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Shelagh Ratcliffe
The medals that got away? Manx-born Shelagh Ratcliffe won silver and bronze medals for England in 1970

Shelagh Ratcliffe: the medals that were missed?

Were the silver and bronze medals won by Shelagh Ratcliffe at the Edinburgh Games in 1970 the ones that got away from the Isle of Man? She is the only competitor of Manx origin ever to win two Games medals.

Arguably Britain’s best swimmer in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the Manx-born Ratcliffe left her Port St Mary home for Liverpool with her parents aged three.

Under the watchful eye of top coach Fred Moore, the Everton SC member trained at Wigan alongside Alex Jackson, who won the bronze medal in the 200m freestyle at Edinburgh.

Curwen Clague, the founding father of the Games movement in the Island, was always keen to unearth suitably qualified (in terms of residence and sporting capability) off-Island talent for the Manx teams, and it is very unlikely that he would not have come across Ratcliffe.

Just how she got away from us is not known. Perhaps she preferred to swim for her adopted homeland.

What is certain is that she was in top form for England in Scotland and would have made a hugely successful double act with Jackson.

The 200 and 400m IM specialist had club, city and county honours under her belt by the time she was 13 and progressed under Moore’s influence to make the Olympic training squad at 16 after breaking the 400m IM record at the British trials.

She made the Mexico Olympics, coming fifth in the 400m IM and seventh in the 200, and was in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team that finished eighth.

There was further GB representation in 1969 and in 1970 she was selected for England at Edinburgh where she came close to gold in the 200m IM, only yielding the winner Denise Langford of Australia in the final 15 metres.

In the 400 IM, Ratcliffe and Langford again clashed, the latter winning her second gold of the day after earlier helping the Aussies to win the 4 x 100m relay.

Ratcliffe started poorly but pulled through from fifth to third at the breaststroke, a place she had to settle for at the end of a super fast race.

Langord clocked a remarkable 5.10.74 for a Commonwealth and Games record while Ratcliffe, who had gone under the Games best in her heat with 5.22.80, produced a remarkable 5.17.89, a new British record.

Ratcliffe secured a brace of bronzes at the European Championships in Barcelona later in the year and, assisted by a Winston Churchill Travel Scholarship, also enjoyed by Jackson, spent time training and racing in America.

She made the Munich Olympics in 1972 and retired a year later to concentrate on a business career that she hoped would provide funds for her to go travelling.

Her sister estimated that she had covered the circumference of the planet in training and Ratcliffe aid she was ‘honoured’ to have been inducted into the Manx Sporting Hall of Fame.

In March, 2015, Ratcliffe suffered a cardiac arrest while taking a dip at her local pool in Newquay in Cornwall, and was rescued unconscious from the water by lifeguards, who carried out CPR, successfully reviving the 63-year-old. She returned to the facility a month later to thank all those involved in her rescue and resuscitation.

Shelagh said it was ironic that she almost lost her life in the pool.

She added: 'I am normally a fit and healthy person; I enjoy swimming, take part in exercise classes and walking along the local beaches. I have always swum and it is one of the places I feel most comfortable so it is kind of ironic that it had to happen here. There were no signs that it was going to happen so it really is credit to everybody involved for bringing me back to life.'

Ruth Cooil: 'Physios are up early and late to bed'

Ruth Cooil

Dedicated: Ruth Cooil soothes aches and pains and enjoys the confidence of her charges

It’s not only athletes who have to undergo a selection process to represent the IoM at the Games.

Would-be physios wanting to apply their skills on injured limbs and tired bodies have to prove their worth well in advance of a forthcoming Games.

There is a wealth of skill and knowledge in the Island and being chosen for the job from the ranks of a healthy number of applicants ensures that the high standards associated with the team in general are maintained.

Ruth Cooil, who took on the arduous role in Melbourne, Delhi and Glasgow, says the successful physios' initial role is to work with athletes who make the Games long list, which consists of those sportsmen and women who are capable/likely to eventually make the team.

Ruth takes up the story: ‘This is a key period where the physios can build a rapport with the athletes, gain their trust and confidence and address any current injuries or eliminate any potential causes of injury.

‘When the team is announced it is very exciting and makes you feel so proud to be Manx and able to represent your country. The physios are in a very privileged position as throughout the course of the Games there will be many highs and lows, a multitude of emotions and a raft of niggles and injuries, all of which you live through with each athlete.

