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Glasgow has a proud athletics tradition stretching back more than a century

WHEN Hampden hosts the Diamond League and Commonwealth Games next month, it will be less of a unique first for athletics, more the revival of an old Glasgow tradition.

ALL-TIME GREAT: Eric Liddell races at Ibrox in the days when the world's best regularly ran in Glasgow. Picture: Newsquest
ALL-TIME GREAT: Eric Liddell races at Ibrox in the days when the world's best regularly ran in Glasgow. Picture: Newsquest

Though it is the debut of grand prix athletics in Scotland, Hampden was the venue for the Scottish championships as long ago as 1887. James Cowie from Laurencekirk, in Aberdeenshire, was holder of the world 220 yards and 200 metres record at 22.2 seconds. No Scot has held it since. It now stands to Usain Bolt at 19.19, a difference equating to some 20 metres on the ground.

Sprinters then, however, ran on cinders, wearing much heavier spikes than today. Adidas produced a pair in 1928 at 180 grammes. Today's spikes are little over half that. Cowie used a trowel to dig starting holes (blocks had yet to be invented), and many sprinters grasped a cork in each fist to help focus on maintaining form.

Roger Bannister reckons modern tracks are a second a lap faster than the Iffley Road cinders on which he broke the four-minute mile barrier 60 years ago last month.

The Scottish championships were a near-annual fixture at Hampden from 1924 until 1951.

Ibrox and Celtic Park were also regular venues, and it is worth noting that when London hosted the 1908 Olympics, the three biggest stadia in Britain were those in Glasgow, and each had a running track. Each is also a Games venue this year as Glasgow demonstrates a sporting legacy which dates back more than a century.

Celtic Park first hosted the Scottish championships in 1897 - notable for the mile victory of Watsonian Hugh Welsh in a national record of 4min 24.2sec. The Scottish record has stood to Graham Williamson at 3:50.64 since 1982.

In July 1908 at Ibrox Park, at the St John's Young Men's Catholic Union Sports, Wyndham Halswelle set a Scottish 440 yards record of 48.4 - a performance which not even the Olympic champion Eric Liddell could surpass. It endured for half a century. Halswelle's Scottish 600-yard record (71.8) at Ibrox, lasted 64 years, while 30,000 spectators at Celtic Park saw him win a 440 handicap off scratch, beating the Athens Olympic 100 and 400m bronze medallist (off seven yards).

Halswelle won Olympic 400m gold in 1908. Still the only GB athlete to have won individual Olympic gold, silver, and bronze medals, he was killed by a sniper in 1915.

His 1908 Olympic victory was a controversial walkover. The disgusted Halswelle ran just once more, at the Rangers Sports. His best 300 yard time (31.2) was only surpassed in 1961 by Ming Campbell, the future Liberal Democrat leader.

Liddell won the first of five successive Scottish 100 yards titles at Hampden in 1921, and completed the 100, 220, and 440 yards treble there in 1924 and '25 before becoming a missionary in China, where he died in 1945.

Glasgow was no stranger to world records and global stars. Alf Shrubb was the endurance-running sensation of his day - bigger even than Mo Farah. He was a frequent performer at Ibrox where, in 1904, he set world records at six miles, 10,000 metres, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 miles, as well as one hour. Several of his records remained unbeaten for half a century.

The Rangers Sports were the equivalent of today's grand prix meetings. Paavo Nurmi headed a Who's Who of visitors with his nine Olympic titles, long before any Golden League or Diamond League. The Finnish legend missed the world best for four miles at Ibrox by five seconds in 1931 but claimed Shrubb's all-comers' record.

Bobby Graham of Motherwell YMCA topped the world mile rankings in 1935, and equalled Jack Lovelock's British mile record in Glasgow while Lovelock, the 1936 Olympic champion, set a Scottish all-comers' mile record.

England's world mile record holder, Sydney Wooderson, travelled north by train, standing much of the way. Before a 50,000 Ibrox crowd, on a track the consistency of porridge after 13 hours' rain, he smashed Lovelock's UK all-comers' mark for the three-quarter mile. His time of 3min 00.9sec missed the world best by a stride.

A record Ibrox athletics crowd of more than 70,000 in 1947 watched Glasgow's European high jump champion Alan Paterson and American Bill Vessie tie at 6ft 7½in, a British record.

Henry Ashenfelter, Olympic steeplechase champion in '52, who also ran at Ibrox in 1950, was an FBI agent. When I asked him a few years ago about his career as a spy, he said: "If I tell ya, I gotta kill ya."

Delivered with a throaty chuckle, as if for the first time.

Post-Helsinki, visitors to Ibrox included Lindy Remigino and Herb McKenley (100m gold and silver medallists), plus 800m runner-up Arthur Wint.

Hampden, meanwhile, having staged national cross-country championships from 1887, hosted the 1922 International Cross-country Championships (now the World Championships). It started at half-time in a Queen's Park v Celtic league match (admission 1/-, or five pence). Some 15,000 spectators stayed on after Celtic had won 3-1 to see Olympic 5000m champion Joseph Guillemot lift the title.

It is a shame Hampden will not retain the legacy of the 2014 track. The opportunity to retain a world-class venue for football and athletics has been rejected. However, the surface will be cannibalised to up-grade facilities elsewhere, with Crownpoint in Glasgow's east end the front-runner. A decision on the £530,000 project is imminent.

We hope that Scottish feet at Hampden imprint a worthy legacy to carry across the city. A proud tradition needs sustaining.

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