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Alf Oddie: The PE teacher who took on decathlon legend Daley Thompson

Alf Oddie

Alf went that way! Oddie was spurred on by vociferous Manx support led by his team- mate Steve Partington

Alf Oddie

Up against it: Alf Oddie, right, and England’s Greg Richards battling in the 100m during the decathlon event

Competing at the Commonwealth Games for the first time can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for any athlete.

But imagine how Alf Oddie must have felt in Edinburgh 1986 when he lined up against a decathlete regarded not just as the best of his generation, but arguably the greatest of all-time. Francis Morgan Ayodélé ‘Daley’ Thompson finished his career with two Olympic golds, one World Championship title, and three Commonwealth golds.

He dominated the decathlon like no other athlete before or since. In 1986 he won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and a few weeks later retained his European Championship title in Stuttgart.

Six years after winning his first Olympic gold in Moscow he was still a formidable force, but 1986 was to be the last year he would stand on the medal rostrum at a major championships as injuries, which struck him the following season, would prevent him from holding off the challenge of younger and stronger rivals.

Alf had joined the Manx Athletics Club as a teenager and competed in cross-country and fell running, and was also a keen cricketer. He started competing in athletics field events at Castle Rushen High School and King William’s College and his aptitude in a variety of events led him to take up decathlon in 1980.

In 1982 he left the Island to work as a PE teacher in Preston, and in the years that followed continued to return to the land of his birth to compete in the Isle of Man annual athletics championships.

In 1985 Oddie, then aged 25, competed for the Isle of Man at the inaugural Island Games (held in the Isle of Man) and won gold in the javelin (setting an Island Games record), a silver in the shot put, and bronze medals in the high jump and discus.

The same year he came third in the decathlon at the North of England Athletics Championships representing Blackburn Harriers. In 1986 he qualified for the Isle of Man Commonwealth Games team by finishing second in an invitational decathlon in Hull and in so doing became the first Manx athlete ever selected to compete in any athletics field event at the Games.

Alf’s sister Maureen was also selected for the 1986 team – she would go on to finish 11th in the marathon, the first time in Games history that a women’s marathon was held. Taking part in the opening ceremony in Edinburgh was an emotional day for the Oddie family.

Sadly, Alf’s dad had passed away a few years earlier, but his mum and Alf’s two other sisters Ann and Margaret were able to attend to see him and Maureen walk out behind the Manx flag. ‘Attending the opening ceremony was a very proud moment for the whole family, especially as my mum is Scottish,’ says Alf.

‘When the competition started the crowds for the decathlon were huge, mainly because Daley Thompson was the biggest star in British athletics at that time. I was completely outclassed of course, but it was a great experience to represent the Isle of Man and to be part of the Commonwealth Games.

‘I felt very lucky to be born Manx as it gave me the opportunity to compete on the same stage as one of the world’s best ever athletes. If I hadn’t been born on the Island I may never have had that chance.’

So, what was it like competing against Thompson? ‘He was very relaxed at the Commonwealth Games. He was a real character and a great competitor, but at just over six foot wasn’t the ideal build for a decathlete. If you compare him to his main rivals Jürgen Hingsen, Siggi Wentz, and Guido Kratschmer, they were monsters compared to Thompson.

‘But what Daley had was that psychological edge and mental strength which enabled him to consistently produce his best, even when he was really under pressure, and especially in the field events.’

Thompson had the gold medal in the bag going into the last event, the 1500metres. Safe in the knowledge that he only needed to finish in order to secure the gold, Thompson held a bit back in the metric mile knowing that a few weeks later he had to peak again for the European Championships in Stuttgart (he won gold there too).

Oddie finished a few yards ahead of Thompson after four laps of the track and, although he’s too modest too boast about it, you get the sense from listening to him recount the tale that he still gains a sense of satisfaction from that claim to fame.

