IN HIS quieter moments, Allan Wells wonders what it would be like to sprint again, how it would feel to come out of the blocks as he used to and what it would mean to dip for the line one last time, especially in front of a home crowd.
He never had that privilege in his heyday, at least not in the biggest events. He won a gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, as well as four of them in the Commonwealth Games but was never afforded the opportunity to do it in his own country.
After being injured for most of 1985, Wells missed the trials for the following year’s Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and was not selected. To this day, it is one of his greatest regrets, not least because he beat Ben Johnson and Atlee Mahorn, the newly-crowned 100m and 200m champions, just a week later at Gateshead.
The Edinburgh Games were a fiasco, thanks to financial mismanagement and a boycott by countries who objected to the UK’s sporting links with South Africa in the era of apartheid. Glasgow 2014, for which Wells is an ambassador, is expected to be a carnival by comparison.
As if to emphasise the point, around a million tickets will go on sale tomorrow. Wells is excited by the prospect, but he also reflects wistfully on the passage of time. He still goes to the gym, still runs with his four-legged friend – “I take my hat off to that little dog, he loves life” – but don’t ask the 61-year-old Scot what his time would be now over 100m.
“The brain is willing but I would pull up in the first ten yards. The muscle would just go. You don’t forget, but you know that something is going to happen to your body. It’s very sad. I’d love to set the clock back 30 years and be here [competing] in Glasgow. Because I think this is the right time, 1986 wasn’t the right time. This is spot on for Glasgow. It’s going to create so much attention for the people of Glasgow and Scotland. It’s going to be great.”
It’s going to be even greater if Usain Bolt turns up. The Jamaican world record-holder has yet to declare his intentions but, if he were to confirm his entry for the 100m, what a boost it would be for the Games organisers. The fastest man who ever lived? The winner of six Olympic gold medals? Trying at Hampden Park to win the one that is missing from his collection?
“From what I can gather he is doing it, but we’re not going to be able to tell until nearer the time,” says Wells. “He might be injured. He’s not got this one, has he? I think he’ll maybe want to do this. The crowd would be absolutely ecstatic to have him here. They’ll greet him with open arms. He’ll probably feel much more at home here than he would anywhere else. Glasgow has a passion that you can’t find in most other cities.”
Wells did not retire until he was 36 but he suspects that Bolt, a decade younger, will run out of motivation long before then. He does not expect the Jamaican to shave any more off his world record. Neither does he think he will be driven indefinitely by the prospect of more Olympic medals. He hopes that the Commonwealth Games, which Bolt missed through injury in 2006, and by choice in 2010, might stir something in him.
“He’s not run in the Commonwealth Games. By doing that, I’m not saying he would finish off his career there, but he could be happy that he’d done everything. It would satisfy him. It’s going to be difficult for him to consistently go on the track and run 9.80s. It’s like a boxer getting in the boxing ring. It’s not new anymore. It’s ‘oh god, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to win the Olympic gold medal again’. It’s that sort of attitude he’s coming towards. So hopefully he will see this as a new challenge next year.”
For many, Bolt has the sport’s salvation in his hands. Sprinting has been tarnished by failed drugs tests for Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, respectively the fastest and third-fastest men in the world this year. Were Bolt not around to prove that races can be won clean, the sport would lose all credibility.
Wells argues that athletes worldwide have been failing drugs tests but the profile of Gay and Powell has disproportionately affected sprinting’s reputation. He admits that his concern is less about their drug-taking than the effect their absence will have on the sport.
“When I got a phone call that morning, I was thinking, ‘oh no, what’s going on? Why are they doing this to me?’ Because I think Gay might have given Bolt a good run for his money in the World Championships. So we’ve missed out on that. I’ve never seen Gay run as well as he did. Physically, he was brilliant. I think he could have beaten Bolt, to be honest. That was the first thing I thought when I saw him running last time. So that was the disappointment. It was nothing to do with drugs. We’re going to lose out on seeing the biggest clash, man against man. That would have been fantastic.”
Still, Bolt alone would be more than enough to keep Glasgow happy. Wells wonders if the prospect of running in the 4x100m for Jamaica will also be an attraction for him. In 1978, Wells won the gold medal in that discipline alongside Cameron Sharp, Drew McMaster and David Jenkins, an achievement that would be unthinkable for Scotland now. Born and brought up near Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, he and his team-mates were a “legacy” of its construction. “We were very lucky in that period. We had the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 and having that facility [Meadowbank Stadium] in the east of Scotland gave us a lot of support. That’s now something that Glasgow is going to get. You hope that kids will be inspired.”