Born: January 26, 1927;

Died: October 26, 2020.

DAVID Gracie, who has died aged 93, was a world-class Scottish amateur athlete in the early 1950s, whose relatively brief career resulted in his not being accorded the extent of recognition he perhaps deserved.

His specialist event was the 440 yards/400 metres hurdles in which he reached the Helsinki 1952 Olympics semi-final and was unfortunate not to advance. Achieving this after only one year’s experience of the demanding event, with extremely basic training facilities and negligible coaching, was remarkable and highly praiseworthy.

As the Glasgow Herald noted, Gracie “went out in much the hotter semi-final of the 400 metres hurdles, but he did himself especial credit. He beat [Roland] Blackman, the third American, and [Rune] Larsson, a former Olympic finalist, and was in the race right to the last few yards. His time of 52.4 seconds was the best-ever of a British athlete, and about four yards faster than [Harry] Whittle’s English native record”.

Gracie went on to win gold at the 1953 World Student Games in Dortmund, recording the second fastest time ever in the Games’ history, while also collecting a silver medal in the 4x400m relay.

In total, he won seven Scottish Championships titles, three over the flat 440 yards and four over the hurdles, while setting several Scottish and British hurdles records and winning four British international vests.

After graduating as a veterinary surgeon in 1954 he hung up his spikes to concentrate on his profession – a decision facilitated by a continuing back injury that required him to wear a special support when running.

David Keir Gracie was born in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, and in the mid-1930s the family moved to Larkhall. His father had been a decent athlete and David showed potential when he won the sports championship at Hamilton Academy.

After two years’ service in the Royal Marines at the end of the war, he began veterinary studies at Glasgow College before transferring to Glasgow University when the course attained degree status.

At the same time he joined his local athletics club, Larkhall YMCA, taking part in cross-country and road running in winter and athletics in summer. In the summer he competed in the sprints, often at the various Police Sports events, which were then commonplace.

He first came to prominence in 1949 at the national YMCA championships, in Alloa, when he won the 220 yards and 440 yards events. Having been disqualified in the 100 yards for two false starts, he decided on the spur of the moment to try the 440, which to his surprise he won, encouraging him to continue. Later that summer, at Hampden, he won his first Scottish title at the event, prompting the newspaper headline “Unknown has all Hampden talking!”. He repeated the success in 1951 and 1952.

At the Glasgow University athletics trials in 1951 he did not run in the 440 flat but instead decided to try the 440 hurdles event for the first time. He won in record time, bettering the existing Scottish Universities’ record, and later won at the Scottish Universities’ Championships. A fortnight after that he claimed the first of four hurdles titles at the Scottish Championships at Hampden, setting a new record, doubling up to win the 440 flat for good measure.

He trained at Larkhall’s Royal Albert football ground over wooden hurdles made by a joiner friend, and apart from some rudimentary advice from Bill Dickinson, later of rugby coaching fame, and Tony Chapman, national athletics coach, he was entirely self-coached, despite which he developed excellent technique.

As he only had a few hurdles, he was never able to run the full distance in training, a far cry from the facilities enjoyed by modern-day counterparts.

In 1952 he stepped up to the international stage with a series of excellent runs in the Caledonian Games in London, the Home International event and the British and Scottish Championships, which earned him selection for the Helsinki Olympics. Having qualified through the first round and quarter final on the Games’ opening day, he learned that the two semi-finals were to be held the next day.

As he recounted to me in an interview in 1999: “I worked on 13 strides between hurdles but in the semi I had to chop my stride between the fifth and sixth hurdle, lost my momentum and just missed out on qualifying. Had I been in the other semi, my time would have qualified me for the final and got me fourth place in it. I did think, though, if I had got into the final, I would have improved my time and possibly won a medal.”

His disappointment was tempered by his Larkhall townsfolk presenting him with a framed commemorative scroll for his Olympic appearance.

Helsinki triggered a golden spell of form, as in a six-day period in early August he ran superbly in the British Empire-USA match, in meetings in Malmo and Gothenburg, and at the British Games, in which he set British and Scottish records (the latter would stand for 18 years).

Later he also performed well for Britain against France in Paris. Exposure to high-quality opposition clearly brought out the best in him.

In 1953 he enjoyed World Student Games success, retained his Scottish title, and represented Britain in internationals against West Germany and Sweden. By 1954, although he retained his Scottish title, his enthusiasm and motivation had decreased. It was his final season.

Thereafter he worked as a vet, initially in practice before joining the Department of Agriculture. In 1965 he married Marion and they had two children, David and Susan. He enjoyed golf and was a member of the Royal Burgess in Edinburgh.

A modest, unassuming and complete gentleman, he enjoyed his athletic career, once saying of it: “No money, no drugs, and great fun.”