And why shouldn’t he? After all, how many PE teachers do you know who out-ran a double Olympic Champion at a major international event? Alf, who finished 11th in the Commonwealth decathlon, remembers sprinting down the home straight in the 1500metres and hearing a voice in the crowd.

It was Steve Partington who was a race walker in the Isle of Man team. ‘Hey, Daley. Alf went that way!’ shouted Steve as he pointed in the direction of the finish line. History doesn’t record whether or not Thompson heard the cheeky bit of Manx banter.

‘There are two great traditions in the decathlon,’ adds Alf. ‘After the final event all the competitors do a lap of honour, not just the medal winners – and all the competitors line up at the medal ceremony too. I still get a tingle thinking about those moments, they’re treasured memories which I would probably have never experienced had I been born in the UK instead of the Isle of Man.’

Alf continued to compete after the Games , representing Blackburn AC, ultimately switching to pentathlon as a veteran and retired at 41.

He is now head of PE at Kirkham Grammar Junior School near Preston. He helps to run a sports team exchange visit programme with Neil MacGregor, head of prep at The Buchan School. They began that programme when at different schools, but for a quarter of a century hundreds of rugby players from the north west of England and the Isle of Man have taken part – and it all began through connections made via the Commonwealth Games.

MacGregor was coach for the Island’s swimming team at those Games and is now a Team Isle of Man Ambassador.


Alf Oddie
Games memories: Ahead of Edinburgh, the News of the World poked fun at the rivalry between decathlon legend Daley Thompson and Alf Oddie, who enjoyed a Saturday night pint

Peter Callow: 'Brakes too hot to handle'

Peter Callow dominated Manx cycling on both road and track for several years in the 1960s and later moved to Ulverston in the Lake District where he continued his career in banking before becoming a bike shop proprietor. He now lives with his lovely wife Sue (nee Curtis) in the Malverns

Peter Callow

Showing the strain: An exhausted Peter Callow could not have given more in the 120-mile road race according to team manager Curwen Clague

Competing in the 1962 Games in Perth, Australia, was a much more ambitious adventure than in 1958, Peter recalls.

The air fares cost £500 each, a substantial amount in today’s terms, and value for money was an important factor and he and two of the other cyclists selected for the team, John Killip and Roger Kelly, were expected to mix track and road racing as well as help in the general fundraising efforts.

The fourth cyclist, Ron Killey, who went on to forge a remarkably enduring association with the Games as a CGAIoM official, was just picked just for the 120-mile road race.

Training continued beyond the normal end point for the November 5 departure and Curwen Clague, the general team manager, remarked on the flight to London that the bonfires burning below them reminded him of the Blitz.

Peter remembers: ‘Next day we met up with the rest of the UK teams to travel to Perth in two Boeing 727s. The journey took 24 hours with four hourly stops to take on fuel at Rome, Teheran, Delhi and Singapore.

‘We noticed large numbers of jet fighters on the runway in Delhi and were told they were ready for action against the Chinese as the two countries were in conflict. Consequently, India was not represented in Australia.

‘The Games village on the outskirts of Perth consisted of brand new bungalows, built 100 yards from a beautiful beach. The first few days were cold and wet, but the Aussies didn’t think about putting on a sweater!

‘The bungalow next to us housed the team from Aden, and on the first morning we heard a commotion outside and saw the whole team looking up at the clouds, soaking wet, not having seen rain in their lives.

‘The heat, however, struck a few days later when Roger Kelly, my room mate, and I headed into the country for a training run. It would be noon when the heat was so great you couldn’t touch any metal parts of the bike – and that meant the brakes!

‘We eventually collapsed in to a small holding where he rested until the temperature cooled. The woman of the house told us it was 100F – at which point her chickens started to faint.

‘From then on we trained in the early morning and we banned from playing in the surf after getting badly sunburned.

‘When the Games opened, Roger and I were training in the morning for the road race on the final day of the Games (December 1), resting in the afternoons and then racing on the outdoor velodrome under floodlights in the evenings.

