The archive: Alan Wells at the Moscow games
DOUG GILLON July 24 2006
It was hardly classic piobeareachd that droned from the depths of Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium.
Generations of McCrimmons would doubtless have been birling in their graves, but it was music to the ears of the assembled hacks, awaiting the arrival of the newly-crowned Olympic 100 metres champion.
It’s 25 years today since Allan Wells set a British 100m record of 10.11 seconds. That’s what it took to get into the Olympic semi-final, and the Edinburgh sprinter did not have to run as fast to win gold the following day.
Both he and Silvio Leonard crossed the line together in 10.25, the Cuban in lane one and the Scot in lane eight. Wells thought he had won and set off on a lap of honour. “Then, a Russian official said ‘Niet! Niet’. He said I hadn’t won. I thought I’d made a right fool of myself.”
But seconds later, the result went on the scoreboard - in Cyrillic. “I figured that ‘Wells’ was shorter than ‘Leonard’, and besides, two letters in my name were the same. It was me! Only then did I know I’d won,” he recalled this weekend.
High up in the press room, I waited with the rest of the media to interview Wells. A piper had been found with one of the TV crews and we knew Wells was on his way when we heard the strains of Scotland the Brave. Wells had no sooner taken his seat, when the correspondent from The Times leapt up: “Were you thinking about Harold Abrahams when you crossed the line?”
Abrahams had been the last Brit to win Olympic 100m gold, in 1924, but Wells knew his heritage. Turning to the wee group of Scots, he gave us an enormous wink: “No, I was thinking about Eric Liddell, actually.”
He had just become the first Scot since Liddell to win an Olympic athletics title, and he came within inches of a double. In the 200m he was narrowly denied by the Italian world record-holder, Pietro Mennea, whose mother called Wells The Bull. “I’ve always taken that as a compliment,” said Allan.
Wells had to accept silver after setting another British record, at 20.21. Both the 100 and 200m times still survive as Scottish records today.
He had to relearn using starting blocks only 10 weeks before the Olympics, because the timing equipment was being linked to them for the first time. “I’d got out of the habit of using blocks years before, because I was too lazy to lug them around from the dressing room at Meadowbank. They were heavy, and besides, I’d found I could get closer to the start line.”
A father of two, he works as an engineering technician at Surrey University, but is an ambassador for Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games bid, and there has been talk of him advising young Scots sprinters. “I’d be happy to get involved in that,” he said.
Wells was a notoriously hard trainer, under the eye of his wife, Margot. He maintains the habit: “I work out most days, and practice my golf.” He enjoyed his best round ever last week. “I was two under at the Oxfordshire, in a Variety Club event. I play off five, so they weren’t very happy.”
Will he celebrate the anniversary? “Well I won’t be having a run down the track, but Margot and I will have a wee glass of wine.”