73-year-old lifts 20 tonnes to raise opera cash

Bill Gentleman. Picture:  Neil Hanna
Bill Gentleman. Picture: Neil Hanna
Share this article
Have your say

A VERDI-loving double world champion hammer thrower has lifted the equivalent of 40,000 cats in under an hour in a bid to swell the coffers of his opera company – at the age of 73.

Retired athletics coach Bill Gentleman, from Craiglockhart, attempted the sponsored weightlift at Meadowbank gym, shifting 20 tonnes in an impressive 34 minutes and 50 seconds to raise money for Edinburgh Grand Opera.

The father-of-two also worked out that the weight was the equivalent of 12 Ford Focuses or one small whale.

Since suffering a stroke in July 2008, the opera-loving strongman has gone on to win two World Championship gold medals, three European silvers and one European bronze medal in hammer throwing.

Known to his fellow 30 chorus members as the “swinging singer”, he said: “I’ve been lifting weights for years and thought I should do something to help out with funding of this year’s production. I did something similar ten years ago but lifted 25 tonnes of weight on that occasion. I’m 73 years old now though.

“I enjoy keeping fit by lifting weights or throwing the hammer, so I’m only too happy to help out. However, usually I would only lift ten tonnes of weights and I don’t time myself either.

“The opera singing and weightlifting go hand in hand. When I began weightlifting many years ago my chest size increased from 42 inches to 48 inches – as a tenor that extra lung capacity helps a lot.”

Opera plays its part for the retired teacher when he’s in the gym as he likes to run through the rousing opening of Verdi’s Nabucco to “get the blood pumping”.

He said: “If people start to begin annoying me when I’m in the gym I like to sing loudly to quieten them down. They all like dance music, but I’d much prefer Classic FM.”

The former head of biology at Musselburgh Grammar School is a member of Edinburgh Athletics Club and got into hammer throwing in the early 1960s when he was a student at Edinburgh University, where he studied zoology. He has since travelled around the globe to compete in the sport, including to Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Australia, the US and Europe. Despite his older years he continues to break records.

Bill has an impressive record of athletics coaching, nurturing a young Yvonne Murray from beginners’ standard to winning a European gold medal at the age of 24.

Douglas Nicholson, chair of Edinburgh Grand Opera, said: “Everyone involved in the opera applauds him in his efforts. I couldn’t believe it when I heard what he had planned.

“It’s a sign of the passion that Bill has for opera that he is willing to put his body on the line for it – even working out that it would be the equivalent of 40,000 cats is remarkable enough.”

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Leisure, which runs the Meadowbank gym, said: “Edinburgh Leisure would like to congratulate Bill on his superb achievement.

“It is fantastic to see any of our customers continuing to enjoy the benefits of an active healthy lifestyle throughout their lives and we look forward to welcoming Bill at Meadowbank for many years to come.”

Only as old as you feel

MANY other pensioners have refused to hobble off into the sunset. In March we told how daredevil granny Dot Nobbs, from Liberton, insisted on a high-speed motorbike ride to celebrate her 90th birthday.

After finishing her 70mph journey, Supergran Dot then completed two 25-metre abseils.

Back in 2010, 90-year-old Elisabeth Mary Fraser, from Portobello, took to the skies for her big day, soaring to 2000 feet over the city skyline in a microlight. The great-grandmother of five previously trekked around China solo at the age of 83.

In 2011, Frank Kent, 92, retired after winning his final tennis match in Stubbington, Hampshire.