: “a tiny puff of wind would have given me the 3 cms I needed to take silver let alone bronze.”
In Kingston Jamaica in 1966, Nantymoel-born Lynn jumped 7.99m to win gold, dominating the event from his first jump. He also took the European title in Budapest later in 1966 to become the first British athlete to hold gold medals at the three major athletics gatherings at the same time. There were no world championships in those days.
Lynn was delighted with his Edinburgh win as it came after an injury troubled season. Although he no-jumped with his first attempt, the leap was around the 8.18 mark, so he knew that a big leap was possible. And it came in the third round when he bettered Australia’s Phil May’s leading mark by 12 cms to make it a gold medal haul of four in the major championships. Lynn’s Cardiff club-mate Gwyn Williams made the long jump final and finished tenth. At the time Welsh long jumping was particularly strong, and Gwyn’s best of 7.55m in 1968 is still today the seventh best jump by a Welsh long jumper, and without the presence of his great friend Lynn, would have held the Welsh record holder for many years.
Lynn Davies during his gold medal jump
Two Welsh records for Bernie in memorable races
Apart from Lynn, Bernie Plain and Hall of Fame inductee Ruth Martin-Jones were the stand-out performers, with both setting two Welsh records each. Bernie, now a non-executive director of Welsh Athletics, and despite being well down the field in both the 5,000m and 10,000m, eclipsed the 5,000m record held by Alan Joslyn with 14:02.0 and the 10,000m record held by 1958 Empire Games silver medal hero John Merriman with 28:51.84 secs. Admittedly Merriman had a faster intrinsically better 3 miles to his credit of 13:59.6 (3 miles time of 13:31.6 +28 secs) but to set Welsh records in these two very demanding events – including a personal best in the 5,000m heats - in a matter of days was an outstanding performance for the Cardiff athlete who was awarded the MBE for his services to athletics in 2011. Bernie’s 10,000m time bettered the Welsh record that Merriman set when he clocked a new UK record of 28:52.89 in the 1960 Rome Olympics where he became the first Briton to better 29 minutes for the event.
The 5,000 and 10,000m were the star events for Scotland as local heroes Ian and Lachie Stewart took both for their home country. Lachie scored a sensational 10,000m win outsprinting world record holder Ron Clarke with 28:11.8 secs, with Bernie back in 11th place in one of the highest standard 10,000m races ever seen. The 5,000 was also loaded with star performers as Ian Stewart fought a gripping battle with compatriot Ian McCafferty to win by a whisker from his team-mate in a new European record of 13:22.8, with Olympic 1,500 champion and 5,000m silver medallist Kip Keino in third just three days after winning the 1,500 gold. Down the field in 5th was world record-holder Clarke, with Bernie 13th. So apart from anything else, Bernie was proud to be part of two events that brought the finest middle distance runners to the UK. In later years he concentrated on the marathon and in the 1974 Christchurch Games he lowered the Welsh record to 2 hours 14.56 secs before narrowly missing a bronze medal in the 1974 Rome European Championships finishing fourth behind bronze medallist and 1964 Olympic steeplechase champion Gaston Roelants.
Double Welsh record achievement for Ruth
The other top Welsh performer in Edinburgh was Ruth Martin-Jones (now Swinhoe) who equalled Sylvia Powell’s long jump record with 6.00m in 9th place before finishing 6th in the pentathlon with 4497 pts to better her own Welsh record set a few weeks earlier. Mary Peters who was to go on and win the Olympic title in Munich two years later, broke the Commonwealth record to win in Edinburgh with 5148 pts. Ruth became Britain’s number one long jumper in the mid-1970s and was the first Welsh female track & field athlete to win a medal at a major games when she won the long jump bronze at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974. Her jump of 6.38m was the same as the silver medallist, Brenda Eisler of Canada but the Canadian had a better second jump – 6.34 to Ruth’s 6.31, so it could quite easily have been silver.
Ruth’s versatility was clearly displayed by the fact that she held Welsh records at four different events – long jump, high jump, 100m hurdles and pentathlon/heptathlon. Not surprisingly she held the Welsh record for the latter for eleven years between 1967 and 1978.
An interesting statistic is that Ruth’s name is in the world record books. The first heptathlon to be held anywhere in the world was at Birmingham's Alexandra Stadium on 23-24 September 1978 and it was won by Ruth, who can therefore consider herself at least the holder of a World Best Performance for a couple of weeks until a German competition was won with a better score the following month! Amongst Welsh women athletes, only Venissa Head has competed for Britain on more occasions than Ruth – 28 against 25. She was inducted in the Welsh Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
Superb fourth for Gloria
Gloria Dourass was very unlucky not to get the bronze medal in the 800m. She was an accomplished athlete having represented Wales at events from 400m through to cross-country and competed in the previous Games in Jamaica. But in Edinburgh she probably achieved her finest performance to just miss out on a medal in the 800 finishing fourth with 2:08.6 secs, in an event won by local girl Rosemary Sterling in 2:06.2.
