Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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THE LAST TWO BRITISH OLYMPIC WALK MEDALLISTS (July 2012)

Quite a few  Race Walking enthusiasts will remember 'The Mighty Mouse' Some Italians thought of him when he was competing in the Rome Olympics as 'Mickey Mouse'
His name Don Thompson, won the United Kingdom's only athletics 'Olympic Gold Medal' in the sweltering heat of Rome in 1960; when many distance runners succumbed to the hot conditions. It was how Don got round the problem that marked him out as somebody quite different to the usual competitor. At his home, before he went out to the 'Games' he used to spend a lot of time in the bathroom with a heavy track suit on. He exercised in the steam from heated kettles.When he did the race he wore a cap that had a flap that covered his neck and wore dark glasses. On September the 7th (About 87 degrees F) he won the 50k Race Walk in an Olympic record time of 4:25.30. He was following up the last win by a UK athlete  Harold Whitlock, who won at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
SO, now for the LAST TWO UK ATHLETES TO GAIN MEDALS IN OLYMPIC WALKS. That was in Tokyo in 1964
In the 50k walk Paul Nihill was a close second in the 50k Walk in 4:11:31.2 behind Abdon Pamich of Italy who did 4:11:12.4. Ingvar Pettersson of Sweden was third in 4:14:17.4. In the 20K at the same Tokyo Games Ken Mathews won the walk for Great Britain in 1:29:34.0 In that Dieter Lindner (GDR) was second in 1:31:13.2 and third came  Volodymyr Golobnichiy (URS) 1:31:59.4. The latter went on to win the 50k at the Olympics of 1968 in the attitude of Mexico City in 1:33.84.
   Ken Mathews started race walking at the age of 18, having been persuaded by his Father to do that
    " It seems that I certainly picked the right sport " He told me just after he had finished his race in Tokyo
"Rome was a terrific disappointment to me, and more especially as I had clocked the fastest time in the World up till then. On that occasion I had suffered a bout of influenza weeks before the Games and thought I would be well recovered by the time the race came round, but unfortunately it was not to be (He wilted in the oppresive heat). Ken won the 1961 and 1963 IAAF World race walking Cup races over 20k, in Lugano and Varese respectively. Another good walker around that time was Stan Vickers who was European Champion in 1958 and 3rd in the Rome Olympic 20K walk behind the winner Golubnichiy so it was obvious 'we' had 'some' of the best walkers in the World around that time and for a 'few' years later).
   Ken Mathews "My European Gold medal in Belgrade taught me a great deal. It certainly proved that I had the stamina necessary to combat the extremely undulating course there. Still, the Tokyo course suited me best of all being reasonably flat. After the half way mark, when I lead, when I learned that I was drawing away from the field all the time, I knew I was going to win the Gold medal. I settled down to the race, very realaxedly, as I was then about 100 yards in the lead"
   As the walkers went out of the Stadium at the start and he went to the lead, I wondered whether that was a wise move so early on " I moved out so that I would not get myself boxed in at a crucial point, just before leaving the stadium, and so that also, should anyone make a break for it I would be in a position that would enable me to chase a after them. That is why I moved up to Ron Zinn's shoulder in the Stadium."
   Paul Nihill who gained such a good result in the Tokyo Olympic showed, not everything can be quite so perfect for the following year, which one realised when he talked about 1965 at his home in 1969 after his European win " Tokyo for me was certainly an anti-climax; I had trouble with my job, problems at home - nothing seemed to go right at all. I could not, of course, concentrate upon my training and in fact lost all enjoyment in the sport. I found it a strain and was really just going through the motions - because I had to. I was an Olympic silver medallist and therefore it 'was the thing' to continue racing, even though I was not in the right frame of mind. People started beating me, and then the story that I was 'over the top' spread. People just didn't know what I was going through. I was most unhappy -and as a result of all the pressure building up I had a breakdown, and had to withdraw altogether. Later I came back again, but still didn't seem to be fully recovered. I trained for a few months again- and then dropped out once more. It was rather like going back to a bad job that you have got to do; trying harder each day, getting nowhere, and cursing your luck for trying. Now, however, I am happy. (Talking to me in 1969) My frame of mind has changed completely, and I see it all in a quite different light".
Under those circumstances it is then worth taking a little of what he said about his European victory in 1969 in Athens,1.Paul Nihill (GB)1:30.41; 2 L. Caraiosifoglu (RUM) 1:31.06.4; 3 N Smaga 1:31:20.2--Smaga won the following European  in 1:27.20.2). "The walk in Athens went perfectly to plan. I talked over the possibilities with all my friends beforehand, and it was generally agreed that it would need to be a highly tactical race. Whatever pace was set by the leaders, whether very fast or very slow, I would go with them, and would not attempt to drop anybody at least until the 3/4 mark - 15 kilometres. A that stage I would have two or three walkers with me, and drop them one by one. It is very, very rarely that you can plan before a race just what you are going to do, and for it all to fit into place as the race progresses. So often you can enter a race with a pre-set plan, work through it only for another competitor to completely spoil it all. This time however, everything went just as according to plan'
   He added ' The greatest lesson I have learned really is the fact unless you put your mind one hundred percent to one thing.. I feel now that when, years ago I was doing mainly boxing plus a little running, a little walking and several other things, had I gone about my training in that same way that I do now, dedicating myself to walking and to make a success of it, I would have been a top junior."

