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Stuart Slack, bronze, cycling road race, 1958

Stuart Slack

Bronze age: Stuart Slack with his medal, the first of 11 won to date by the IoM

Winning a medal was unthinkable, but the Isle of Man did just that when it made its debut at the then British and Empire Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, in 1958.

The sceptics believed the Island’s emergence on the international sporting scene was a venture too far for the capabilities of its finest athletes, but Stuart Slack’s bronze in the 120-mile cycling road race confounded the critics and provided the impetus for further forays round the globe in the pursuit honours.

Stuart, 23, who penned such memorable songs as The Laxey Wheel as well as authoring a book about the streets of old Douglas, spent his working life with the postal service, starting out as a telegram messenger and eventually becoming head of the Manx Post Office. He was posthumously declared a Manx Worthy.

In 1956 he enjoyed the cut and trust of racing on Merseyside, then the hotbed of the sport, after he completed National Service in the RAF.

Without being exceptional or a regular winner prior to Wales, Stuart had at least met the criteria that Curwen Clague deemed necessary for inclusion in the team – off Island competition.

The man who was to reach the pinnacle of his racing career with plenty of time to spare, mixed it with the big names on Merseyside and learnt his craft the hard way.

Stuart’s success came on the last day of the Games and Wales served up its worst weather for one of the toughest events on the programme. The wind blew, the rain lashed down, and at the unearthly hour of 7am the race began in terrible conditions.

Forty riders from 13 countries embarked on 16 laps of a seven-and-a-half-mile circuit in the coastal region south of the River Ogmore. The course undulated with tricky corners and was very exposed to the unfavourable weather. Gusts of 45mph were recorded during the long day.

The long drag of a hill through the finish area would prove to be a telling factor as the race wore on but it didn’t appear bother riders from the home countries, and very early on they went on the offensive, trying to draw the strength from the Australians and New Zealanders.

International stars Bill Bradley and John Geddes (winner of that year’s Okells Cup at Onchan Stadium), both Merseysiders and familiar names in the Isle of Man, forged ahead with two other ‘Brits’ and held a lead of nearly five minutes at the halfway point.

By now it was clear this was an audacious attempt to win from the front and the pace told on the main pack, down now to fewer than 20 riders. The IoM’s Ron Killey - following a crash - Reg Quayle and Vic Holland had had enough and retired but big Stuart was still there.

The tenth lap saw Geddes fade temporarily and the excitement mounted for Wales as the home country’s Hughes, marked by Billy Holmes (England), went in pursuit of the Liverpudlian. By the end of the lap Bradley was still two-and-a-half minutes out in front of the chasing Hughes, Holmes and the resting Geddes. The Welshman eventually gave up the unequal struggle and went back to the main pack.

Then another Welshman took up the fight and, Hooper (fourth in June’s Manx International), attacked and joined Geddes with Holmes slipping back to the bunch.

Stuart Slack in action
Close call: Stuart Slack (left) is just pipped by Australia’s Frank Brazier for the silver medal. Booty, the winner, survived a protest by the Aussies, otherwise the silver medal would have been Stuart’s

With 90 miles covered, Bradley led by two minutes 15 seconds from Hooper and Geddes who in turn were 30 seconds ahead of the vigilant pack. On the 13th lap Bradley was in trouble and he led by less than a minute. Disaster then befell Holmes who crashed.

Meanwhile, Stuart bided his time, perhaps unsure that he could last the distance in the conditions. Up against the might, in particular, of Australia, New Zealand, he tried to make his bulky, bobbing presence as least obvious as possible.

However it was England who played the trump card in the shape of British time trial champion Ray Booty, a winner of the Manx International over three laps of the TT Course.

But there was drama when, soon after starting the 14th lap, Booty was forced to change machine at the pits and Hooper dropped Geddes and caught the rapidly tiring Bradley 18 miles from the finish.

Precious seconds were lost by Booty and he was stuck in the bunch containing the ever-present Slack. With two laps to go Hooper and Bradley were holding a 1.31 advantage but Booty again surged for glory and powered his way off the front of the pack after changing back to his original bike. In an amazing show of strength, Booty caught the leaders and then in the final seven miles put 2 minutes and 48 seconds between himself and the depleted field.

Hooper and Bradley were caught by the bunch and Frank Brazier (Australia) took the sprint for the silver medal ahead of the magnificent Slack, who had conserved his energy and taken advantage of the tactics employed by the leading countries. He was just a whisker off the silver medal.

And bronze looked like turning to silver for a while after the Aussies complained that Booty’s machine change for a puncture was not permissible under the rules. On Booty’s behalf it was claimed he suffered a broken spindle as well as a puncture and a machine change was allowed for this.

The jury of appeal deliberated for a long time, rejected the protest, and it was nearly two hours before a jubilant Stuart Slack got his bronze medal.

