Les Wilson has used the week of his fond reunion with Bobby Gould to talk of his sadness at the death of Sir Roger Bannister.
Wilson was not only a spectator in Vancouver’s Empire Stadium when the legendary doctor competed there in the ‘Miracle Mile’ at the 1954 Commonwealth Games but helped host him in the same city nearly 30 years later.
And he has contacted Wolves Heroes to share his fascinating memories of the man who transformed middle-distance athletics.
“As newly arrived immigrants from Manchester, England, we watched the 1954 race here and, more importantly, I was inspired by the battle between Roger and the Australian, John Landy,” Wilson wrote.
“These were brilliant athletes and made me realise that anything is possible. Winning is not everything but wanting to win is and motivation determines what one does.”
Les was seven when taken by his father to watch what some then knew as the Empire Games. Exactly two weeks before Wolves set out on the defence of their first League Championship title, Bannister and Landy fought out an epic 1,500m final on a warm, sunny day on which both broke the four-minute barrier.
Bannister’s famous finishing kick saw him home comfortably from a man who had in the meantime used a meeting in Finland to take the world record the Englishman had famously set when clocking a ground-breaking 3min 59.4sec in a race at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford.
Wilson speaks of the dramatic moment the Aussie, while leading, looked over his left shoulder to check on his rival, who instead hared past on his right. The scene is immortalised in a bronze statue that was erected outside the stadium in 1967 while Ronnie Allen’s Wolves were winning a marathon end-of-season tournament staged in America and Canada.
“In 1962, when I was the junior half mile champion before over 24,000 at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, I remembered the lesson of coming around the same final curve with a lead, like John Landy had over Sir Roger,” he added. “I did not look back over my shoulder – I looked straight at the finishing line tape. As a young boy it was a great lesson learned: do not look back.
“John Landy was and is a wonderful man and I have the greatest of respect for Sir Roger Bannister. He was a true amateur and global legend, who broke a mental and physical barrier in paving the way for others at the highest of levels of international athletics. It was one of the sporting achievements of the 20th century when he ran the mile in just under four minutes.”
Wilson had made huge imprints of his own in the sporting world when his path once more crossed with those of the gold and silver medal winners from Vancouver – and the distant third-place finisher, Canadian Rich Ferguson.
He was well into his long career on and off the field with the Whitecaps when Bannister, Landy and Ferguson returned to the scene of the ‘Miracle Mile’ just before the Empire Stadium was demolished in the summer of 1983.
“I picked them up at Vancouver Airport and all three got on like a house a fire,” he said. “For me to be able to assist the British Columbia Provincial Government in looking after my boyhood heroes was so nice.
“I was able to show them the modern site of Vancouver and talk to them in the flesh. It was, indeed, very special.”
Among Les’s proud possession is a letter from Landy, dated June 20, 1983, expressing gratitude at the hosting job he had done on behalf of the city.
Those same hospitality skills are currently being enjoyed by Bobby Gould and his wife as they have a few days in Vancouver on their way home from a long winter break in New Zealand.