‘You get to know the supporters and families of the athletes too. I have seen myself making the badminton supporters K-tape Three legs of Mans as a joke, as by the time the players came to the end of their competitions, they were pretty much stuck together with the stuff !

‘You can always spot the physios on the way to (and during) a Games. They are usually the ones trailing behind the team juggling with a large kit bag and a treatment couch. You do have to be reasonably physically fit as the days are long and hard work; it’s certainly no holiday and you’re never off duty.

‘I remember at the opening ceremony in Melbourne when a stray piece of a firework landed in one of our shooter’s eyes. It was quite a challenge in the dark trying to fish it out!

‘A typical day starts at about 6am, heading first to the dining hall for breakfast. After that, anyone who needs treatment prior to going to their venues is looked after. The rest of the day usually consists of working with one of the sports at their venue (each physio has accreditation for three sports) and then more treatment sessions back at the Games village where both physios treat all the athletes.

‘Working at the village is usually a time for lots of banter and laughs, none more so than in Delhi when a bat flew in to the treatment room. This was followed by lots of screaming and towel wafting but culminated in the not so bright idea of turning the electric ceiling fan on. ‘The result was an amputated wing and a dead bat which landed on a shooter who was waiting for treatment!

‘ Other meals are fitted in around the needs of the athletes and your head normally hits the pillow between 11pm and midnight. Not a bad schedule for three to four days, but after three weeks it can take its toll.

‘The hardest parts of physioing are obviously dealing with serious injuries and seeing athletes who have worked so hard for many years not achieve their personal goals. We had a couple in Delhi. A lasting memory is getting to the hospital to see one of our gymnasts and, as he lay there in pain, he was actually apologising to me for getting injured !

‘ It was so hard, and many tears were shed as we had been through so much prior to the Games, keeping him as fit as possible from other injuries and both of us knew it was likely to be the end of his competitive career.

‘The best bits, however, are that you get to know the whole team. It’s very rewarding and you form some fantastic friendships. Outstanding and special moments for me were watching Mark Cavendish win gold in Melbourne - not sat in the luxury of the velodrome but in a mobile in the Games village, which was positively rocking as we jumped up and down screaming at the 14 inch TV!

‘Nothing will ever beat the tension of watching Tim Kneale shoot his way to a bronze medal in Delhi, we were all willing him on from the stands and his skill and composure were amazing. There are many more happy memories, but the smiles on Wilfy Walton’s and Trevor Boyles’s faces when they returned to the Games village in Melbourne after winning bronze will last in my memory forever.’

2010 bronze medal winner Tim spoke highly about Ruth’s skills: ‘She is one of the unsung heroes of the team. She’s a great support. It must be a very difficult job to always put on a smile and manage to motivate people when things might be not be going as planned, but she always manages it despite how busy, tired or bad her day has been.

‘She’s an extremely important element. She has contact with everyone and we all rely on her to provide the best support she can, which is fantastic in my opinion. An asset worth her wait in gold.’

Ruth Cooil
Caring: Ruth Cooil enjoys getting to know the athletes

Steve Taylor: 'Pressure proved difficult to handle'

The pride at representing the Island at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 was still obvious when I met Steve Taylor.

Sixteen years on he enjoyed recounting his experiences in the Malaysian capital as one of the two tenpin bowlers selected for the individual and pairs event.

A native of Manchester, Steve, then 37 and a residential social worker when he packed his bags for the Far East, recalled the emotional excitement of entering the stadium during the opening ceremony and the challenges of playing before a crowd of 3,000 in the 42-lane bowling centre.

However it was the extra stress of having well-intentioned and supportive IoM team officials as well as the king of Malaysia sitting directly behind him during some of his matches that affected his game, to the extent he did not reach his true potential.

Add in the event being beamed live on TV to millions of Malays and you begin to understand the kind of pressure that builds on an unsuspecting small nation competitor.

The Games Association of the IoM readily embraced the Malaysian-led bid to have tenpin bowling included in future Olympic Games by taking up the challenge of finding local players to compete in KL, the first and only time to date that the sport has appeared on the Games programme.

The Games also changed significantly in other ways that year, with the adoption of team sports seeing the likes of rugby sevens and cricket introduced. It was also the first time the Games had been staged in Asia.

Non-core sports can be included by agreement, and the tenpin-mad Malays were successful in gaining CGF support after six years of lobbying.

The target for the sport was inclusion in the 2002 Sydney Olympics, but that did not materialise despite the fact that it has been regularly part of the Pan American Games since the early 90s.