‘I got through through the heats of the 4000m individual pursuit and was then knocked out by the eventual silver medal winner from Australia. The Aussies had specialists for each track discipline and we made 16 Aussie friends rather than just four.

‘The events filled the week for us and we eventually came to the 10-mile scratch race, which was dubbed “Ben Hur” after the numerous crashes that occurred.

‘I was brought off in the final lap and Roger came down too, a little further on.

‘Roger and I spent the night in hospital, being closely monitored for concussion. With little sleep we were discharged next morning and returned to our bungalow to clean and check our bikes (no mechanics then) for the road race next morning.

‘The road race consisted of lots of laps of a park, featuring a nasty little hill, which saw riders going off the back rather than escaping off the front. The bunch slowly got smaller with the Canadians, Scots, Welsh and two of the England team all dropped.

‘On the penultimate lap I drifted off the back of the remnants of the field with the British champion, Gethin Butler, which left a couple of Australians and New Zealanders, Ron Killey, big Jack Johnson, a well known sprinter, from Northern Ireland, and Wes Mason of England, a prolific winner and unbeaten that year, to fight it out.

‘On the final circuit the course diverted down a long straight to the finish. Johnson miscounted the laps and went to do another one, which left it open for Mason to take the gold.

‘Ron got sixth place and I came in absolutely exhausted short while later in 11th’.

20-mile walk
Stepping out: Ian Hodgkinson sandwiched between Roy Thorpe and 1974 20-mile walk winner John Warhurst, both England

Ian Hodgkinson: A career jinxed by illness

Ian Hodgkinson agony

Hard work: Ian Hodgkinson grimacing on his way to winning the State 3000m championship

Ian Hodgkinson certficate

Certified 1: Ian’s certificate detailing his victory in the 1968 Parish Walk

Ian Hodgkinson report

Certified 2: The Australian Commonwealth Games Association recognises Ian’s successful bid to represent his adopted home at the 1974 Games in Christchurch, NZ
One his way: A newspaper report records Ian’s chance for Games glory. But funds were short in the Hodgkinson home . . .

Twice blighted by illness prior to contesting the Commonwealth Games 20-mile walking event, Ian Hodgkinson is one of only two athletes to have competed for the Isle of Man and another country.

He first donned Manx colours at the Edinburgh Games in 1970 and then appeared for Australia four years later in Christchurch, New Zealand.

After running for the Island at the 1982 Games in Brisbane, accomplished 400m and 400m hurdles man Dave McCutcheon turned out for the native Scotland for years on in Edinburgh.

Hodgkinson, who got into athletics by tackling the likes of the TT Course Relay race and then the 85-mile Parish Walk, was the youngest winner of the race in 1969 and came under the welcome influence, as did many of the Island’s young, hopeful walking talents, of the legendary Albert Johnson.

Johnson, who twice represented Great Britain at the Olympics, came to the Island to work as a psychiatric nurse in the early 1960s and represented the IoM at the 1966 Games in Jamaica along with Phil Bannan and Hadyn Gawne, two of his protégés.

Ian arrived from Edinburgh as a youngster and lived at Baldrine. He was one of many who caught the walking craze that had swept the Island.

But coach Johnson reckoned the Parishes was for ‘old guys that had lost their speed’, but that didn’t deter Hodgkinson, then 21, becoming the youngest winner of the marathon event in 1969, a year ahead of the Games.

Hodgkinson recalls the run up to Edinburgh being one of ups and downs. ‘Firstly I never expected to go as the favourites were Allan Callow, John Cannell and Graham Young.

‘I came a distant fourth in the first trial behind Allan, John and Graham. In the second race, Douglas to Peel and back, it was the same order when we hit Peel. At the turn I decided to give it a go, thinking I could always pack in at St. John’s.

‘However I passed Graham and John and then went by Allan with two miles to go and earned selection.’

