Moira Maguire

As a schoolgirl at Bearsden Academy, the 15-year-old Moira Walls set a Scottish national high jump record of 5 foot 4 inches (1.63 metres) in 1967. 18 years later, she retired with a Scottish record of 1.87 metres, a performance that still ranked within the top five high jumpers in Scotland over 30 years later, after a career that saw her lift 9 Scottish titles at high jump, hurdles, long jump and pentathlon, gain 19 British internationals and a Commonwealth bronze medal.

Scottish high jumping was at a pretty mediocre level when Moira Walls jumped 5’ 4” (1.63) at the East v West match at Grangemouth in June 1967. Her record was not to last long as Ruth Watt, only two years older at 17, added half an inch to her performance at the same venue two months later. These two athletes were to become the greatest of rivals in the coming year with no less than 19 further improvements to the Scottish record, 8 by Watt and 11 by Walls (later Maguire) in the period to 1980, with Walls being the first Scot to go past the landmark 6-foot height in 1977, eventually taking the record from its lowly start to 1.87/6’ 1½”.

In her first senior season in 1969, she set new Scottish records at high jump (1.73), long jump (6.36) and pentathlon (4,591 points), won four titles at both the national and the schools championships at these events plus the hurdles, won the British pentathlon title, and, at international level, she was outstanding – 2nd for GB v USA and v France; first against West Germany, and then beating the Olympic long jump champion and world record holder Viorica Viscopoleanu when representing Britain against Rumania in a senior international at Crystal Palace, with a British  age-17 best of 6.36 in a series that read 6.09, 6.33, 6.21, 6.36, 6.24, 6.30, 5 of her jumps bettering or equalling the Rumanian’s 6.21. Her performances saw her selected for the British team at the European Championships in Athens, finishing 9th in the long jump but being eliminated in the qualifying for the high jump.

1970 saw the Commonwealth Games on home territory in Edinburgh, and Walls was in contention for medals in the high jump, long jump and pentathlon. She had a great start to the year, long jumping a windy 6.48 for 1st against the Netherlands in The Hague, but suffered from an Achilles tendon injury which hampered her form and saw her lose her Scottish title to Alix Stevenson. At the Games, she had a hectic schedule with the pentathlon on 21-22 July, the long jump on the 23rd and the high jump on the 25th. She started the pentathlon with a windy best of 14.05 in the hurdles but was well down the field after her weakest event, the shot. She finished day 1 with a solid 1.69 in the high jump to be 6th overnight, 118 points off the bronze-medal position. The following day, she set a national record of 6.39 with her first jump in the long jump, taking her through the field into 3rd place, but her 200 metres wasn’t strong – she tailed in 5th in heat 1, 0.7 seconds behind the Canadian, Jenny Meldrum. That was the equivalent of 63 points, enough for Meldrum to beat her for the bronze medal by just 32 points. Moira’s score of 4,704 was a national record. It was agonising in the long jump as well, where she could not match the 6.39 pentathlon effort, which would have won the bronze medal. Instead, her 6.20 first round jump placed her 5th, one place behind fellow-Scot Alix Stevenson. In the high jump, she cleared 1.57 and 1.62, but a first-time failure at 1.67 put her in a worse position than any of the other 3 jumpers to clear the height. With Jamaica’s Audrey Reid having 3 failures at 1.70, Moira cleared the height on her last attempt to take the bronze medal behind the Canadian Debbie Brill (1.78) and England’s Anne Wilson (1.70). She remains the only Scottish woman to have collected a medal in the jumps events.

Moira (right) with 1970 Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Debbie Brill of Canada and runner-up Ann Wilson, England
Moira (right) with 1970 Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Debbie Brill of Canada and runner-up Ann Wilson, England

Later that year, she was selected for the British team for the European Junior Championships in Paris. With all her favourite events scheduled on the same day, Moira had to settle for just the long jump. Aided by the wind (+4.5), she started with a promising 6.26, leading by 8cm going into round 3. But then the wind became even stronger and the Czech girl, Jarmila Nygrynova rode a gust of 8.6 metres to land in the pit at 6.27, taking the title by just one centimetre. Walls went on to finish the season with a 6.43 jump at Bucharest, never ratified as a record because of the absence of a wind reading (and only legally bettered by Jade Nimmo’s 6.47 in 2012), and 6.36 for GB Juniors v West Germany at Leicester.

After a three year absence, Moira returned in 1975, having changed her high jump technique from the straddle to the flop, to equal Ruth Watt’s high jump record of 1.80 when helping her new club, Edinburgh Southern Harriers, to success in the Pye Gold Cup.  She raised this to 1.82 in 1976, qualifying for the Montreal Olympics where she was unfortunately affected by illness and eliminated in the qualifying. In 1977, she added another 1cm to her national record (1.83), topped the long jump rankings with 6.36, and set a new national record in the pentathlon of 4,277 – under new scoring tables, her 1970 Commonwealth mark had been converted to 4,123.

1979 saw her set personal bests in the hurdles (a legal 14.06), pentathlon (4,304) and high jump, in which her 1.86 constituted a national, native and all-comers’ record. Now married to high jumper/decathlete Kevin Maguire, she improved the National and Native mark in 1980 to 1.87 which still ranks her second to Jayne Barnetson all-time. Daughters Lindsey and Kirsty were born in 1982 and 1983 and Moira’s long and influential career came to a halt at the end of 1985, still ranking highly with a 1.80 jump for 3rd in the Scottish rankings.

Younger daughter Kirsty showed the same aptitude at getting off the ground as her mother, becoming the Scottish pole vault record holder. Lindsey also emulated her mother by competing at the Olympic Games, gaining selection in the Rowing event at London in 2012. In 2011, Moira became Chair of Scottish Athletics’ Track & Field Commission, stepping down in 2019.

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