Tenpin bowling was an official demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. It was also very close to being part of the Olympics in 1936, when an international tournament was held in Berlin, Germany, around the same time as the Olympics.

The Manx council challenged the local enthusiasts to meet an agreed standard and the fledgling sport, which had had a home alongside the Castle Mona Hotel in Douglas since 1994, determinedly rose to the occasion.

Having played in the UK, Steve said he was not that interested when the Moon family opened up the two-floor, 14-lane complex, but through taking young people there in a professional capacity, it was not long before he was back in competitive mode.

Steve Taylor and Hazel Irvine
Let’s talk: BBC TV reporter Hazel Irvine chats with tenpin bowler Steve Taylor. The venue was packed with 3,000 spectators during competitions

Bill Maxwell, who was to be his team-mate in KL, came from Northern Ireland to manage the facility, and after playing with Bill and other locals all over the UK, the challenge to increase the ten-frame points score average from a then 182 to 190 was on.

‘During the 18 months we had to achieve the standard, six of us managed it,’ Steve recalled. ‘The Sports Council came up with financial assistance for coaching and a great deal of training and top-level competition, to international standard off the Island, was undertaken.’

The six were eventually whittled down to Steve and Bill, then aged 32, as the sport’s nominees for KL, the pair having posted some excellent results, Steve qualifying for the 1996 World Cup and Bill for the same event after the Games in Kobe, Japan.

In 1997 Steve won the British doubles championship with David Hill, a team silver with Bill and also reached the masters final at the Wales Open.

The sport locally was helped enormously by the arrival in the Island of Dr. David Beard, who ran a fish farm at Glen Wyllin. An experienced coach, he had the added benefit of being a very efficient organiser and he was appointed manager of the pair in KL.

The Games competition attracted entries from 15 countries, and the seismic achievement of the Malaysians saw seven world champions, ten continental champions and ten perfect gamers pitch up at the Pyramid Bowl, Sunway City.

‘Tenpin is a huge sport in the Far East, and we were popular everywhere we went, especially in cafes,’ recalled Steve. The Malays had spent 200,000 dollars a year on a Canadian coach to try and ensure they were successful. It was very important to them.’

The Malays and the Australians were the main contenders and they won the lion’s share of the medals. The home nation’s Kenny Ang took the individual gold and shared in the team medal.

Ang, who Steve played several times before the Games, became a national hero and Steve recalled the attention the latter got from the fiercely patriotic crowd, not to mention being in shot with him when the TV cameras zoomed in when they played in adjacent lanes.

One of Steve’s best memories came one morning when he peered out of his room high up in the Games village and spotted the Aussies – Steve Waugh et al - playing French cricket down below.

Soon at ground level and taking part in the knockabout, Steve enjoyed one of those never-to-be-forgotten interludes that characterise the one major sporting gathering the little ol’ IoM can participate in.

‘Bumping into people like that was amazing as were the whole Games’, said Steve, who thanked the Isle of Man for letting it happen. ‘The Manx Games people were passionate about helping us.’

Sadly, there was no lasting legacy in the Isle of Man as the Castle Mona facility closed in 2006. But for a few magical years the Island became a prominent contender in many competitions with Steve and others competing at the highest level and to a standard they had not previously imagined.

‘I think it is important to say how much attending the Games helped the sport in the Island. Standards rose immensely and competing in KL opened a variety of doors, allowing us to be recognised as leading competitors,’ remarked Steve, who progressed to a 200 average and became a scratch bowler.

The IoM successfully competed in a variety of international tournaments winning the team silver medal at the 1999 Island Games in Gotland. Steve also finished an amazing fifth at the Commonwealth Challenge in Cyprus in 2002. He also won a total of 12 medals at the UK Triple Crown Tournament, two of them gold.

He beat the UK’s finest to win the overall masters title in 2002.

Jackie Osborne: 'Pro career KO'

Jackie Osborne

Action man: Jackie Osborne was denied the chance of turning professional

Since his appearance in the 1958 Games in Cardiff, boxer Jackie Osborne was someone I wanted to catch up with.

I finally managed it 56 years later at his home in Douglas, on the eve of the 2014 Games in Glasgow.

While I knew a far bit about most of his team-mates, Jackie’s background had eluded me until our pleasant encounter.

A youthful looking 79, he managed to relax and remember some of the events that led to his selection and appearance as a light-middleweight in Wales.

