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Legends of Scottish athletics finally given a voice

AS Britain prepared for the First World War, Kelso sprinter Henry McIntosh raced at an international meeting in Budapest, where victory brought an improbable trophy:

Eilidh Child atop Hampden adorns the cover of Shields and Black's book. Picture: Alistair Devine, courtesy of Commonwealth Games Scotland
Eilidh Child atop Hampden adorns the cover of Shields and Black's book. Picture: Alistair Devine, courtesy of Commonwealth Games Scotland

a giant Italian marble statue, which he carefully transported home by train, despite the rail guage changing at almost every frontier across Europe.

McIntosh is surely the least known of` Scotland's six Olympic athletics gold medallists. The Borderer competed in Stockholm (1912), where he helped Britain to the inaugural Olympic 4 x 100 metres title, a feat not repeated until 2004. President of Cambridge University Athletic Club, McIntosh twice won the Scottish 100 yards title before the war, while in Vienna in 1913 he equalled the UK 100 yards record (9.8 seconds) and set Scottish best performances at 100m (10.7) and 200m (22.1), both Austrian all-comers' records. Exactly a century later - last season - 10.7 seconds would have ranked second in Scotland. And that performance is also superior to the listed inaugural Scottish 100m record.

This is just one among dozens of fascinating revelations from The Past is a Foreign Country, the definitive history of athletics in Scotland. Published this week by the Scottish Association of Track Statisticians, the book's gestation has been more than 15 years, though during that time the SATS continued to publish annual yearbooks and launched their website.

This latest work began as a Millennium history of the sport, some five years before both Liz McColgan's last Scottish title and Lee McConnell's first championship medal. During its research and writing, McColgan has coached her daughter to the Olympics, while McConnell amassed a unique collection of medals before rendering the book out of date - by announcing her retirement as the ink was drying.

That's the nature of history. It's always changing, and authors Colin Shields and Arnold Black have made many discoveries which some might feel warrant amending records. McIntosh and many others achieved what would have ranked as Scottish records today, but former rules precluded recognition of performances abroad.

McIntosh was commissioned in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and had just turned 26 when he was killed at the second battle of the Somme, four months before the armistice. He is buried at Senlis, the French national cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission makes no mention of his Olympic status, and the whereabouts of his statue and Olympic medal remain unknown.

Fifer Jock Dalrymple, a WW1 gunner, was invalided on an 80% disability pension, yet later set six UK javelin records. His training included running 16 miles before breakfast. He worked as a railway carriage cleaner and practised throwing at lunchtime. On one occasion he hurled a 16lb hammer through the window of a train passing through Bedford station.

Details on David Young emerged as the book went to press. At the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney, his discus silver was Scotland's sole athletics medal. A Glasgow policeman and Shettleston Harrier, his training included loading coal trucks, carrying a 112lb sack on each shoulder, and holding a 56lb weight at arms' length. He held the Scottish, UK, and Empire records simultaneously, and the UK record he set at Hampden in 1938 survived as the Scottish Championship best for 37 years.

The book is the work of statisticians Colin Shields and Arnold Black, though three Herald writers (Ron Marshall, Natasha Woods, and Doug Gillon) have contributed. There is an introduction by Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. He acknowledges Scotland's rich athletics tradition, which includes an event dating back more than 700 years, and Glasgow's role as first UK city to host the European Indoor Championships, in 1990. Diack remarks on Scotland being the second oldest governing body in the world, and notes that only 13 nations had established athletics associations by the inaugural Olympics in 1896.

There are comprehensive chapters on Scotland's first Olympic athletics champion, Wyndham Halswelle (400m, killed by a sniper in 1915); and the other two individual gold medallists: Eric Liddell (400m) and Allan Wells (100m); Tom McKean (World and European 800m champion); McColgan & Yvonne Murray (world titles in their portfolios); high jumpers Alan Paterson, Crawford Fairbrother and Geoff Parsons; endurance legends Ian McCafferty, Ian Stewart and Lachie Stewart; metric mile icons Frank Clement, John Robson and Graham Williamson; McConnell; throwers Tom Nicolson, Chris Black, Rosemary Payne and Meg Ritchie; marathoners Dunky Wright, Joe McGhee, and Jim Alder; and ultra-distance world record-breaker Don Ritchie.

Milestones in women's athletics receive comprehensive credit for the first time: Patricia Devine, first woman to compete in the three major championships - Olympics, European Championships, and Empire Games - before retiring at 24; and fellow Dundee Q club sprinter Elspeth Hay, first Scot to compete in the European Championships (1950). She helped Britain to 4 x 100m gold ahead of a Dutch team which included quadruple Olympic champion Fanny Blankers-Koen.

There is also the fascinating account of Paisley's Dale Greig, first woman to hold the official world marathon best (1964). She defied male prejudice as she pioneered endurance events for women, and those making fortunes on the circuit today owe her a hugh debt.

Black says the project "grew arms and legs. We were going to include comprehensive statistics, but there was not the space." These are all now on the SATS website (www.scotstats.com) and include every medallist at both men's and women's national championships. I doubt if any other nation has as comprehensive a resource as this book and its on-line data. Scottish athletics is fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers.

Despite writing on the sport for almost 50 years, I have learned much. It would inspire any competitor and should be presented to every athlete in Scotland's 2014 team. Some of whom, one hopes, will provide material for new chapters this year.

The Past is a Foreign Country - the definitive history of athletics in Scotland. Price £12 (+UK postage, £4; Europe postage £9.50). Email: satsbook@aol.com

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