14th October 2014

Fond Memories Of Tokyo For Rand

14 October 2014 

On the 14 October 1964, Mary Rand wrote herself into athletics folklore by becoming the first ever British woman to win an Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games.

50 years on, Rand, now based in Atascadero, USA is retracing her footsteps of the moment when she made her way into the history books at the National Olympic Stadium. It was the long jump gold that catapulted Rand into one of the most celebrated athletes in British Athletics’ history.

Commenting on that memorable day, Rand reminisces: “At that point I thought to myself you’ve done the training and I had four years before where I went to Rome. In Tokyo, I was a little more mature and I had a fantastic coach in John Le Mas (Masurier), who has just recently passed away aged 97.

“John was an amazing coach and good for me and we had good relationships. He was kind of worried about the same thing happening like it did in Rome (Rand finished ninth in the long jump). I said don’t worry John, everybody is out there doing their thing and I was well prepared. I remember vividly that it was raining that morning, which wasn’t ideal, but it’s the same for every competitor. We’re all against the odds and we just hoped that we could do the best we can.”

24 at the time, the Wells-born athlete needed just one jump to qualify for the final and in jumping 6.52m; she secured herself an Olympic record. However, there was more to come in the final. In her series of six jumps, Rand broke the Olympic record five times and on her fifth round broke Tatana Shchelkanova’s three-year reign as world record holder by jumping 6.76m. With an Olympic gold medal around her neck, Olympic records and a world record, the disappointment of Rome was quickly erased and replaced with elation. 

Rand said: “I didn’t really go out there with the mind-set that I’ve got this won because I was afraid that if I got a bit too cocky it would play against me. I can remember thinking to myself I’ve done all the training and if I could get in the final six that would be amazing. That’s what I thought and when I got in the final six, I thought maybe I could get in the top three. I never imagined that I would be Olympic champion so it was wonderful for me because four years before that, my coach and parents were disappointed. It wasn’t that they were disappointed, but disappointed for me because I had trained so hard.”

“I also took the world record 22 feet 2 1/4 inches (6.76m) and not only that, out of my six final jumps, I broke the Olympic record five times. I was a bit naïve – they were putting it on the scoreboard in metres, and we didn’t work in those measurements, so I couldn’t convert it. Even when I jumped the world record, I didn’t realise how far it was until I looked back at the programme. I thought, there’s got to be a mistake – it seems a bit corny, but I thought there’s no way I could have done that. The funny thing about the whole jump when I looked back at it is that it felt so easy. The run up was good, the take-off was right on the board – I didn’t give an inch. It was perfect technically so all the training paid off and I got rewarded in the end. I made my mum, dad and coach happy and that was the most important thing to me.”   

One thing that sticks in the memory from Tokyo is the team spirit in the British camp, the sort of spirit that saw the team win four gold medals and 12 overall. Rand, now 74 described how her medal (she later won pentathlon silver and 4x100m bronze) on the first day set the ball rolling and contributed to the success that followed in the Japanese capital. 

“The nice thing about our era is that we had such good camaraderie. That’s the nice thing about today, to be able to something you absolutely love and make a living out of it at the same time. It was more challenging back then – you had to work and have a company behind you that would give you time off with pay. I worked in the post room for Guinness for a while and the reason was that they’d do just that,” added Rand, who won Commonwealth long jump gold four years later in Kingston, Jamaica.

“When I won, which I didn’t realise at the time, there was such a feeling with in the team ‘if Mary can do it, we can do it.’ It inspired them to go out there and realise that we were from a relatively small country, but it could happen. Lynn won, Ann won and the reception we got when we came back to England was something else. We went to Buckingham Palace, which was rare in those days, but we had that feeling of being a true family.”

Rand’s  achievements on the opening day of the athletics in Tokyo would see her placed in the top 40 in this year’s long jump world rankings and is in no doubt that she would have been a competitive force now with the considerable improvements over the last half century.

“I thoroughly believe I could have gone further, but it’s easy to say when you’re retired. I went to Osaka pretty much straight after and I jumped pretty well there, but sometimes when you win like I did at the Games, it’s harder to repeat it.

“We were jumping off cinders and now they’ve got this synthetic run up which makes a big difference. You don’t have any slippage so I had to dig my feet in on the runway during my jumps. Today, they’ve got little tiny spikes to our long spikes and you’ve got a better run when you’ve got a solid surface like they have now. Athletes have got so many different shoes and equipment and sometimes I have friends ringing saying you could have been in that competition today. When I think about it, not just because it’s me, it is remarkable that in 50 years, you’re still competitive.”

Five decades have now passed since her greatest achievement in track and field, but how would Rand like her career to be remembered?

“I hope I’m remembered as someone who always gave it their all when competing. I did the best I could and loved doing what I did. I’m just very proud to win an Olympic gold and be the first woman to win one for Great Britain.”