Fitting honour for Bob Braithwaite, a modest Olympian who struck gold

OLYMPIC gold trap shooting medallist Bob Braithwaite enjoyed a sun-kissed stroll down Princes Street yesterday as he relived old memories.

Six decades ago, in wartime, he was a young student in Edinburgh at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies, making the most of time divided between the laboratory, the library and the good life. "I spent a lot of time playing football and cricket," he reflected. "I thoroughly enjoyed sport, no matter what it was."

At a ceremony last night, Braithwaite, now 84, was inducted into the University of Edinburgh's Sporting Hall of Fame. Few, if any, of those receiving their traditional Blues and Colours honours were alive when he stood on top of the podium, 50 miles outside Mexico City, and felt the weight of an Olympic gold medal draped around his neck after shooting his way to victory in the mixed trap event.

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In the modern age, his accomplishments would have been backed by stipends from the public purse and a vast support infrastructure offering everything from training camps to psychiatric assessment. With his day job in Garstang, near Preston, taking precedence, the Cumbrian had little time or requirement for such over-complications.

"So my practice didn't suffer, I had to build a simple trap on my family's farm because the nearest proper ground was in North Wales," he recalled. "I practiced there whenever I could. I didn't enter that many competitions each year. We went to the odd one abroad – the Europeans or the worlds – but most of the time, you just went to competitions in the north of England and spent the time in between practising."

It was a potent formula. Braithwaite was chosen for the British team for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo where he finished in seventh place. He was not, by his own definition, a competitor. His approach was much more holistic. Pull trigger. Hit clay. And then, see what happens.

"I didn't compete with anyone," he said. "I wanted to get the highest score rather than worrying about who was winning or who was shooting or who was losing. I always felt that if I broke all the clays I was shooting at, I would win. End of story."

His second Games produced enduring legends. Bob Beamon's extraordinary long jump. Dick Fosbury's Flop. The Black Power salute of Tommie Smith. And the numerous athletics records shattered at high altitude. However, sequestered away from the main Olympiad, the soon-to-be champion was oblivious to the history in the making.

"We didn't experience much of it," he revealed. "We were staying in an old army village on the outskirts of the place. We didn't hear a lot about what was going on back at the main stadium."

Regardless, the Englishman was making a mark of his own. On the first day of shooting, the fifth clay eluded his aim. So too the 13th. Just two misses from one hundred attempts. He entered the second day in second place. With targets soaring from all angles at speed, perfection was an improbable aim. Yet not one clay survived intact as he edged out his challengers with a new world-record score.

The organisers were caught off-guard. "When it was found out, most surprisingly, that I had won, they had no national anthem out there," he recounts. "We had to wait for ages for it to come." When it sounded there was no fuss made or sought. "I was not in the slightest bit impressed," Braithwaite insisted. "It didn't really matter. It was another competition that I had won."

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Joining Braithwaite as new inductees at the ceremony at the university's Playfair Library were five-time Commonwealth diving gold medallist Peter Heatly, world champion orienteer Jonathon Duncan and former European breaststroke champion Ian Edmond. While fellow graduate, and three-time Olympic rowing silver medallist, Katherine Grainger also officially accepted the honour she was accorded in 2008.



Came to study at the University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at 16 and captained the University cricket team before concentrating on clay shooting. A true, gifted amateur in an era of increasing professionalism, Bob came seventh in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics before taking gold in 1968 in Mexico.


Graduated from Edinburgh in 1945. Dominated the sport of diving in Scotland for more than 20 years, competing in two Olympics – London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952 – and winning gold in three consecutive Commonwealth Games from 1950 to 1958. He was knighted in 1992.


Took two years of out of his medical degree to concentrate on swimming – and held two Commonwealth records and one European record. Became European 200m breaststroke champion in 2003 – the same year as he clinched silver at the World Championships, earning a place in 2004 Olympic team.


Regularly achieved top ten placings in world level orienteering events – a remarkable feat as he maintained a career as a geologist. Became a GB international in 1997 and graduated from Edinburgh the following year. In 2008, he took gold at the World Championships in the Czech Republic.

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