SOME INTERESTING THINGS SAID BY RACE WALKERS IN RELATION TO LIFE ITSELF

Charlie Megnin
      Charlie Megnin of Great Britain was third in the 1946 European Championships in Oslo. He belonged to Highgate Harriers, the North West London club.The walking section of the club was the only section remaining open in the War! I talked to him at his home in the Woodford area.
"I can remember coming back home from a Bradford Walking race.in the war.I can remember coming back in the train,and it was the night of the 1000 bomber-raid on Cologne. It sounded as though the train was going through hell. Every airfield where there were planes there was noise'
' I can remember the first bomber raid on the Surrey Docks.We went to the dressing room, had a shower when all that was going on. As you could not ride in anything, I started walking home to Walthamstow, which was good training. I was walking via Seven Sisters Road then, suddenly I had to dodge into shop doorways as the low flying German planes were machine gunning up and down the road, using what they had left from the raid on the docks.
It was quite an experience.' .
Oliver 'T' Flynn (Olly)
Olly was 30k Commonwealth Champion in Edmonton in 1978 and he walked in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976.
  One off those people in athletics I have met and been a friend of, who has a great sense of humour and an interesting outlook that goes beyond the boundaries of competition "To me one of the greatest pleasures in life is when I write poetry; one day I would like to publish a book on poetry. On a sunny day I just like to amble across the fields and meadows. There is a place where I go when all the corn has been reaped; I lay across a couple of bales of hay and just watch the sun go by. It is one of the few times I am at one with the universe, when there is total unity within me, a sort of serenity. To me it's just something beautiful and I think about how life is such a wonderful thing and I am really a very lucky person to have my faculties and to be able to see, to be able to touch and be able to sing. I have so much to be grateful for."

Roger Mills
Roger Mills, from Ilford AC, was a British bronze medallist in the European Games of 1974 over 20k and represented GB int he Olympic of 1980 in Moscow.
       So often the case with the UK's top walkers over the years when he said " I used to be a runner and I still enjoy running--its a nice change from walking training. I do about two sessions a week running and I do a cross-country season for the club. It's a great feeling running over the country'
   However one must point out Race Walking needs as much dedication as a marathon runner?
                " Equally so, because where a marathon runner is out on the road for say an hour a walker is out for one hour 20 minters for instance. To do 90 miles a week for a walker you have to got to be out for a fair old time on the road!"

Alastair Aitken

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