Obituary: Fife Olympian Donald MacGregor

Former Olympian, councillor, author and co-founder of Fife Athletic Club, Donald MacGregor, has died at the age of 80.

By Ron Morrison
Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 12:30 pm
Olympic runner Don MacGregor in the marathon vent at the Scottish Athletics Championships at Meadowbank stadium, Edinburgh, in June 1976
Olympic runner Don MacGregor in the marathon vent at the Scottish Athletics Championships at Meadowbank stadium, Edinburgh, in June 1976

He was a highly respected figure in north-east Fife who also competed on the highest stage in sport.

Prior to the 2016 Olympics, with his excellent seventh place in Munich in 1972, Don, as he was known to his friends, was the last male Scot to have run in an Olympic marathon.

To date only eight Scottish male athletes have run in an Olympic marathon.

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He competed in two Commonwealth Games, 1970 in Edinburgh (8th ) and Christchurch in 1974 (6th) where he set his best time of 2:14:15 – a time that still ranks him 13th in the Scottish all-time list.

During his career Don ran an impressive 51 marathons. 24 were under 2:20 and also included three gold and six silver marathon medals at the Scottish Championship.

He had a 21–year span (1965-1986) between his first and last Scottish medal.

He finished third in the 1967 AAA Championships where he was part of a medal clean sweep by the Scots of Jim Alder, Alastair Wood and Don Macgregor.

His reward was a first British vest at the Košice Marathon in Czechoslovakia in 1967 where he finished 11th in 2:24:54.

Further British vests would follow; in 1968 at the Karl–Marx–Stadt in the GDR where he finished fifth in 2:18:51, in 1969 again at Košice where this time he finished second in 2:17:33, in 1971 at the iconic Marathon to Athens, in 1972 at the Munich Olympic Games and then at Fukuoka – sixth in 2:16:42.4.

Don will always be remembered for his seventh place at the Munich Olympic Games. Going into the race he was ranked 35th out of the 77 entrants but everything other than a small Achilles niggle had gone well in preparation.

The altitude training in St Moritz, the Saltin carbohydrate loading diet and the race plan where he deployed his usual tactics of starting at a moderate pace hoping to finish fast.

He often said he was so pleased to finish in the top ten that he wanted to enjoy the euphoria of running around the last lap in front of the large crowd.

However, he also thought that his third place in the trial at the AAA Maxol was a better race in 2:15:06.

In 1979 and 1980 Don won World Masters’ M40 titles at 10,000m (Hanover - 30:04.2) and marathon (Glasgow – 2:19:23) and still holds Scottish M40 records at 5K, 10K and marathon.

In 1983 he won the first Dundee marathon at age 42 in a time of 2:17:24 that is still the fifth fastest M40 marathon in the UK.

While Don was a marathon specialist he was no slouch at other endurance events.

He had the fastest lap time in the 1970 McAndrew relay and who can forget him chasing down the Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion Lachie Stewart on the 1970 Edinburgh–Glasgow Relay in the titanic battle between Shettleston H and Edinburgh Southern H.

He was the Scottish 6 mile track champion in 1965 and the 10 mile track champion in 1966 and represented Scotland at the World Cross Country Championships in 1967 and 1969.

Most bizarrely in an attempt on the world two-hour track record held by Jim Alder at Pitreavie Stadium, Dunfermline on Saturday, December 12 1970, Don broke a world record for 35K at the intermediate point but just missed the two–hour mark.

It is a rarely run distance but a world record is a world record.

At the end of his international career Don looked for places that he could contribute to the community.

The time was ripe for an athletic club in North East Fife and Don, by then the St Andrews club treasurer, took a healthy interest in uniting the St Andrews club with the well–established Cupar AC and a group at the Glenrothes Institute to form Fife AC in 1975.

The new Fife AC got off to a good start when other athletes in the local area saw that Don would be a competing member, transferred to the new club on its inception.

Don also had an interest in national bodies.

He was elected President of the Scottish Cross Country Union for season 1980-1 and served for many years discussing the organisation of the sport, training methods and races.

Known as an excellent orator Don was the main guest speaker at the SCCU Centenary dinner in 1989.

Outside athletics Don served as a local councillor for 20 years, was chair of the St Andrews Community Council and served on the St Andrews Links Trust as a Trustee.