Allan Wells, The Silent Assassin


The following atricle on Allan Wells, our Olympic Champion, is written by Brian Aitken

Allan Wells was born on the 3rd May 1953. He lived at Fernieside  Crescent on the south side of Edinburgh, a few doors along from long term friend  Chris Black, who went on to win 9 Scottish Hammer titles and represent Great Britain at two Olympics.
They both joined Edinburgh Southern Harriers who were based in the area in the 60s.
The club rooms and track and field facilities were built by the voluntary work of the members in the 1950s.
The Hearts manager, Tommy Walker also gave a hand by arranging a collection outside Tynecastle on the day of the local derby against Hibs.
Wells went on to win five Scottish 100m crowns and one 200m title. He was also going to excel on the world stage.

At the 1970 Commonwealth Games, a young Allan Wells, the Scottish Junior Triple Jump champion, raked the pit in order to view his hero, 1964 Olympic champion Lynn “the leap” Davies.
Wells main failing in the horizontal jumps , was allegedly, his lack of speed on the runway! He did not break  11 seconds for the 100m until 1976 when he ran 10.55. At this time, sprinting in Britain was at a low point and Britain’s last Olympic medal had come from Peter Radford, a bronze at the 1960 Rome Games.
Wells was not selected for the Montreal Olympics in 1976, neither was Garscube’s Les Piggot who had competed in Munich four years earlier, failing to get past the first round after facing Olympic champion to be, Valeriy Borzov.
 Chris Black did go, making the final of the Hammer, finishing seventh (73.18m) behind Soviet winner Yuri Sedykh who unleashed a throw of 77.52m. Sedykh was to retain his title on home soil four years later, breaking the world record with a mighty 81.80m.
At  the 1978 Commonwealth Games, in a stadium similar in design to Meadowbank but on a more grand scale, Wells, a former BB athlete, blasted to gold in the 200m and finished second in the 200m. He also led a Scottish quartet to gold in the 4 X 100m. The Brown Brothers engineer had arrived on the global stage.

At the 1979 Europa cup final in Turin, Wells defeated Italy’s Pietro Mennea in front of 35 000 baying Italian fans.  Mennea had not been beaten by a European sprinter for six-years. The following month Mennnea also broke the eleven- year old world record of Tommie Smith (1968- 19.83) in the same rarified air of Mexico City. He ran 19.72, the quality of the record being proven by the fact that it took almost 17 years for it to be cracked when Michael Johnson sped to a 19.66 at the 1996 US trials in Atlanta. He then took the event in to a new age when he shrivelled the record to 19.32 in the Atlanta Olympics.  Allan Wells had proven in the heat of Turin and Edmonton that he had the Championship temperament. He and his wife, Margo were about to enter the largest pressure cooker of them all.

1980 Moscow Olympics
Allan Wells went in to the winter of 1979 in a confident mood. He had beaten Peter Radford’s British record twice in the space of a week, running 10.29 then 10.15 in 1978. He had also proven that he was able to cope with the unique environment. And all without starting blocks.
In his gym, a renovated garage, with the motivation of PE teacher Margo, Wells used traditional Scottish professional athletic methods to improve his conditioning in order to combat the rigours of Championship rounds. He spent hours on the speedball and doing body weight circuits to build up his leg and upper body physique in order to generate massive power and dissipate the disabling effects of lactic acid build up. Wells was also often seen in Trinity Park by people walking their dogs and kids playing football .  He also learned how to use starting blocks out of necessity, “No blocks, no Olympics” as Moscow was to use a newly fitted false and compulsory start mechanism.
As Wells trained over Christmas, the Soviets moved in to Afghanistan. The US President Jimmy Carter, a former cross-country runner, gave them stark message, “Move out by the 20th February or we boycott the Games.”The Soviets ignored the plea and a boycott ensued.
British PM, Margaret Thatcher wanted the boycott and put political pressure on the British Olympic Association. They refused to budge, giving the athletes the individual option. There was no U-turn.

