Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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The Last Double British Olympic Walking Medals (April 2020)

To digress for a moment, the club I first joined in 1957 Highgate Harriers, had some of the top walkers in the UK and, in the War before that Highgate Harrier, Charlie Megnin, gained a European bronze medal in 1946 over 50k. At one time he only just avoided being bombed by a German fighter plane on  his training walk home in the black out. The Highgate walking section was the only section of the club that stayed open in World War 2 and, sometime after in 1970 in Edinburgh in the Commonwealth Games, another Highgate Harrier, and friend of mine, gained a bronze medal. It was Policeman, Bill Sutherland, competing for Scotland in the 20 mile walk, when he finished third in the  race.

TWO GREAT WALKERS FOR GB IN TOKYO

1962 European Champion Ken Mathews & 1969 European Champion Paul Nihill

KEN MATHEWS on the 14th of October 1964, in the 20k walk, a smiling Ken Mathews, entered the Olympic stadium well clear of the opposition. He had gone into the lead between 3 & 4k. He held that right to the finish, winning in an Olympic record of 1:29.34.0 with Dieter Lindner (Germany) 1:31.13.2 and Volodymyr Golobnichiy (USSR) 1:31:59.31. He won in 1960 in Rome and 1968 in Mexico (There were 31 entries in Tokyo). They all bunched and went out of the stadium he briefly went to the front "I moved out so 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 after them. That is why I moved up to Ron Zinnn's shoulder in the stadium (Zinn came sixth)

It was when at 18 he first started race walking and remarked "I certainly picked the right sport!"
'It feels just Great, to have won the gold medal and it has made up for everything that happened to me in Rome, and lots more besides. The Rome Olympics in 1960 were a terrific disappointment to me, and more especially as I had clocked the fastest time in the World up until then. On that occassion I had suffered a bout of influenza a few weeks before the Games and thought that I would still be well recovered by the tine my race came round, but unfortunately it was not to be. My European Gold medal in Belgrade (1962) taught me a great deal; two years later, and 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 halfway mark, 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 relaxed, as I was then about 100 yards in the lead."

PAUL NIHILL on the 18th of October, Paul Nihill gained a silver medal for GB in Tokyo over the 50k walk.
First 3 of 34 1 Abdon Pamich (Italy) 4:11;12:.4; World Record ; 2 Paul Nihill (GB) 4:11.31.2; 3 Ingvar Pettersson (Swedem) 4:14.17.4.

All that glitters isn't Gold

Paul explains in 1969 about 1965 and his Olympics of 64 in Tokyo:- "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 training and in fact lost all enjoyment in the sport. I found it a strain and was really just going through the motion- because I had to, I was an Olympic silver medalist 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 did not know what I was going through. I was most unhappy- and as a result of all that the pressures building up I had a breakdown and had to withdraw altogether. Later I came back again, but still did not seem to be fully recovered. I trained for a few months again- and then dropped out of it 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. My frame of mind has changed completely, and I see it all in a quite different light.

"In 1969 i had a big meeting in Los Angeles and raced for the Commonwealth against America and the U.S.S.R. Here I had to race the Olympic champion Golubnichiy at 20k, and the bronze medalist Nikolay Smaga. For me this, obviously, was the big test. With those two, the worlds No 1  and 2- plus Ron Laird, (U,S.A) one of the world's top five, in his own back-yard, were I to win, beating all three, I felt, I would win the European Championships in Athens, (European on 16th of September 1969 in Athens 1 Paul Nihill (GB) 1:30.31 2 Caraiosifogia (Rum)1:31.06.4. 3 N.Smaga (U.S.S.R).

In the long interview I had with Paul after the 1969 European Games he did say about his days before as a boxer and  race walker plus running too "After a time it became obvious to me that I was going to get far better at walking than I ever was going to get as a runner -so I forgot about running altogether"  

Alastair Aitken

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