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a long jumper’s tale

Lynn Davies is my name. I was born on 20 May 1942 in the small mining community of Nantymoel in the Ogmore Valley. My father was a coal miner who worked underground. I went to Ogmore Grammar School where I developed my love of sport through a very enthusiastic PE teacher, Roydon Thomas: rugby and gymnastics in the winter, and cricket in the summer. Athletics was sports day, which we all did with great enthusiasm and not too much technique or knowledge, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Because I was fairly quick and I played on the wing in rugby and football, Mr Thomas thought I should be in the 100 yards and in the long jump in the school sports, and that’s what I did. Like all youngsters in the valleys, though, my sporting heroes were footballers and rugby players. I wanted to be Cliff Morgan, I wanted to be John Charles. I played for the local football team, Lewistown, and I was spotted and finished up on Cardiff City’s books as an amateur. I also played rugby for Ogmore Grammar School and for Pencoed Rugby Club, so, essentially, a background of team games, rugby and football.

that chance meeting

At seventeen years of age, I managed to jump 6m 40cm without any coaching or training. Based on that, my teacher entered me into the County Championships in Cardiff at the Maindy Stadium, and that’s where I met Ron Pickering. Ron was visiting Wales as the national noach for athletics and he suggested that I take up athletics seriously. He thought I had a lot of talent, a lot of potential. There was that chance meeting with Ron Pickering and then coming to this place, UWIC – Cardiff Training College as it was then – the combination of being in Cardiff with a running track on my doorstep, and Ron Pickering, the great national coach for Wales, and suddenly I’d taken up athletics.

Ron taught me everything. I had no idea how to long jump, how to sprint, the techniques involved, and, being a very good coach, I developed very quickly. I improved my sprinting speed, improved my long jumping, and was selected to go to my first Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia, back in the early ’60s. I knew by then that I wanted to compete in the Olympic Games. This became my goal. And, it was those three years of preparation with Ron Pickering, and studying physical education here at Cardiff Training College - that excellent background of knowledge, learning about the theory of training and so on - that set me in good stead for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.

welsh weather in tokyo

It was a great thrill, first of all, to be selected for the Olympics, every young athlete’s dream. I had this letter from Buckingham Palace, signed by the Duke of Edinburgh, who was the President of British Athletics, saying I had been invited to compete in the 100 metres, the long jump and the relay at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. A 32-hour flight, five hour stops. We were in Tokyo for something like a month altogether, a great experience, living with all these other sports people and experiencing what it was like to be in an Olympic village.
The weather was absolutely atrocious. It was late October, the rainy season in Japan. My aim was to reach the final in the long jump competition and maybe, at the very outset, to get a bronze medal. I didn’t think I could beat the two world record holders, Ralph Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan. My aim was to get bronze, but the day itself saw the worst possible conditions you could ever imagine, driving wind, pouring rain, a cinder run-up track which kept breaking. I had trained in these conditions in the 400 metre outdoor track here at UWIC, great preparation. I had to wait for the wind to drop and in the fifth round it did, and I went into the lead. And then, the agonising wait for Ralph Boston to take his last jump. I had done 8m 7cm in my fifth round and he had one jump left. He came through with something like 8m 3cm. The Russian, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan was next, his last jump, and he jumped and I thought, “Oh, that’s it. He’s beaten me”, but he jumped 7m 98cm, so I’d won the Olympic title by about 5cm, thanks, to some extent, to that Welsh weather which we experienced in Tokyo in 1964.

munich 1972

I competed in three Olympic Games altogether: Tokyo my first; Mexico ‘68 my second; and then, of course, the very sad Games in Munich, where PLO terrorists invaded the village and we had that awful twenty-four hours when the Israeli team were kidnapped. We had that awful experience of waiting to see what would happen. Politics had entered the Games and they became a platform for the terrorist group to make their statement.

When you were in the village, you were aware that something had happened, helicopters overhead, TV cameras. We found out that the terrorists had climbed over the fence in the early hours of the morning, carrying guns in their hold-alls, and had invaded the Israeli village and held them hostage and, of course, we all know what happened. They were all shot on the airfield where they were trying to bargain with the German police.

It was a very sad Olympic Games to be at. Avery Brundage, the President of the IOC at the time, said that the Games should never be held hostage by terrorists, by commercialism, by any outside influences; that it was a fantastic vehicle for the youth of the world, that the politicians could never invent it and, therefore, the Munich Games should continue, should not be cancelled, as some people had proposed.

olympic, european and commonwealth golds

I do feel very lucky not to have had any serious injuries, to have had a very good coach, very good support from my family and from my wife, to have travelled to virtually every country in the world and, as I say, to have had that little bit of good fortune to win the Olympic gold in my first Games. Add to that the Commonwealths in ’66, in Kingston, Jamaica, and the Europeans in Budapest, winning golds there, giving me the distinction of being the first British athlete to hold Olympic, European and Commonwealth Games gold medals at the same time.

