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On This Day in 1980 - another Marathon Tale

13/05/2020 00:00, In Blog /


In the absence of new results and competitions to bring you each Monday, we're replacing our Weekend Round-Ups with some stories from the archives. A full history of Welsh Athletics can be explored here and Athletics Stats Wales provides a comprehensive set of statistics for the sport.

Having written a marathon tale for London Marathon weekend, I thought I'd write another one. There are similarities and differences. This was also an Olympic Marathon Trial. And there was a Welsh connection. The reason for writing in a personal one. 3rd May 1980 was exactly 40 years ago, and my marathon debut. I was 24. The venue for the AAA champs and Olympic Trial was Milton Keynes. 26.2 miles of cycle lanes, repetitive in nature, sparse support and strong winds. Hardly inspiring stuff.

What this tale also illustrates graphically is the difference in marathon running pre and post-London.

Here, London was still an idea in Chris Brasher's fertile mind. There were 265 starters and 70 non-finishers. I was one of them. Others included Ian Stewart, Tony Simmons, Steve Kenyon, Jeff Norman, Gerry Helme, Colin Kirkham, Allister Hutton and John Graham. Not that made me feel any better. 10 miles in 52:50 was simply too fast, and I stepped off the road a mile later.

That's what a trial was like. Performance was everything. Only 6 of the finishers failed to break 3 hours, and the final finisher clocked 3:07:35 (no doubt with the timekeepers complaining that he was wasting their time).

It resulted in an incredibly popular victory. Ian Thompson (still the UK record holder with 2:09:12 in 1980) simply ground everyone else into submission. Six years earlier, Ian had been the number 1 marathoner in the world, winning his first 5 marathons in devastating fashion, including the Commonwealth title in Christchurch, New Zealand and the European in the sweltering heat of Rome. He was still only 24.

Then, with an unblemished record, Ian lined up for the Olympic trial on 8 May 1976 at Rotherham. He finished seventh, and the selectors picked the first three to finish for the upcoming Olympic Games in Montreal. From being a champion, Ian was suddenly an also-ran. Many may not have come back. But here at Milton Keynes, Ian proved the doubters wrong. And even though he was ill in Moscow and did not finish the Olympic Marathon, he bounced back again and won the London-Brighton 54.2 miles in 5:15:15 less than two months later, averaging 5:50 a mile.

In total, Ian won 22 of his 57 marathons (an astonishing strike race considering the standard of competition) and over 16 years (1973-89 - a very lengthy career by modern standards).

The Welsh connection? Ian had been a student at University College, Cardiff, training to be a teacher. He was known as a phenomenal trainer, with mileage of up to 160 mpw being quoted.  He won the Welsh 5000 metre title in 1971 with 14:33, and had a lifetime best of 14:05, useful, but hardly the standard you would expect of a man destined to set the marathon world alight.

To revert to that day in Milton Keynes: 1. Ian Thompson (Luton) 2:14:00; 2. Dave Black (Tamworth) 2:14:28; 3. Andy Holden (Tipton) 2:15:18; 4. Yutaka Taketomi (JAP) 2:15:37; 5. Chris Garforth (Gateshead) 2:16:01; 6. John McLaughlin (Duncairn) 2:16:07; 7. Dave Cannon (Gateshead) 2:16:19; 8. Ian Ray (Salisbury) 2:16:51; 9. Malcolm East (Ranelagh) 2:17:57; 10. Trevor Wright (Wolves) 2:18:11.   

To watch Ian at the 1974 Commonwealth Games:

Kindly written by Mick McGeoch, Les Croupiers RC