This is a review of three books focused on the 1960 Olympics, by Stuart Weir: Another Hurdle, by David Hemery, Lillian, by David Emery, Lynn Davies, Winner Takes All, by Peter Williams. This was originally published in July 2020.
The subject of the three books representing the 1960s were all medallists at the 1964 or 1968 Olympics.
Another Hurdle, David Hemery, London, Heineman, 1976
Lynn Davies: Winner Stakes All, Peter Williams, London, Pelham Books, 1970
Lillian a biography, David Emery, Hodder, 1971.ISBN 0340156066
Lynn Davies won gold in the long jump in the 1964, Tokyo Olympics, jumping 8.07. Four years later he was ninth in Mexico. He later served as President of British Athletics. He was defending his title to Mexico when Bob Beamon jumped 8.90. Davies described the moment as: “all the life went out of the competition after that”.
The book gives an insight into the life of the elite athlete of the era. Davies describes the dichotomy: “The champion of today requires the devotion of professional to reach his peak of attainment, but was still bearing the label of amateur”. He added “If I had known on the first day when I met Ron Pickering (his coach), the extent to which I would have to dedicate myself to the sport, perhaps I’d never have been able to accept the challenge”.
At the same time, the following extract from the book shows that his own mindset and the spirit of times: “A student once asked me, “what is motivation? And I said, “the will to win”. And he countered: “but is this ethical, this desire to win?” and I replied yes, provided you don’t confuse dedication with obsession.”
Davies reveals his thoughts on passing the Olympic swimming pool in Tokyo 1964: “I remember thinking what a lovely existence is it be simply to be an ordinary chap looking forward to a swim in the afternoon instead of having to go to the long jump pit and subject myself to the sort of pressure I guessed was waiting… And yet, it’s like a drug you know. Something you cannot leave alone”.
The chapter on the relationship with his coach is perhaps the most interesting in the book.
David Hemery won the gold medal in the 400H at the 1968 Olympics in a world record 48.12 and took bronze 4 years later. The book documents his career. What would be of most interest to the historian of the sport is the detail of his training schedule which is meticulously recorded in the book.
The times run by some 1968 Olympic winners would seem incredibly slow in our era. Hemery’s 48.12 would seem very respectable. I met him a year or two back and asked him about it. Hemery told me: “I don’t really know why the 400m hurdles has not moved on but it’s a very hard event. I would still be in the medals at championships today with the times that I was running in 1968. But to be able to run that kind of time after three days of competition takes a massive amount of endurance. To be successful you need a combination of being a decent hurdler and being willing to do a mammoth amount of work. I think the ones who are super fast sprint hurdlers often don’t want to do the work it takes to do the 400 hurdles”. He added “It was over 20 years before Kriss Akabusi took my British record”.
Lillian Board was born in 1948 and died of cancer in 1970. In her short athletics career, she won an Olympic silver at 400 – in Mexico in 52.12 – and two European golds. The book tells the story of her career and her illness.