For the four years leading up to the Montreal Olympics of 1976, I went to live in Canada and was the Technical Director to Canadian Athletics. I was GB Team Manager at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and then, in my capacity as President of UK Athletics, I’ve been to Beijing two years ago, Athens before that and Sydney 2000. Where I was lucky, I think, was that I’d had the great satisfaction and sense of achievement of having been to three Olympic Games, and having won the gold, so, by 1972, I felt that I had done justice to my athletics career.


Today, as President of UK Athletics, essentially, I support the Chief Executive and our Chairman of the Board. I chair the Council of the sport; it’s our democratic arm, if you like, because UK Athletics is accountable to the sport and, therefore, I have to see that there are checks and balances between the membership – our stakeholders – and the governing body. I work as an ambassador, so I attend a variety of meetings and functions. This year, for example, I was in Glasgow in January, then I went to Sheffield for the Indoor Championships, here at UWIC for a Celtic Cup competition last weekend, and then, this weekend, I’m off to Paris for the European Indoor Championships.

I think it was in 1968 that I was privileged to receive the MBE from Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and then, three years ago, because of my role as President of UK Athletics, I was awarded the CBE, once again by Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. I won the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year on two occasions, obviously with the ’64 Olympic win, and then, two years later, I managed to win the Commonwealth and the European titles and was awarded it again. But I never won the national BBC award. Not good enough, probably. It has been won by some outstanding sportspeople; to win that you have to be absolutely outstanding in your field.

We had four Olympic gold medalists in ’64: Mary Rand, Ken Matthews, Ann Packer and myself, so they couldn’t give it to all four of us. Mary Rand eventually won it. I had won the Olympic gold in the long jump, but she had won the long jump, a silver medal in the pentathlon and a bronze medal in the 4x100 relay, so had a full set, and, based upon that, she won, and quite justified too.

a sporting nation

It’s very important for me to feel I’m Welsh. Coming from a small mining community in South Wales, you’re brought up with the feeling of Welshness all around you, always very conscious, very proud. And I’ve always felt Welsh people have been very proud of what I’ve achieved and I’ve always felt very proud to be able to share that success with people in Wales. It’s amazing how many people still remember me winning that Olympic gold, all these years later.
Sport is a great vehicle for giving us a sense of identity, who we are, our sense of nationhood. When you look at the great Welsh Olympic and Commonwealth Games successes over the years, everybody in Wales identifies with those people and feels just a little bit better that someone from Wales is able to win. It gives us a sense of confidence, of belief. I think people go to work on a Monday morning feeling so much better about where they are, about the fact that they are Welsh, about their work; it gives us all a great big lift. In London next year, for example, let’s say Dai Greene wins the 400 metre hurdles, which he’s capable of – I mean, it’s a home Olympics, it’s on our doorstep, two hours away – a Welshman wins an Olympic gold medal in London, that would give the whole of Wales a massive lift.

We are a sporting nation. We’re passionate about sport. In the Welsh psyche, there is a great need to express ourselves. We see this in all forms of Welsh life, in art, in music, in drama, in acting. We produce some great performers; it’s in the Welsh personality to perform. Maybe it goes back to Eisteddfodau and singing competitions in schools; we’re taught to express and project ourselves. And I think that comes out in our football, in our rugby, our athletics, our swimming. We do punch well above our weight, our small nation of under three million people; we take on countries with sixty million people and still manage to come out on top.

2012 and beyond

What Beijing taught me was the effect that the Lottery funding was having on our success rate in this country. Now, we are going to the rest of the world on a level playing field; we are taking on the Americans and Europeans and Eastern Europeans with full support, with very good coaching, with very good facilities, with medical back up, physiotherapy; not feeling we are underdogs, which used to be the case. We were fourth on the medal table in Beijing, Britain, and Wales played a big part in that.

And I think 2012 is going to be even better. It’s a home Games, and all the evidence suggests that when a country has a home Olympics, their medal count goes up quite significantly. I think next year, we’re going to see one of the most successful Olympics ever for this country. I hope so, anyway.

Success breeds success, and if we do well in 2012, there will be a whole new generation of young people who are going to be so motivated and so inspired and so keen to want to go to Rio for the next Olympics. This is the legacy that Seb Coe talked about when the Games came to London, that the value of the Olympic Games is obviously to produce champions and winners, but also the legacy it provides for the next generation, the inspiration, the motivation, the desire.

Interviewed by Phil Cope, 2 March 2011 at UWIC

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