It is just one hundred days until the start of the London Olympics; an appropriate time to remember one of my favourite moments in the history of the Games.
We are going to travel back to the year in which I was born (and if you are now expecting to read about Jesse Owens, you can click right off..!) to relive the women’s 800m final at the Tokyo Games of 1964...
Great Britain’s Ann Packer was strongly fancied to win the 400m in Tokyo, but had to settle for the silver medal behind Betty Cuthbert of Australia. More disappointing was the 4th place achieved by her fiancé Robbie Brightwell in the men’s equivalent. Taking inspiration from her room mate Mary Rand, who had won the long jump gold medal, and declining the chance to go on a shopping trip with her future husband, Packer decided to enter the 800m, a distance she had run competitively just five times before...
However, the 22 year-old duly qualified for the final, albeit with the slowest time of the eight runners but as the race developed, Ann was at the rear of the pack, as France’s Maryvonne Dupureur headed the field. The one “advantage” Ann Packer had was her 400m sprinting speed and halfway round the second lap, the British athlete in the no.55 vest began to overtake her rivals...
Entering the straight, Dupureur still looked to be in control and a likely winner, but such was the speed of Packer’s sprint finish that she overhauled the French athlete to complete a truly amazing “last to first” burst that not only secured the gold medal, but also broke the world record.
The time of 2:01.01 was nothing short of phenomenal... but the fact that Ann Packer was a novice at the distance marks out this performance as one of the most remarkable in any Olympic Games. For the record, Dupureur finished second and the bronze medal went to Ann Marie Chamberlain of New Zealand.
Packer (who turned 70 last month) never ran again... She retired after the Games, married Brightwell and was awarded the MBE (for her athletic achievements, not just for getting married). It might be nearly 48 years ago, but if you ever get the chance to watch the race, then just sit back and enjoy two minutes (and 1.1 seconds) of true sporting magic...
All my own work... almost.