Athletics: When gold medallist Tom McKean was left feeling as naked as a couple of hotel guests

MIKE ROWBOTTOM ON THE TORONTO SKYDOME LIFT
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The Independent Online
They were at it again in the Toronto SkyDome recently. Ever since an enamoured couple availed themselves of the facilities in one of the stadium's inward looking hotel rooms four years ago - temporarily diverting the interest of several thousand Toronto Blue Jays fans and a number of the players - the management had issued warnings.

Be aware, they say, that if you book certain rooms you will be on public view unless you close the curtains. Even the dimmest of exhibitionists couldn't fail to see the possibilities of that scenario: earlier this year another goggle-eyed gathering got the benefit of some heaving flesh.

It can't be long before the cameras are picking up discreet sponsorship logos on the buttocks.

What once was extraordinary has become almost routine. Seen one pair of SkyDome bonkers, seen them all.

No one, however, is likely to match Tom McKean's performance in the Toronto SkyDome at the 1993 World Indoor Athletics Championship.

All his clothes remained on: he just felt naked.

Tom McKean. He was an athlete of great talents, but unfortunately for him, one was for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even his arrival on the British middle-distance scene was compounded by a hint of misjudgement when he had to settle for silver at the 1986 European Championships after being beaten on his blind side by Seb Coe - "This little shit" as McKean referred to him only half humourously when he spoke to the television people at track-side.

A year later the Glaswegian, who had spent his early years as a labourer, was given a working over by the tabloids, who labelled him McFlop after his tactically inept display in the World Championship final.

There was more of the same for this genial man in 1991, when, seemingly assured of the second qualifying place in the opening round of the World Championships, he slowed to a virtual standstill - "Save it, Tommy, save it" - and was put out by another runner who beat him to the line. "Oh Christ! Oh no!"

Let's be fair here. Tommy sometimes got it right. In 1990 he won the European 800 metres titles both indoors and out. And in 1993 within the vast enclosure of the SkyDome, he became world indoor champion.

It was to be his last major victory, but he will never be able to look back upon it with untrammelled joy.

I had forgotten about what happened in the aftermath of that race until I revisited the SkyDome earlier this year for the anticlimatic spring challenge between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson.

To travel between the floor of the arena and the viewing galleries above you have to take the lift. And as I waited with growing impatience to go down and see what either man had to say for himself afterwards, I remembered how I had suffered similar frustration during my visit in 1993.

The earth is round. Swallows migrate. And the Toronto SkyDome lifts are desperately, inexplicably slow.

It so happened that I was sharing my phone four years ago with an esteemed colleague from Glasgow's Herald newspaper. He, not surprisingly, had established a good working relationship with his city's foremost international athlete. So when McKean wanted to pass on the good news of his win to his coach and family back home, it seemed only natural that he should pop up to the press box to avail himself of the facility.

I tried not to eavesdrop as he sat beside me. No, I didn't.

He was clearly emotional as he talked to his wife. "Aye.. it's great.. aye.. is she there? Put her on..."

My friend's voice intruded briefly. "Tom... I think they're getting ready for the ceremony..."

He acknowledged the information, and bent his head once more to the phone.

Now he was speaking with quiet intensity to his coach, Tommy Boyle. "Aye... I know... but I didn't, did I?"

My friend called out again. "Tom." McKean nodded and continued.

"Aye... thank you... thanks... thank you for everything."

There was clearly activity below involving men in blazers and shapely young medal bearers.

"Tom! Tom! You've got to go now! Look!"

Television caught the drama well. As the national anthem boomed out, the Union flag rose over a podium with a significant absence. Only when the final bars were echoing through the SkyDome did a pale, track-suited figure scamper into the arena. "Oh Christ! Oh no!"

I looked at the phone in front of me - inert, innocent. There would have been a lung-bursting spring along the brightly lit, carpet-tiled corridor. Then the lift. The doors. The static indicator. The doors. It didn't bear thinking about.

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