Thrilled to follow in Liddell’s footsteps
After the initial euphoria of striking gold, Moscow became a tiny bit crazy for me for the next few hours. Outwith the Lenin Stadium, messages of congratulations were flooding in from, it seemed, every corner of the globe - and this was long before the age of e-mail and the internet, where you can start haranguing your coach seconds after you’ve lost a race even if he’s in LA and you’re in London.
By the time the news had filtered through that I had won, the phone never stopped ringing and it was one congratulatory message after the other, for hour upon hour. Yet, curiously, a couple of things still linger in my mind. Firstly, that despite all the fuss, there was no sign of any commendation from Her Majesty’s Government. One Labour MP, West Lothian’s Tam Dalyell, did send a telegram with the legend: "Marvellous reward for all your hard work. Since you won’t get congratulations from Mrs Thatcher, you will have to do with me." Very appropriate, in the circumstances.
Once I had finished with the drugs test and the reality had filtered through that I was the best in the world and an Olympic champion, the entire atmosphere grew into a cauldron and there were endless demands for interviews and photographs. What else could I do but bask in the glory? It seemed that’s what the London newspapers thought would be the case, and they couldn’t understand that I wasn’t too keen to receive my medal to the sound of the National Anthem. I would have preferred it to have been Flower of Scotland but, nonetheless, when the cheer swelled up and reverberated across the stadium, it still sent the hairs tingling on the back of my neck. Standing there, with that medal on my chest. My God, that would have made anyone greet.
Yet, even as that was going on, I had to brace myself for the Press pack and their endless litany of questions. Good grief, they were there in droves, and I had to remind myself that this was the time for dignity and control, rather than a moment to be too triumphalistic and big-headed.
A bagpiper marched me into the press conference and there was this enormous hubbub before anyone asked me any questions. But eventually, one English journalist inquired: "Mr Wells, would you like to dedicate this to Harold Abrahams?" Well, what could I say? Except, that if ever I needed to make myself clear, this was it. "No disrespect to anyone else, but I would prefer to dedicate this to Eric Liddell," I said, and I was proud that I had done what that magnificent sprinter had achieved - in the 400m - nearly 60 years before me. There was a slight gasp around the room, but I had nothing to apologise for, and it’s one of the greatest aspects of my triumph that I was able to join Liddell’s company.
As I left the room that night, one renowned Scottish journalist approached me, seemingly thinking he had a divine right to treat me as just another subject. "Now you’ve finished in there, Allan, can we have a proper chat?" he said with a smug expression. That was enough for me. "What I did out there today I did for the whole of Scotland. I’m not giving you any exclusives, nor anyone else."
I don’t have any regrets about that and he knows who he is. I won gold. He missed his deadline. Who was the better off?
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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