Apart from the Welsh records set by Ruth Martin-Jones and Bernie Plain, four further Welsh records were set by Phil Thomas in the 1,500m; Bernie Hayward in the 3,000m steeplechase; Mike Rowland (marathon) and the men’s sprint relay squad. Thomas of London club Herne Hill Harriers ran exceptionally well in the 1,500 to clip almost 3 secs off his own record as he finished an excellent 7th with 3:42.6 secs behind Keino’s winning 3:36.6.
20 second improvement for Hayward
Welsh 1,500m champion Bernie Hayward went into 1970 with a 3,000m steeplechase best of 8:58.2 secs. But he first lowered this to 8:49.2 in his heat before running out of his socks to become the first Welshman to dip under the 8:40 barrier with 8:39.8 for 7th in the final. Tony Manning of Australia clocked 8:26.2 to win. Bernie’s time ranked the 21 year-old Cardiffian fourth fastest in Britain that year and a few weeks later he took the silver medal at the AAA (British) championships behind his great friend Andy Holden of Tipton.
Marathon trio excel
Wales had three very competent marathon runners in Edinburgh in Mike Rowland, Cyril Leigh and Hedydd Davies. And all performed extremely well in one of the finest marathon races ever seen as England’s Ron Hill took the field apart to set a new European record of 2 hours 09.28 in a field that contained five of the fastest marathon runners of all time. Although back in eleventh place, Newport Harrier Rowland took almost six minutes off Ron Franklin’s eight year-old record to become the first Welshman under 2:20 with 2:19.08. Wigan’s Cyril Leigh was also under the 2:20 barrier in 12th place with 2:19.53. That great servant to Welsh athletics, Carmarthen’s Hedydd Davies, clocked a fine personal best of 2:23.29 for 17th place.
Fifth for Averil, 12 years after bronze
Another outstanding servant of Welsh athletics, the late Averil Williams had won the javelin bronze medal for England in the 1958 Cardiff Games, but changed her allegiance to Wales after moving to Gwent as a PE lecturer in the 1960s. In Edinburgh, the former British number one, who competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics, and now approaching the veteran stage, was only a metre and a half off the bronze again, but had to settle for fifth with 47.70m.
There were commendable performances from Welsh shot and discus champion John Walters with appearances in the finals of both of his specialities. Walters, the winner of four Welsh shot titles by 1970 finished 8th with 16.06m – 36 cms behind his Welsh record and 11th in the discus with 48.06m, just below his Welsh record.
Sprint relay squad just outside medals but set Welsh record
Both sprint relay squads performed creditably, with the men’s team which included three British international sprinters expected to challenge for a medal. But unfortunately, Ron Jones injured himself in the quarter-finals of the 100 so was not available for the relay. Ron, approaching his 36th birthday and a member of the Britain’s world record equalling 4 x 110 yards team from 1963 was bitterly disappointed at “letting the boys down” as he put it. But as it turned out, after qualifying for the final, the 4 x 100m squad of Terry Davies, Lynn Davies, JJ Williams and Howard Davies did very well to finish just outside the medals in 5th place. Their time was a Welsh record of 40.2 secs and only 2-tenths behind bronze medallists England. Although the Welsh squad did clock an intrinsically faster 40.2 for 4 x 110 yards when finishing fourth in the previous Games in Jamaica. The women’s squad of Michelle Smith, Pat Shiels, Ruth Martin-Jones and Hilary Davies did well for 6th place clocking 46.56 secs, the second fastest sprint relay time recorded by a Welsh squad.
Welsh record holder Dave Lease was not at his best, but finished 8th in the pole vault with 4.50m - just 8 cms off his Welsh record set a month earlier. Altogether in his career, the former Cefn Fforest man, and Scottish national coach set six Welsh records taking the record from 4.45m in 1968 through to 4.72m which he set in Bargoed, no more than four miles from his former home. He did however, have a superior indoor best of 4.80m also set in 1972.
The other athletes to reach their final were: Dave Rosser 11th 2:49.41 in the 20km walk; Nigel Sherlock 9th in the javelin with 66.24m and Flint’s Maureen Pierce with 12th in the shot with 11.23m, which was 1.73m behind her Welsh record.
18 year-old Berwyn Price, the 110m hurdles silver medallist in 1974 and 1978 Commonwealth champion, did well to reach the semi-finals clocking 14.4 secs.