I was 14 when I broke the 100m sprint world record by sprinting home in 9.5 seconds. I could have run faster. Conditions were tricky. We didn’t have a running track at our school so all sprints had to take place on the road in front of the school gates. A teacher would stand at the end of the road and stop the traffic to give us a minute to run clear before angry drivers would start to beep their horns.
Also, I was wearing Adidas Sambas, which were perfect for playing five a side football but had, as far as I know, never been Carl Lewis’s first choice to contest the Olympics. In fact, they wouldn’t have been his second or third choice either given he was a professional athlete with access to global brands and I needed a pair of trainers that would last from birthday to Christmas because I only had one pair of shoes. Sambas were versatile. (And smelly).
I must admit it was also windy. And wet. But this was Stornoway in the Western Isles and every day is windy and wet. But that only makes us run faster because everyone knows the cure to pneumonia is to outrun it.
Unfortunately, even with these impediments, and while I broke the Olympic record, I didn’t break our school record. That stood at 9.1 seconds and had been set about 10 metres earlier because I wasn’t the first to finish that day. I wasn’t even in the top three. I was sixth. I can only guess this is how Venus Williams must feel when she looks at her trophy cabinet, one of the most decorated in tennis, and then pops round to see her sister, Serena.
I was happy though. It’s not every day you beat the world record. Unless you’re Adam Peaty swimming the 200m breastroke and every time you break the world record is every time you go for a swim. Just imagine how fast he could be if learned how to swim the crawl?!?
Unfortunately, my record didn’t last long. A formal enquiry was launched, which is an elaborate way of saying Mr Dunlop, our PE teacher, scratched his head and said “This ain’t right!”
You’d have thought he was pleased, finding a generation of natural sprinters. But he called over our two fastest runners and asked them to run again, which they did, after we stopped the 44 bus and created a tailback all the way back to the Stornoway harbour.
They lined up. Standing start, none of the blocks nonsense that the professional use. How can you run faster if you have to get up first? If you’re already standing then you’re clearly going to have an advantage over someone kneeling down!
He blew his whistle and – they smashed it. 8.9 seconds. We were witnessing history. Some people say it’ll be another hunded years and at least four generations of evolution for mankind to ever run so fast – we did it twice in five minutes.
“Well, it’s not my stopwatch.” Said Mr Dunlop.
“Maybe, we’re just really fast.” I suggested.
He took one look at my Adidas Sambas and track bottoms – as I’d forgotten to bring shorts. Also I still had my glasses on because otherwise I’d never have managed to run in a straight line. And he knew that I knew that I had never shown any athletic ability what’s so ever and could only say:
“Right, either we’ve got a generation of Ben Johnson’s or one of you wee b******ds didn’t measure the course out correctly. Who’s got the metre stick.”
And with that grabbed the metre stick and meticulously laid it end to end 100 times along the road – only stopping four times to avoid being run over by passing traffic.
He came back.
“It’s only 80m – you can all run again!”
And that’s how I lost the world record after just five minutes. It turned out I never had it in the first place. But, for five minutes, I was ever so briefly, the fastest man on the planet, except for the five ahead of me, but they cheated so they don’t count.