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Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games Logo 2018 website 2018 website

SO CLOSE TO GLORY

Nigel Dean, 5th, 10-mile scratch race, Jamaica 1966

Nigel Dean

Determined: Nigel Dean was squeezed out of a possible medal berth in Jamaica. He went on to ride as a professional for 14 years

Fearless, fast and formidable, Nigel Dean set Manx hopes sky high almost from the word go in the 10-mile track scratch race in Kingston, Jamaica in 1966.

A precocious talent, Nigel learnt his track skills at Onchan Park Stadium and on Merseyside and was at home in the cut and thrust of bunched racing, later breaking into the exclusive world of indoor professional six-day racing in Europe.

Many have an enduring memory of Nigel’s tilt at glory in the Caribbean because the BBC showed the race live, a rare event, but then it provided some of the most dramatic images from the Games - albeit in black and white - as riders hurtled round the banked, concrete bowl and all the more exciting because it was raced under floodlights and won by an English rider with a Manxie right in the mix.

Nigel, a journalist for a while before taking himself off to the Midlands to concentrate fully on his racing that eventually led him to the vibrant professional class in the UK, had us on the end of our seats as he battled for a medal cheered on by many of his team-mates and a knowledgeable home crowd, although there was a ‘Colemanballs’ when it came to getting his name right . . . legendary commentator David Coleman constantly referred to Nigel as ‘Ernie Potter’ - the name of his team-mate who was also in the race.

Thirty-three riders took to the track that surrounded the main stadium and Dean was on the go immediately, trying to force a gap with Xavier Miranda of Jamaica and De Freitas of Guyana, but the pure track specialists pinned them back.

With eight laps to go the excitement mounted as the sprinters jockeyed for position with Dean anxious to spoil the party. Ian Alsop and Trevor Bull (both England) forced the pace and engineered a gap but they were followed immediately by the beefy Hilton Clarke of Australia, Miranda and the ever present Dean.

They quickly established a half-lap lead and as they went into the final circuit with the crowd screaming for their countryman, Dean found himself at the foot of the track, looking at the onslaught being prepared immediately above him.

Undaunted, he put his head down and went, trying to catch the opposition off guard, but it was a vain hope and Bull, Alsop and Clarke came sweeping down on him with 150 metres to go. In the hurly-burly of that mad dash for the line, the Jamaican clattered into Nigel and put him off the track momentarily, robbing him of fourth place.

Graham Young, 4th, 20-mile walk, Christchurch, NZ, 1974

Graham Young

So near: Graham Young wasn’t far off the bronze medal in the 1974 walking race

Having consistently bettered the qualifying times for the two previous celebrations of the games, but been deemed less worthy by the selectors than his rivals to represent the Island, Manx-born Graham Young was more than ready to prove that he was the top Manx walker.

No easy task as in the interim Ian Hodgkinson, now representing Australia, had improved to the extent that he ranked second fastest in the Commonwealth, pre- race.

Young recalls: ‘My biggest stroke of fortune was my introduction to the “bleed- out” carbohydrate loading diet, the information having been provided by my team-mate, Dave Cowell, via England’s Ian Thompson, who won the gold that year in the marathon.

‘I did, however, get a lot wrong! Ten miles pre-race warm-up indicated my level of commitment, but was hardly conducive to optimizing my performance. Nor was an overloaded stomach, which had me seriously considering early retirement!

Allan Callow, ninth, was best of the Manxmen in 39 minutes 44 seconds at five miles, while a struggling Young was 61 seconds behind and near the end of the field in 11th place. Hodgkinson was storming along in third place, which he held until 10 miles, by which point Young was starting to come round and had climbed three places, Callow slipping to tenth.

At 15 miles Young was making impressive headway, now in sixth place with Hodgkinson fourth, one minute 41 seconds ahead of him and his target man. As the last five miles developed, the Manx contingent in the stadium were whipped into a frenzy when legendary Kiwi runner Peter Snell dashed by to tell them that ‘a Manxman will win the bronze’, such was Graham’s pace.

At the head of the race, John Warhurst of England had forged into the lead at 15 miles from team-mate Roy Thorpe, both coached by former Isle of Man resident and Olympian Albert Johnson, with Australia’s Peter Fullager beginning to struggle in his bid for the bronze medal.