Peter Buckley, gold, cycling road race, 1966

Peter Buckley

A bushed Buckley: Peter recovers after winning gold

The Island’s first gold medal came in the stifling humidity in Jamaica, won by cyclist Peter Buckley, 22, who lived in Oldham.

In an article for the monthly magazine Sporting Cyclist, general team manager Curwen Clague, a journalist by profession, reported the Isle of Man’s glory day.

‘The road race remained - on an out-and-home course eastward from Kingston, over twisting and sharply descending and ascending bumpy roads, which have surfaces transformed into skating rinks if the rain falls.

‘Jamaicans when they drive cars appear to love screaming tyres, and rubber droppings and oil on the hot tarmac mean certain disaster for bicycles when water is added.

‘There was a field for the road race of 47 from 13 countries. The race began at 6.30am outside the main stadium with the sun shining and a long convoy of jeeps provided by the Jamaican regiment followed with the servicing and the team managers.

‘It wasn’t long before the greasy road took its toll. There was one 15-man pile-up before things settled down, then two more spills took more out, one being John Clarey (England).

‘Eventually a group of 15 got clear - ahead of the pursuers led by Hugh Porter (England). The gap opened to nearly two minutes at 38 miles, and the lead increased rapidly in the next 15 miles.

‘Then the rain came - and when it rains in Jamaica it is as if the heavens were emptying a bucket. At the turning point - an oil drum in the road - the leaders turned, and at this moment Peter Buckley attacked.

‘Let me digress just for one moment to make one point clear: Buckley is Manx - as Manx as I am. I want this known loud and clear because reportage after the event went to every length to play this down and claim him for England.

‘Peter is Manx born of Manx family - and a host of them in Peel were rooting for him that day. Peter was born in the Isle of Man in 1944, the only son of Louis and Joan, his soldier father having been sent to the Island as part of the Home Guard to mind the internment camp at Knockaloe. While Louis was from Oldham, Joan was a Peel girl. The family moved to Louis’s home town of Oldham after the war.’

Peter worked for British Rail as a clerk and enjoyed considerable success at domestic and international level, winning the Manx International over three laps of the TT Course in 1969.

Tragically, on July 4, 1969, Peter died before he could defend his title at the 1970 Games in Edinburgh. Riding home to Oldham with a friend after a training ride, he was thrown from his bike when a dog ran into his front wheel.

He died soon afterwards and Louis and Joan consented to the donation of his kidneys to save another life.

A seat in his memory was sited near the top of Creg Willys Hill and the British Cycling Federation inaugurated the Peter Buckley Trophy series, an annual competition to determine Britain’s best junior road racer.

Peter’s medal and a photograph of him are on display at the Leece Museum on the quayside in Peel.

Peter Buckley celebrating
Blitz: Peter Buckley outclassed the field to win the road race gold medal in Jamaica

‘So into the terrible rain they went, lashing them in its blinding fury. In the midst of it, Nigel Dean, backing up Buckley splendidly in this break, went flat on his back. Jim Leitch of Scotland, in the confusion, lost contact.

‘And Buckley had gone.

‘He faced 42 miles of lone agony. At 80 miles he was 40 seconds clear, and as the miles went by, so his lead increased.

‘The pursuing group in which Porter and the New Zealanders, Des Thomson and Laurie Byers, and Dave Kane and Maurice Foster (both Northern Ireland) and Colin Lewis Lewis (Wales) were looking strong, but could make no impression.

‘They tried - oh, how they tried, but back came the message: Buckley at 2 minutes; Buckley at 2½ minutes; Buckley at 3 minutes; and then, astoundingly, Buckley at 4 minutes.

‘When the rain stopped, the sun bore down and the temperature rose to around 90F. The steaming Manxman (who admitted to nearly blacking out with the intensity of his effort) pressed on relentlessly.

‘The objective was the top of the hill with 15 miles to go. His eye had been on this all week for a 2 minute gap here could be decisive. After that it was downhill and except for the finishing two miles, fast, flat dual carriageway. And it had been noted that in Kingston the wind rose in the morning and blew at flag-stretching strength towards the finish.

‘Buckley reached the vital point with the desired margin. But before that he had punctured. The service vehicle was right up, and it was only a matter of seconds to fit the rear wheel snugly. All the way in this lone break, Peter was now learning he was 2 or 2½ minutes up, but as this message never changed, he felt it was not correct, and he was right. He was pulling away all the time.

‘The roads thickened with cheering Jamaicans. Thousands watched this race, crowding the road with their dogs and children. “It was more exciting than the Tour de l’Avenir” (a mini Tour de France for young riders), said Peter afterwards.

‘He rode victoriously through this excited mass of humanity up Mountain View Avenue in that finish that tears the heart out of any bike rider … up and up and up a never-ending drag, over a rough, bumpy road, until at last the dual carriageway and smooth tarmac of the avenue opens out the view of the stadium.

