Scottish marathon runner Joe McGhee dies aged 86

JOE McGhee, the Scottish marathon runner who won gold at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver when race leader Jim Peters of England collapsed with the finishing line in sight, has died at the age of 86.

Joe McGhee in 1954 at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver
Joe McGhee in 1954 at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver

The race at what was then known as the Empire Games is remembered for the agonising sight of Peters being unable to complete the final few hundred metres, as his legs gave way following heat exhaustion.

Peters was the world record-holder at the time and established a commanding lead over the opening miles. He led the race all the way to a final lap at the Empire Stadium and was estimated to be 17 minutes ahead of the rest of the field at one stage – but with the finish in sight, it emerged that the baking heat had taken a terrible toll on the English runner’s body. With less than a full lap to go, Peters began to stagger alarmingly and could barley walk, far less run, and could not reach the line as his legs buckled.

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McGhee, unaware of the drama further up the road, was steadily getting the better of two South Africans who had become his chief rivals for gold. Running strongly, he finished in first place, more than a minute ahead of the rest, in two hours 39 minutes and 36 seconds.

Joe McGhee collects his medal in Vancouver

Only six runners completed the course of the 16 who had started, and controversy soon raged about the timing of the race, which began at noon when the heat was at its worst.

Peters’ misfortune meant that McGhee’s gold medal was largely overlooked at the time, but later in life he was given belated credit for his achievement.