Great days at the Thornton Games, with hopefully many more to come

Sir George Sharp presents 1984 200 metres winner Joe Baird with his prizeSir George Sharp presents 1984 200 metres winner Joe Baird with his prize
Sir George Sharp presents 1984 200 metres winner Joe Baird with his prize
The town of Thornton should have been celebrating its 167th Highland Gathering this Saturday.

Sadly, similar to every other games on the summer circuit, it has been cancelled owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The annual event can boast a long and illustrious history.

Prior to the Second World War, the town, with its excellent rail connections to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and the Fife mining villages, was said to have attracted crowds of up to 50,000.

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Cycling in the 40sCycling in the 40s
Cycling in the 40s

Olympians and Commonwealth Games competitors have all graced the green grass of Memorial Park.

In the running events, American superstar Barney Ewell, who won a gold and two silver medals at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, as well as top British miler Alan Simpson of Rotherham, who finished fourth in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was a silver medalist at the 1966 Kingston Commonwealth Games, both turned in impressive and notable performances at Thornton.

Running from the scratch mark, Ewell gave starts to all his rivals as he powered to victory in the 100 yards handicap while, in 1968, Simpson won the two miles handicap from scratch with his time of 9 minutes and 4 seconds still a professional grass track record to this day.

Over the years nearly all of Scotland’s top athletes have competed at Thornton, including the town’s own professional champion Ian Whyte, a great supporter of his local games and Chieftain in 2019.

Pony trotting in the 80sPony trotting in the 80s
Pony trotting in the 80s

Ian sadly passed away earlier this year.

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Laura Muir, arguably Scotland’s greatest ever female athlete, won the youth 1600 metres at Thornton in 2007.

The Olympian list also includes a couple of great heavy events competitors Geoff Capes and Arthur Rowe, the latter competed in the Rome Olympics with Capes representing GB at Munich, Montreal and Moscow.

Both won gold medals in the shot putt at Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Christchurch and Edmonton.

Scotland’s top strongmen, the likes of Bill and Grant Anderson, Hamish Davidson and Gregor Edmunds have all thrown the hammer and tossed the caber at Thornton.

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All the great grass track fixed wheel bikers have pedalled their way around the undulating Memorial Park circuit, from the likes of Sandy Herd, Bert, Jimmy and Stewart Duff, Jock and Craig Hardie through to present day champions Evan Oliphant and Charles Fletcher.

Oliphant represented Scotland in Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Delhi and Glasgow.

Top female biker Eileen Roe, who biked for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Glasgow and Gold Coast has also participated at Thornton. A track event which is no longer held at any of Scotland’s games was once staged regularly at Thornton.

Pony Trotting is now extinct to the Highland games circuit but was once a popular event.

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Always held at the close of each games, the races were time handicapped by seconds, if you went away before your time or broke into a gallop during the race you would be disqualified. In those days there was always bookmakers in attendance, and as well as the trotting you could also place a bet in the running and cycling events.

Written by Shane Fenton.

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