Scotsman Obituaries: Les Piggot, Scottish sprinter who competed in Olympics

Les Piggot, athlete. Born: 12 May 1942 in Rutherglen. Died: 30 October 2022 in East Kilbride, aged 80

Les Piggot was an outstanding Scottish sprinter who in a long career enjoyed an impressive CV of competing in major championships – two Olympic Games, two European Championships and two Commonwealth Games. In the latter he was the only British athlete to reach the final in the 100m on both occasions.

He represented Great Britain more than 50 times, making his debut in 1965, and was team captain in the early 1970s. In addition, he represented Scotland in 13 internationals (excluding Commonwealth Games) over a ten-year period, during which he claimed nine first finishes, including relays. He also set several Scottish and British records, his most notable equalling the UK All Comers 100m record in 1974. Domestically, he was consistently successful in Scottish Championships, claiming 14 medals in both sprint events between 1964 and ’76, his final win in the 100m coming in ‘76 when, aged 34, he defeated future Olympic champion Allan Wells, while at British level he won 5 medals, including indoors sprints.

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Although prolifically successful in top level athletics, Les also competed regularly at grassroots level in handicap races at Highland Games throughout Scotland, often seen puffing on a trademark cigarette between races. The current era of elitism and specialisation would not countenance combining international and club level athletics but Les simply loved sprinting and competing. As a complete amateur, he and family made considerable sacrifices both in terms of time and economically to fulfil his talent.

Les Piggot was often seen puffing on a cigarette between races.
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Leslie Macdonald Piggot was born to parents John and Jean in Rutherglen where he was brought up with brothers Arthur, Douglas and Malcolm. He attended Cardonald primary school before the family moved to Blackpool for several years through his father’s employment as a master baker. As a result Les was between two education systems and on the family’s return to Glasgow attended Gallowflat Junior Secondary, where his practical abilities shone.

On leaving school aged 15 his first job was as a mailboy with the Coal Board, prior to moving to Colville’s Steelworks in Motherwell where he began a career in sales. While there he was sent on an outward bound course to Moray Sea School at Burghhead where demanding Cairngorm treks and a sea crossing to Norway in tempestuous conditions were formative experiences.

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As a youngster Les had shown promise as a sprinter but his initial sporting enthusiasm was rugby, which he played on the wing for Cambuslang. Despite a serious car accident in his late teens when he broke his neck, which required four months hospital treatment in traction and thereafter wearing a neck brace for six months, he resumed playing rugby. Unsurprisingly his speed caused opponents serious problems, some of whom resorted to “robust” tactics to stop Les. The stage was reached in the early 1960s where he responded in kind, leading to a period of suspension when he could not play.

As a result he began to train for sprinting with Garscube Harriers in Glasgow, initially with guidance from coach Donnie Macdonald. For a period he combined both sports before concentrating on athletics, with wins in the 1962 Rangers Sports and Glasgow Police Sports heralding the start of his career.

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Unfortunate not to be selected for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica despite having achieved qualifying marks, his first major Games were the1968 Mexico Olympics, where he was a member of the sprint relay squad, which fired his ambition further. He then rattled the amateur establishment by training with professional sprinters under coach Jim Bradley at a time when there was virtual apartheid between amateurs and professionals. His move brought results, with Les reckoning Bradley’s methods improved him by about three yards. A second Olympics followed in 1972 in Munich where he reached the quarter final at 100m and the semi final in the sprint relay.

In the 1970 and 1974 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and Christchurch respectively he was 8th and 7th in the 100m finals, in the latter a mere fraction behind the silver medallist while unlucky not to medal in the relays, finishing 4th and 5th respectively. In the 1971 Helsinki European Championships Les anchored the British sprint relay ream to 4th place, in the same time as Italy in 3rd.

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At times Les’ relationship with officialdom and the “blazerati” could be uncomfortable, as exemplified by the reaction to his training with professionals and not being selected on occasion when he thought it merited. After signing a letter to The Times in the mid-1970s, along with other leading athletes, criticising lack of support from the governing body, Les’ international career came to an end, although he continued competing well until 1977.

He wed fellow international sprinter Morag Carmichael in 1968 and they enjoyed a happy, fulfilling marriage, living in East Kilbride until her death in 1996. They had one son, also Leslie. Athletics was very much part of family life and weekend competitions would often involve travelling to venues with their caravan and overnight stays. Sailing was another family pursuit, with Les refurbishing a number of boats which they sailed up the west coast, affording visits to their flat in Tighnabruaich while he continued a successful career in sales of plastics and lighting until he became self employed in the 1990s. Later he and friend Joyce Kelly enjoyed a supportive relationship.

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Les was a much admired and determined athlete, modest, popular and excellent company with a wicked sense of humour. He was a good, loyal friend to many and is survived by his son, Joyce, and grandchildren James, Louise and Stephen.

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