Young remembers: ‘Once I had recovered from the mother of all stitches, I managed to gradually progress from being a tailender, to overhauling ‘Hodgie’, my primary objective.

The pair battled side by side for a short while before Young piled on the pressure as he set out to reel in the Aussie, who was clearly wilting. Half a lap separated the pair as the race reached its climax in the stadium but Fullager held on to claim third place 37 seconds ahead of the Manxman.

A distressed Hodgkinson took fifth place some two minutes later.

First to congratulate Young on finishing was the Reverend Fred Cubbon, the team commandant, who placed his holy hands on his head whilst saying: ‘Bless you my child.’

John Purvis, 4th, road race, Edmonton, Canada, 1978

Graham Young

Pressing on: John Purvis scored an unexpected fourth in the road race in Edmonton and also performed on the track, where he is pictured with Ron Killey (far right) and team-mates Steve Joughin and Eddie Kewley

John Purvis

With Steve Joughin the Island’s favourite to do well in the 117-mile road race in Edmonton, Canada, in 1974, it was his less-fancied team-mate John Purvis who stole the limelight on the day with an audacious fourth place.

With the gold medal going to Australian Phil Anderson, who went on to be a top-notch professional in Europe and a yellow jersey wearer in the Tour de France, Purvis took his chance in the dying miles of the race.

Anderson, Pierre Harvey of Canada and Gary Bell of New Zealand dominated a large breakaway group - without a Manx presence - for a major part of the race, and as they jockeyed for the honours, behind them Purvis, Steve Lawrence of England and Martin Camaro of Canada stormed out of the chasing pack with a few miles left to run.

Purvis’s powerful surge was such that Lawrence and the Canadian had no answer and the well-built Manxman was a comfortable fourth, less than a minute behind Anderson and 17 seconds ahead of the strung out main pack, his ride being the best performance by a rider from the British Isles.

Steve Porter, 5th, 50km points race, Auckland, New Zealand, 1990

Steve Porter

Powerful performer: Steve Porter trains behind a large engined motorcycle on the track at Auckland. He finished a fighting fifth in the 50km points race, ten kilometres long than the usual distance

Steve Porter had class and a bountiful supply of power, but was sometimes mentally fragile in the heat of battle and allowed situations to overawe him. However, when it all came together, he was capable of producing extraordinary outcomes.

The first Manxman to win a stage of Ireland’s toughest stage race, the Ras Tailteann, Porter had also narrowly lost the Manx International race over three laps of the TT Course to 1986 Commonwealth Games road race gold medal winner Paul Curran.

His debut in the Games had come in Brisbane in 1982, at 18, where he was in the exalted company of Steve Joughin – the Mark Cavendish of his day.

The promise of a medal in the road race four years earlier in Edinburgh had been ripe but proved to be ultimately unobtainable, sadly due in part to an internal team conflict.

Motivated to move on, Porter decided to ride the two distance track events in Auckland. Manx competitors have often taken part in both the road and track disciplines to reasonably good effect at the Games, so it was nothing new when Porter squared up for the points race in Auckland in 1990.

Often a fiendishly difficult event to follow – participants more often than not require trackside assistance with signals and calls as to where they are in the points standings – the situation in Auckland was further complicated by the lack of an electronic scoreboard.

Run off at 30mph, the endless lappery, on this occasion an unusual 50km (30 miles) instead of 40km (25 miles), demands acute awareness, a sixth sense and, where possible, a team-mate for company. Knowing when to make (or save) lung searing and muscle burning efforts, is part of the process – an a good dose of luck doesn’t go amiss either.

On the night and in a race that got prime TV time at home, Porter had an abundance of speed and guile to keep himself in contention as the 175-lap race reached its frenetic finale, succeeding with six others to put themselves in the driving seat by lapping the bulk of the field.

One-hundred-and-twenty laps in, Porter was in the bronze medal position but was ultimately unable to convert his efforts into a medal; the Aussies were just too powerful a combination to overcome, although New Zealand tried manfully.

All the ingredients required were not there and it was galling to see Northern Ireland’s Alistair Irvine – with little or no track experience like Porter but with a precious commodity in the shape of a team-mate - take third place, Porter coming home one point adrift of equal fourth place.

‘I just wish I had some luck for once,’ Porter opined. ‘I didn’t know where I was. A case of so near yet so far.’