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Jim Peters

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One of my earliest memories of the Olympic Games in seeing newsreel footage of Jim Peters in the 1952 marathon. Peters was the race favourite and attempted to destroy the opposition by setting a blistering pace. The plan worked well for the first 20 miles. He then began to suffer from severe cramp and tried to keep running but after three competitors swept past him he was forced to retire from the race.

Emile Zatopek went on to win in an Olympic record of 2hrs 23mins 03.2secs. He also won the gold medals in the 5,000m and the 10,000m. He also came from Czechoslovakia (then under the control of the Soviet Union). I suppose revisionists would now say Zatopek must have been on drugs.

I next saw Jim Peters in the marathon at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. Despite the hot and humid conditions, Peters once again set a blistering pace. This time he did not have these cheating communists to race against and he entered the stadium with a 17 minute lead. All of a sudden his legs went again and he started to stagger from side to side. He appeared to be unconscious but his legs kept moving (although in a way that I had never seen before). He fell several times but each time he got up and then made a couple more steps towards the finishing line. With 85 yards to go, he went down for the 12th time. Spectators went to his aid. Peters later claimed they were congratulating him for winning the race. However, because they touched him, Peters was disqualified. He was rushed to hospital suffering from heatstroke and dehydration.

As a child I was struck by Jim Peters’ bravery and determination. It illustrated the bulldog spirit. Or was it just another example of the British not accepting the reality of the situation? It would be nice to say he went on to won the gold medal at the next olympics. However, following medical advice, he was advised to give up racing and Jim Peters never won the gold medal he so desperately wanted.

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