Athletics: Wells warms to golden oldie day

Simon Turnbull speaks to a great Scot aiming to roll back the years
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The Independent Online
WHEN THE organisers of the Bupa indoor grand prix meeting promised to have the Flying Scotsman on the track at the National Indoor Arena next Sunday they did not exactly have the fastest ever Caledonian in mind.

Doug Walker, the new model Flying Scot, was planning to test himself over 400m in Britain's showpiece winter event until he was overtaken by the more pressing matter of the positive drugs test he is fighting to overcome. In the absence of the European 200m champion, the saltire will be kept flying in Birmingham by the Scotsman who has touched the highest speeds. At the age of 46, Allan Wells is getting ready to roll again.

"All the pieces are still there," he reported after a midweek trial run. "It's just that they're not fitting together as well as they used to." It remains to be seen whether the challenge of the 1980 Olympic 100m champion falls apart in the "golden oldies" 60m race next Sunday. He will be carrying a long-term leg injury as well as the handicap of being by far the oldest of the one-time golden boys who have been coaxed out of retirement for the day.

"I wouldn't mind a one-yard advantage for every year they've got on me," Wells said, referring to his relatively youthful rivals, Daley Thompson (40), Kriss Akabussi (40), Todd Bennett (36), Brian Whittle (34) and Derek Redmond (33). "I'd take an inch for every year even. Anything. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be alright and that I'll do justice to the race. I wouldn't like people to be left thinking, `Christ! That wasn't worth watching? What was the point of that?'

"They're talking about having some more races in the summer and I don't mind doing this as an experiment to see if it works. I haven't trained as much as I would have liked for it. But at 46 I think I'm doing all right. I feel alright. There's no power there but I'm running fast. Well, I feel as though I'm running fast. We'll have to see. I'll give it a go, anyway."

It is over a decade now since Wells last gave it a go on the track. He has not raced since the McVitie's invitation meeting at Crystal Palace on 28 August 1988. He finished sixth in the 100m in 10.61sec that day, exactly half-a-second slower than his best time for the distance. That was recorded en route to his Olympic gold in Moscow 1980, in the second round. Wells' 10.11sec still stands as a Scottish record. So does the 20.21sec he clocked as the 200m silver medal winner behind Pietro Mennea in Moscow. Doug Walker may be the reigning 200m champion of Europe but, with a best of 20.35sec, he is not the fastest 200m runner from Edinburgh.

It was after adopting the training methods used by the professional sprint groups in his home city, including the use of a boxing speedball, that Wells broke through as a world-class sprinter in 1978. Walker has emerged directly from the professional scene in the Scottish capital, though for the time being he has been submerged by the fight to clear his name after testing positive for an as yet unconfirmed banned substance.

"Let's just wait and see what happens," Wells said. "All we know at the moment is that there is a positive test. Everything else has been played close to the chest. Let's see what the committee looking into the matter decides. I'll be honest, though. I do hope Doug is exonerated. I hope everything works out all right for him."

Wells will watch developments unfold from the southern side of Hadrian's Wall. Since 1982, he has lived in Surrey with his wife, Margot, the inspiration behind his distinguished life in the fast lane and a former international sprinter herself. They live in Guildford with their two children, Zoe, 14 and Simon, 11. Allan works as a systems engineer at Surrey University and also helps his wife run a fitness consultancy.

"Margot deals with it mostly," he said. "We've worked with the Lawn Tennis Association, with London Scottish rugby club and with the Parachute Regiment's bobsleigh team. We've helped golfers, badminton players, fencers and international rugby players. We've always had positive results. I'll be interested to see if the training we're putting into place for other people has been a good thing for me."

It would be expecting too much, though, for Wells to hit the comeback trail in quite the spectacular fashion he did in 1986. Two years after the Los Angeles Olympics, he returned to international competition with a stunning victory against the newly crowned Commonwealth 100m champion, Ben Johnson, at Gateshead. He did so in trail-blazing fashion, too, wearing thigh-length cycling shorts. Lycra has since become de rigueur in the track and field arena but at the time Wells cut a strikingly different figure. Garbed in all black, he was described as "Wilson of the Wizard" come to life.

"I've still got those shorts, actually," Wells said. "You never know. I might just get them out to wear next week." Then we will know if the 46-year-old golden oldie is a William Wilson after all - or simply just the fastest ever Flying Scotsman.