Cardiff attracted 98 boxers from 19 countries, then a record, Jackie, at 23, being the first from the Isle of Man. It was 52 years later before the sport was again included in the Manx squad, Dominic Winrow and Krystian Borucki getting the nod for Delhi in 2010.

In the Fifties and early Sixties, boxing was a very popular television sport, dominated by the Amateur Boxing Association finals, and local shows were exceptionally well supported.

Jackie, who lived at Pulrose, was introduced to the sport after being whisked off the Island for two years’ National Service with the Army. Ultimately based at Sheerness, he tried his hand at the noble art and quickly attracted the attention of the provost sergeant in charge.

‘He kept an eye on me,’ says Jackie, then just 19, and whose youthful features bear no signs of battle. ‘I became regimental champion and fought in several inter-regiment tournaments.

‘It was a pretty good life as I was let off lots of duties including guarding the camp.

‘The provo sergeant was pretty well connected to the professional game and offered me the opportunity to turn pro, but my parents didn’t want me to do it.

‘I was disappointed but when I came home I kept it up and joined the Manx Amateur Boxing Club, training not only myself but lots of the youngsters, including Dominic Delaney (the former politician).

‘We had to rely on teams coming over to the Island for competitions; it wasn’t like today when kids can get to the UK for contests. There was no government money then.’

In Douglas, Jackie came under the aegis of Alex O’Brien, a larger than life character who hailed from Lytham in Lancashire and built up a small business empire that included the Prospect Hotel in town and the very popular Alex Inn at Santon.

Part of Jackie’s training involved a regular run from his home and up Richmond Hill to the Inn.

A keen follower of the sport, O’Brien pushed for Jackie’s inclusion in the first ever Manx team for the Games after he had beaten the Northern Counties champion at the Villa Marina.

Based in former Army barracks, Jackie and his team-mates enjoyed each other’s company, and he recalls a prank that saw athletic manager Johnny Quine’s bed primed to collapse when he returned after a night out.

‘He liked a drink and when his bed collapsed he just lay there and fell asleep …’

Jackie Osborne boxer
Proud as Punch: Jackie Osborne has fond memories of Games in Wales

Very serious when it came to his bout (they were called ‘fights’ back then - three three-minute rounds and no head gear), Jackie lamented that he never actually boxed anyone during his training in Wales.

While he worked hard on his fitness, the lack of the real thing left him disadvantaged when he drew England’s number one in the up to 156lbs category, the redoubtable Stuart Pearson, ABA and National Coal Board champion, who beat him fair and square on points in one of four elimination bouts.

Pearson went on to reach the final where he lost to a South African.

‘I just wish I would have drawn an easier opponent,’ says Jackie. ‘If I had got through, the Australians wanted me to train with them. Their man got through to the quarter-finals where he also lost to Pearson.’

Jackie’s contest was shown live on BBC TV and his wife, Geraldine, has been trying to track down footage of it ever since she watched him a friend’s house.

Jackie failed to make it home with the rest of the team, O’Brien persuading him, reluctantly, to compete in a show in his native Lytham, where the Manxman was beaten.

There was ‘no chance’ says Jackie of making it to Perth where the 1962 Games were staged. ‘I kept competing but the local boxing scene just faded away. I can’t remember when I stopped exactly.’

However, he retains a great affection for the sport he once graced (his all time favourite was Britain’s first black world champion, middleweight Randolph Turpin). ‘I watch the television stuff and I go to the odd local show. The amateur stuff is not quite the same as in my day, the scoring has got too technical.’

Jackie re-emerged in Commonwealth Games guise a couple of years ago when items of memorabilia from his time in Wales went on display at the Manx Museum for a sports exhibition.

Among the items on show was the red and yellow dressing gown he wore in Cardiff and the badge from his Games blazer.

The gown was also in use in recent times when a local young boxing hopeful asked could he use it for a contest at the Villa Marina. Geraldine sewed on the badge (which had been in a frame) and proud as Punch (pardon the pun) the lad went on to win his bout.

Jackie was in the dark about its use and when he encountered the wearer after watching the bout, he remarked: ‘I had a gown like that’, whereupon he was told: ‘This is yours . . .’

Jackie, who worked for 30 years doing various jobs at the slaughterhouse in Lake Road, Douglas, and later joined what was then the Harbour Board, came out of retirement to present the flowers to the successful competitors at the Commonwealth Youth Games, hosted by the Island in 2011.