With the Olympic flame having recently passed through Scotland and the games themselves set to begin shortly, it is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect a little on Edinburgh’s sporting history. Among the many kinds of sport that the capital’s citizenry have enjoyed during bygone eras, athletics has played a significant role.
All eyes will undoubtedly be on Usain Bolt in London next month as he sets out to retain his Olympic 100 metre title but many of us will recall with pride and great pleasure the similar success of Edinburgh’s own Allan Wells who took the gold medal for this event in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, becoming the first Briton to win the event for over half a century.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that Allan began his amateur sporting career as a member of the Edinburgh Southern Harriers, one of three ‘Harriers’ clubs established in the later 19th century which opened up athletics, formerly a pastime of those educated in fee-paying schools and universities, to the wider working class of the city. The Southern Harriers were formed in 1897.
The surviving records of the Southern Harriers were gifted to ECA in 1999 just a few years after their amalgamation with the Edinburgh Athletic Club and they contain some interesting reading and fascinating images. The one reproduced to the left here is a photograph taken just the year before the club, together with its friendly, City rivals – the Edinburgh Northern Harriers – staged an inter athletic club competition as part of the Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1908. With a break of only seven years between 1914-1921 as a result of WW1, this sporting competition continued and grew to involve other athletic clubs within the capital until beyond the middle of the 20th century.
As noted above, the Southern Harriers amalgamated with the Edinburgh Athletic Club in 1996 but had flourished and helped develop the prowess of many of its aspiring members over the preceding decades. To return briefly to Allan Wells, the club records show that he was consistently recording times of around 11.0 seconds for the 100 metres in the early 1970s as the image here, taken from the results of 1972, illustrates. Within 8 years, as the Olympic record books show, Allan had not only taken the gold medal in the event winning the final in 10.25 seconds but had previously run a personal best of 10.11 in the qualifying heats .
If other Edinburgh sporting clubs hold historical records which they would like to see preserved for future generations please feel free to contact us in Edinburgh City Archives.