‘Des Thomson (NZ) was next home, more than four minutes after Buckley, to take the silver and his team colleague Byers took the bronze a few seconds later, outsprinting McCreadie of Australia. Then came Kane, Lewis and Foster (Northern Ireland).

‘Over 2 minutes later was David Nie (England) with Billy Bilsland (Scotland), Porter taking 10th place, 16 minutes behind Buckley.’

Alex Jackson, bronze, 200m freestyle, 1970

Alex Jackson

Top 200m freestyle trio: (left to right) second placed Angela Coughlan, winner Karen Moras (Australia) and bronze medallist Alex Jackson

The Isle of Man had an Olympic finalist before a Commonwealth finalist in the shape of 18-year-old swimmer Alex Jackson of Onchan.

Alex was born in Dublin in 1952, the family moving to the Isle of Man where her father, Basil, became the proprietor of the Majestic Hotel in Onchan, overlooking Douglas Bay.

She dominated the 100 and 200m disciplines in the late 1960s, coached by her mother, Nora, and regularly represented Great Britain, her greatest moment coming when she lined up in the final of the 100m at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, finishing a disappointed sixth at the shorter distance.

As British champion and record holder at both 100 and 200m, she became the first Island athlete to be considered a favourite for an event and the 100m looked to be her best chance of landing the Isle of Man with a gold medal to complement Peter Buckley’s four years earlier.

It was looking good after Alex posted the fastest time in the heats of 60.87, well clear of the opposition, and come the final the Manx team made their presence felt in the aquatic centre, erecting flags in the restaurant windows overlooking the pool. Max Phillips, the Commonwealth Games Federation treasurer, sensing the Island’s excitement, invited team manager Curwen Clague into the VIP box to watch the race, fully confident of a Manx victory.

Alex was in the centre lane as fastest qualifier and up against the best from Canada, Australian and New Zealand. There was a traumatising false start but once Alex hit the water for real, she shot into the lead and turned first.

It seemed she was on her way to glory but the gap came down dramatically and with just 20 metres remaining, the power and rhythm of the Manx swimmer appeared to go, and in a remarkable finish the Canadian Ann Coughlan touched first from Australians Watson and Watts, with Alex a shattered and disappointed fourth, nearly a second slower than in her heat.

Alex reached the team’s accommodation in the village in mental dismay, but there to greet her was a great bouquet of flowers and encouraging messages. There was little time for despondency and Alex was soon alert and concentrating on the 200m, her less-favoured distance and new to the Games.

She swam third fastest in the heats, clocking 2.14.80 and then produced a British record of 2.13.52 to grab the bronze medal, the winner Moras of Australia and second-placed Coughlan, winner of the 100m, being comfortably ahead.

Stewart Watterson, bronze, 50m small-bore, 1978

Stewart Watterson

Top guns: (left to right) William Watkins (Wales), third, Alister Allan, (Scotland), winner, and bronze medallist Stewart Watterson (Isle of Man)

In a sport where the suppression of nervous reactions is largely what it’s all about, small-bore shooting ranks as one of the most difficult of disciplines and subjects participants to immense pressure.

Imagine then the mind-set required to handle the two days of intense competition for this discipline in Edmonton, Canada, in 1978, the ante having been upped for these Games from the usual English Match conditions (60 shots at 50m) to double that dose over two days, aggregate scores determining the outcome.

Alister Allan of Scotland left no one in doubt that he was the main man at the end of day one, just two away from a maximum 600 score with the Isle of Man’s Stewart Watterson in 13th place on 591 with an encouraging maximum score on his second card.

It’s reported that Allan, who would become coach to the Manxman, only slept for two hours overnight, tossing and turning in anticipation of the next day. No doubt it was a similar experience for Watterson, who mastered his nerves and the vagaries of the range 24 hours later to hoist himself into the bronze medal position.

The competition was fierce with eight shooters, including Watterson, bettering the old single-day record of 594 posted four years earlier by gold medal winner Yvonne Gowland in New Zealand.

As Watterson kept his nerve, others didn’t, notably Wales’s Colin Harris and England’s Barry Dagger, second and third respectively after the first day and just two points behind Allan.

Even Allan struggled in comparison to day one, posting 596 against 598, but Watterson matched the Scot on the day as did Bill Watkins of Wales, who hoisted himself into the second place from an overnight fourth.

Watterson must have wondered, though, whether his day would end on the medal podium after opening with a 98, but cometh the day, cometh the man, and he carded a 99 and then ‘tons’ on his third, fourth and sixth cards, with a 99 on the fifth, leaving him seven points adrift of Allan and four behind Watkins.

Watterson ended up tied on 1187 with Dagger, but took the bronze on countback.