Robbie Brightwell: Memories of a sensational finish by county's running star

For the first 440 yards there was nothing to suggest the drama to come.

Robbie Brightwell takes the tape in his sensational win at the White City Stadium.
Robbie Brightwell takes the tape in his sensational win at the White City Stadium.

Robbie Brightwell was seeming to amble along, and when John Boulter made his break on the bell, there was no response from Shropshire's greatest ever runner.

With 300 yards to go Brightwell looked a beaten man, and a renewed burst just 200 yards from the tape looked forlorn.

The runners jockey for position early in the race – Robbie is number 40, and Boulter is number 7.

The Shrewsbury Chronicle takes up what happened next, with its (unnamed) sports editor's account.

"Sprinting like a 100 yarder, he inched closer and closer to Boulter, the strain showing on his face as he pulled back the lead to a matter of feet, then inches, and then almost unbelievably surged past him and breasted the tape.

"In this, only his second 880 yard race, Robbie put up a time of 1 minute 48.1 seconds, the fastest in the world this year."

Robbie Brightwell takes the tape in his sensational win at the White City Stadium.

It was, he said, one of the most exciting finishes ever witnessed at London's White City Stadium, in a race watched by millions of television viewers.

That event involving Brightwell, who died on March 6, was on Whit Monday, May 18, 1964, and has lived long in the memory of Shropshire athletics historian and author David Morgan, from Church Stretton.

"It was with great sadness I heard of the death of Robbie Brightwell, Shropshire's greatest ever Olympian," said David.

"Robbie Brightwell was an inspiration to me. There was only one Robbie Brightwell, Rest in peace, dear friend."

David said that during his athletic career Brightwell ran for Shropshire in the inter-counties British Games every Whitsun at the White City Stadium, an event sponsored by the News of the World.

"I made my debut for Shropshire in May 1964, my event being the 3,000 metre steeplechase," said David.

"It was Robbie's last championship before the Tokyo Olympics. He had been inter-counties champion at 400 metres several times. This time he was running the 800 metres, an event with heats he had never run before.

"There were names such as John Boulter, a GB international at 800 metres, policeman Chris Carter, a seasoned 800m international, and Mike Dean of Staffordshire, who was also a top international.

"Brightwell destroyed the field of eight and won. Ann Packer, his girlfriend – they married in December 1964 – won the gold medal in the 800m, an event she had never run before. If Robbie had run the 800m in the Olympics instead of competing in the 400m I think he would have won a medal."

Robbie came fourth in the 400m at Tokyo, but did win a silver as part of the 4x400m men's relay team.

Returning to the White City event, David says: "That day in May 1964, Mike Parker won the 110m hurdles. He was from Market Drayton and studying at Cambridge."

Parker – a contemporary newspaper report actually described him as being from Bridgnorth – set up a championship best performance in his heat of 14.2 seconds, going on to beat the 1963 winner, Laurie Taitt, in the final with a time of 14.3 seconds.

David, who himself ran a personal best in his event, says Shropshire won the Minor Counties title at the games.

And David, who is working on a new book called A History of Shropshire Athletics, added that Robbie's 400m record for the county still stands to this day.

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