TOMORROW is the fortieth anniversary of one of the most memorable days

in the history of athletics. In the space of less than an hour, Roger

Bannister beat John Landy for the Empire mile title, and Jim Peters

collapsed within sight of marathon victory. But a great injustice was

done to Joe McGhee, the Scot who won the marathon, and who has remained

silent since then. On the eve of the race's anniversary, and as

Scotland's Commonwealth Games team flies back to western Canada, we

unravel the myth and the mystery surrounding the silent champion.

FORTY years after his finest moment, Joseph McGhee still cannot bring

himself to speak of his victory in the Empire Games marathon.

The venue was Vancouver, and the occasion the final session of the

1954 Games. Hardly had Roger Bannister won the Miracle Mile, beating the

world record-holder, John Landy, than he was helping to administer first

aid to Jim Peters.

The Englishman's shambling marathon finish, collapse in the stadium,

and disqualification, remain one of the most enduring and poignant

images the sport has generated. It sparked a frisson of horrified

fascination for millions, and archive film of the incident is still


But what only the cognoscenti recall is that the ultimate winner was a

Scot, Shettleston Harrier Joe McGhee, an RAF flight lieutenant from


Peters had won eight marathons from 10 starts, and had run three world

bests for the distance in successive years. So he was the warmest of

favourites when he lined up in 75 degree heat at 12.30pm with just 15

other runners on August 7, 1954. He had put 5000 training miles beneath

his feet in the previous 11 months, and set off confident of victory.

At his shoulder went his team-mate, Stan Cox. ''Only Joe McGhee came

with us, and he was moving very nicely too,'' recalls Peters.

But McGhee was dropped at nine miles, and Cox soon after. Peters

continued alone in the rising heat, lamenting that sponges had been

banned at all but official watering stations.

Peters later lambasted English officials who declined to turn out,

prefering to watch Bannister's duel with Landy. But the Scottish team

manager, Willie Carmichael, and hammer thrower Ewan Douglas, despite

being banned from following in cars, were on the course to encourage


Cox, suffering dehydration, ran into a telegraph pole two miles from

the finish, and withdrew. Peters was more than three miles clear of

McGhee (17 minutes) at the final watering station, less than a mile from

the finish.

But as soon as he entered the stadium, Peters fell and lay still for

two minutes. Police and doctors gathered round, knowing that to touch

him would bring disqualification.

When he finally arose, Peters reeled from one side of the track to the

other, and collapsed 12 times, covering only 150 yards in 15 minutes.

A little-known course measuring discrepancy, later revealed by Peters,

was to play a crucial part in the final drama. And he still insists that

the course was half-a-mile longer than the marathon distance -- he and

Cox checked it with a car which had been tested over the Vancouver

police measuring course, used for court cases -- so he did actually

complete the full marathon distance ahead of McGhee.

When Peters crossed the finish line for the mile (some 200 yards short

of the marathon finish) he collapsed yet again, and was caught by the

team masseur, Mick Mays, who was reported as saying: ''I caught him at

what we thought to be the finish line before he had a chance to fall.''

So, of course, Peters was disqualified. Would he have got up again and

completed the remaining 200 yards? We will never know. Peters spent

almost a week in hospital.

The media devoted substantial space to Peters' fate, but winner McGhee

rated only four lines in The Times, and, we regret to report, only one

more in The Glasgow Herald:

''The marathon (26 miles 385 yards) championship was won by J McGhee

in 2hr 39min. 36sec. The Scot's victory was most unexpected.''

If that scant report did McGhee less than justice for having run a

conservative race appropriate to the conditions, worse was to follow.

A leading athletics magazine carried a vastly distorted account, which

included the fiction that McGhee, having fallen five times, had

signalled for an ambulance and was waiting for it when he heard of

Peters' failure to cross the line, so he started again.

The fantasies multiplied, and with McGhee declining ever to comment,

the mythology grew, successive accounts multiplying the inacurracies.

With the Commonwealth Games about to be held in Victoria, just across

the bay from Vancouver, tomorrow's fortieth anniversary of the event

seemed an appropriate time to lay a few ghosts.

A retired English lecturer, McGhee now lives in Edinburgh's

Fairmilehead. ''It is correct that the reports have been a fiction, but

I do not wish to talk about it,'' he said this week.

It would be easy to picture a man embittered by history's shabby

treatment of him, but that would be a further dis-service. ''Every

Commonwealth Games I get these inquiries, but I have always declined to

elaborate,'' said McGhee. ''That is because I am planning to write a

book on the subject, and I would not like you to steal my thunder.''

Though he conceded that 40 years after the event, he had ''probably

missed the boat.''

He has written children's fiction, which he hopes to have published.

But he is keen to write up his experiences, not just of that race, but

on the sport: ''It has changed dramatically -- absolutely, with absurd

amounts of money and professionalism.''

Today, however, despite McGhee's continuing silence, we can still set

the record straight. For we have managed to unearth McGhee's own


The centenary history of the AAA was just one publication which

perpetuated the Vancouver myth. So infuriated was McGhee that for once

he was moved to put pen to paper, taking the author, Peter Lovesey, to


Lovesey, a respected historian who had used the contemporary accounts

in good faith, was horrified to receive McGhee's letter, which

eventually found its way, many years ago, into the columns of a

specialist magazine.

In his letter, McGhee confesses to having been shocked by the fantasy.

''So disgusted have I been about the ballyhoo . . . that I have always

resolutely avoided entering into controversy,'' wrote McGhee.

''The entire myth about my own behaviour seems to have originated in

the romantic fantasising of a Vancouver ''reporter,'' who spoke about me

lying in a ditch until an old Scots lady aroused me with the exhortation

that the honour of Scotland was at stake. That and the news that I was

first were supposed to have caused me to start running again.

''At no time did I collapse. On one occasion only I tripped

momentarily on the kerb. Over the last four miles, indeed, I was engaged

in a very active race, pulling away from the two South Africans, Jackie

Meckler and Johann Barnard, who had come close at 22 miles.

''I never knew that I was first until I was near the stadium and,

indeed, at that time I was absolutely delighted to be finishing


In refuting his supposed state of exhaustion, McGhee suggests doubters

look at the finish picture, which depicts him showing no distress

breasting the tape, and at another of the victory ceremony, which shows

him helping Barnard on to the rostrum.

But best of all McGhee offers: ''The fact is that I danced until the

early hours of the next morning in the Closing Ball and was up again at

6am for a visit to Seattle!''

Peters never raced again, but McGhee showed a measure of his true

worth with a time of 2-25-40 to win the Scottish title a year later.

Only three Scots ran faster last year. McGhee remains the only Scot to

have won three successive national championships in the marathon.