1968. Olympic year. MEXICO CITY. The games of the nineteenth Olympiad.
Situated at over 7000 feet , Mexico City was awarded the games in 1963 and but initially little significance was given to the effect the height of the venue would have on endurance events.
But as the nations prepared, there came a realisation that those living at altitude would have an advantage over those living and training at sea level. Physiological investigations were undertaken with regard to acclimatising competitors. The rather unsatisfactory compromise was a short period of high altitude training , 4 weeks, before the games!
I turned 19 on Jan 2 and already there was talk about how tough it would be for distance runners at altitude come October. But we weren't really aware just how times and performances of existing "stars" would be compromised. However, my aims would be a somewhat more humble, lower level.
There would be some unfinished business as a junior and then trying to cope with the transition to senior competition. By the spring I would be lining up with local internationals, who just 4 or 5 years ago when I began, I watched compete when my race had been done and I looked on with admiration at the exploits of Lancashire stars like Ron Hill and Mike Freary.
My season on the country finished with a very pleasing 9th in the Northern Junior Mens Cross country championships helping SALE H. win the team award; just seconds behind several runners who would go on to represent England. But significantly, I missed the National with a "chest infection".
Switching to the road I was selected to run with the senior team in the Northern Road relay Champs and we managed to medal with a 3rd place behind Derby and Bolton. But the real test would come on Good Friday, the SALFORD HARRIERS 7.5 MILE road race. My first race with senior athletes.
As we lined up I looked along the line and seemed to see nothing but English internationals. Ron Hill, Colin Robinson, Alan Blinstone, Steve Edmunds, John Calvert. Plus a whole host of other Sale teammates.
I saw little of Hill etc but did manage a very pleasing 18th running 37.39.
The next day many including myself turned out again in what I expected to be my first fell race. THE RIVINGTON PIKE FELL RACE from Horwich. It turned out to be a fast combination of road and trail which seemed to suit me as I managed 4th behind Olympians Alan Blinstone, Jeff Norman and Ron McAndrew. Things were certainly coming together.
On the track I continued to concentrate largely on the steeplechase where I had finished 3rd in the National Juniors the year before. Stepping up to 3000 metres went well with a 3rd in the Lancashire Senior event and a 9:13 clocking for 2 miles was also pleasing in June of this year.
But the diary shows frequent references to back pain in the spring and early summer and matters came to a head on Tuesday June 25th. Setting off from work to run home as I so often did the diary tells of..
"back and chest pains, turned back".
I visited the doctors on the Thursday and was told that I was or had been "near to pneumonia"
For the rest of the summer I continued to run but the discomfort would simply reoccur.
Eventully on September 10th having failed to run a mile, we returned once more to the doctors and we more or less had to demand an x-ray. Late that afternoon, the x-ray revealed that my left lung had completely collapsed! I never returned home; I was taken immediately to another hospital where they put a tube through my left chest to take air from above the lung so that it could reinflate.
I was still in hospital when the MEXICO CITY games began . But by the time the athletics started I was allowed out of bed. I was very keen of course to watch the 3000 metre steeplechase final, particularly as some of the times being recorded weren't much faster than those I'd been doing! The altitude was taking its toll.
The only problem was the race would take place around midnight! I had to enlist the cooperation of the night nurse who kindly agreed to wheel the small (black and white) TV into the corner of the ward. She pulled the screens around and we would watch the race together, without sound of course.
It was a KENYAN 1-2 for AMOS BIWOTT and BEN KOGO IN 8:51, 21 seconds slower than in 1964 and 30 seconds slower than in '72. The Kenyans had arrived.
But sadly for me Olympic year 1968 was a traumatic one. A year which started so well but came to a depressing halt in June. I spent 6 weeks in Monsall Hospital in Manchester; 6 weeks being fought over by a physician who wanted the lung to reinflate his way and a surgeon who wanted to cut me up.
The surgeon would eventually get his way.....the following year. There was more trauma to come.