In the Moscow heats of the 100m, Wells ran 10.11 to break the British record and make a strong psychological  point. He was ready for a street fight. So was slight built Cuban, Silvio Leonard. He turned up the bunsen burner, running 10. 16.
In front of 100,000 spectators on a sultry evening, Wells got to his marks in Lane 8. The rare footage of tortured Margo Wells gave a fascinating insight of the pressures involved at the Olympics. Wells at one point, thought he had torn some muscle fibres, only to be told by a reassuring pysio that it was cramp. Margo Wells must have surely pulled her tonsils on the evening. Sebastion Coe was unable to stir his tea on the morning of his 800m show down with Steve Ovett so were the pressures of the Olympic cauldron.
Wells was “Sure and steadfast” on the set. On the gun, he exploded out the blocks, hurling himself down the straight like a missile from a rocket launcher heading for a definite target. Leonard closed him down agonisingly, looking set to pass the new “flying Scotsman.” Wells, tightening up, lunged at the line in a last ditch effort to be crowned the fastest man on earth.  He was timed at 10.25 and so was Leonard. Wells had won the title by a safety pin in the closest  100m Olympic final ever. He was the oldest winner at 28 and it was Scotland’s first track and field gold since Eric Liddell’s 400m gold in the Paris Games of 1924.Harold Abrahams was GBs last GB 100m winner, taking the most coveted title of them all in 1924, running 10.6. Wells’ celebrations were muted, he now had his sights set on the 200m.

The 200m saw Wells face his European adversary, the new world record holder, Mennea. He was also up against the 1976 Olympic 200m winner (20.23) and 1976 100m silver medallist (10.08), Don Quarrie. Wells charged round the bend after blasting from his blocks and led coming in to the home straight. He was, however, this time hauled -in and overtaken by a relieved and ecstatic, Mennea. The difference between the pair was less close than the 100m final result; 1 Mennea (Ita) 20.19, 2 A Wells (GB) 20.21, 3 Don Quarrie 20.29.

Chris Black, competing in his second consecutive  Olympics, was unable to qualify for the final which saw Sedykh break the world record.
Just after the Games, Wells hunted down the US Champion James Sanford in Cologne. He also won the prestigious IAAF Golden Sprint, held in Berlin on aggregate (100m 2nd, 200m 1st) putting the Americans to the sword once again.

At the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, Wells won the 100m (10.02- Games Record -WA) while Shettleson Harrier, Cameron Sharp took bronze in 10.07. In silver medal position was Canadian, Ben Johnson (10.05).
Wells and Michael McFarlane dead- heated in the 200m final, 20.43 while Sharp, the super technician, took bronze in 20.55.
Scotland collected bronze in the 4x100m with Wells, Sharp, Gus McCuaig (EAC) and Drew McMaster (EAC) 39.33, unable to beat Nigeria who beat the Games record with the clock stopping at 39.15. Canada with Johnson and Mark McKoy crossed the line in second (39.30).   Well’s pal, Chris Black took bronze in the Hammer, throwing 69.84m behind Martin Girvan (73.32) and gold medallist Robert Weir (75.08- Games and UK record). The pals from the same street had travelled a long way together! Black was to join Wells once again at the World Athletic Championships the following year were he finished 17th in the Hammer.
 There was no fairy tale for Wells at the inaugural IAAF World Championships held in Helsinki in 1983  as he finished fourth.   The man from Fernieside Crescent had though inspired many with his feats. Britain was not to wait a further 56 years for its next Olympic 100m champion or Scottish Olympic sprint medallist. In 1982, a young Youth from Bathgate was setting the tracks a light, running sub-11 for 100m (10.9) while winning the Scottish Schools . He also won the SAAA 100m title (11.4) and East title in 11.3. His name, Elliot Bunney;  the Bathgate Bullet had arrived.

3 thoughts on ““Allan Wells, The Silent Assassin”

  • alex macewen

    another good article from old boy Brian who still retains his membership

    hopefully inspire all members this weekend at National Champs…

  • Brian Howie

    There was a picture on one of the recent freebie newspapers with Alan and an EAC runner in a race (article about Meadowbank) I didn’t recognise the EAC runner – anyone?
    Alan’s brother Billy was an accomplished middle distance runner for ESH in the early 80’s

  • Scott Reed

    I still remember watching the Moscow 100m live as a 15 year old, as I’m sure virtually everyone else in Scotland was glued to their tellies.
    It’s moments like these….. Wells, Ken Buchanan, David Wilkie and latterly Chris Hoy… that make you proud to be Scottish and see one of your fellow Edinburghers rule the world.
    Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long ’til the next one.

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