The Games were an anti-climax for Hodgkinson, who had begun a career in the insurance business after leaving school.

He had been feeling weak for a couple of weeks prior to departure and in the race he retired after just seven of the 20 miles. ‘I was in last place and completely shattered. I was taken to hospital and a test showed I was suffering from acute anaemia.’

Demoralised, it appeared to be the end of a short but successful walking career and with wife, Margaret (nee Edge), Ian emigrated to Perth, Western Australia, in May of the following year.

However a chance meeting with some race walkers at Perry Lake, site of the 1962 Commonwealth Games, led to a resurgence of interest in the sport and of representing the Island again at the 1974 Games in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The decision to compete again was rewarded with success after just 12 weeks training. At the Australian Olympic trials, Hodgkinson took part in the 20km and 50km selection events, finishing sixth in the former and fourth in the latter, only conceding the win in the final five kilometres.

Believing he could do even better Hodgkinson, who didn’t have a coach, devised a training regime and at the 1972 national 20km and 50km State championships, he finished third and first respectively, winning the longer event in four hours 23 minutes in pouring rain.

He was fully focused in 1973 and set a string of personal bests on both track and road, all State records. The Games trials were held in Canberra, a long journey away, and he struggled to finance the trip as he was building a home. The favourite was fellow ex-pat Peter Fullager with two others in with a shout and Hodgkinson being referred to as a ‘dark horse’.

Hodgkinson recalls: ‘The 20 mile race finished with Peter and I killing each other for 18 miles before he managed to draw away to win in 2.38.23 and I was timed at 2.39.50. Ross Heywood was third, six minutes behind, and all three of us were selected.

‘I had applied to represent the Isle of Man but unfortunately the Games council said, as I understood it, that they only wanted Manx residents.’

A strange decision given that several others selected for the Island at previous Games were not residents. It’s on record that the Australians asked for Hodgkinson’s ‘release’, and this was granted.

As the Games were being staged in February, Hodgkinson was forced to reconsider training in the extreme heat of the Western Australia summer, where temperatures can hit 45C.

So he trained at night, when it was cooler, and everything went well until he was struck down by glandular fever in early November. His mileage slipped on his return to the road in December, and he focused on speed work.

The furthest he walked was 10 miles, a factor that was to come back and haunt him.

In the race, held in the late afternoon, England stars John Warhurst and Roy Thorpe, now ironically coached by Albert Johnson, strode out strongly to lead the race with Hodgkinson moving up to join them at two miles.

His progress was halted for 20 seconds or so when he was forced to stop after a bout of dry retching, but he eventually regained the front two at four miles.

Hodgkinson remembers: ‘From there on they tried to break me but my speed work kept me in good stead for a while, but just before 10 miles I had to give best.

‘Warhurst dropped Thorpe and went on to win in 2.35.23. From the moment I was dropped it was a bit of a struggle for me and I regretted not maintaining my stamina work. My team-mate, Fullager passed me at 13 miles and went on to take the bronze medal.

‘Graham Young came by at about the 14 or 15 mile mark and finished fourth while I came home in fifth, six minutes away from my best time and with both heels badly blistered as I had borrowed marathon runner John Farrington’s shoes as mine had been stolen.

‘That’s not an excuse as I didn’t feel any pain from my feet, it was just lack of endurance work.’

Hodgkinson recalls a nice touch when Graham, who had lost out on a place in the Manx team to his now adversary, came up to him in the village canteen after the race, to shake hands.

Sadly, Hodgkinson’s career came to an end two years later when an experiment with weights went badly wrong and he displaced discs in his spine.

The Parish Walk still holds his interest, however. ‘I couldn’t compete in 1970, Games year, and then we emigrated, so I have always wondered that I would have done if I had come back in the 1970s.’

Ian Hodgkison
Ian Hodgkinson: During a 2016 visit to the Isle of Man, Ian met several of his local rivals