Jock Anderson was schooled as a sprinter in the secretive world of the professional handicap racing circuit that once thrived and still survives today in the Scottish Lowlands and Borders. Runners would go to Le Carré-style lengths to conceal their true form from rivals and from the eyes of the dreaded handicapper.
Some wore balaclavas or masks when they trained. Others hacked clearings in woodland areas to practise in absolute privacy. Findlay Scott dyed his hair ginger and trained at a disused dog track lest information of his burgeoning speed should leak out from deepest Ayrshire ahead of the big New Year Sprint race in Edinburgh in 1954. He won £15,000 for his backers as a surprise 33-1 winner on the old Powderhall track.
"There was a lot of that going on at the time I was running," Anderson reflected. "But I didn't go in for any of it." It is deeply ironic, nevertheless, that someone from that world of high-speed intrigue – someone, indeed, who finished runner-up in the New Year Sprint of 1961 – should be training the two leading contenders for the 200m title at the European Indoor Championships, which open in Vienna on Friday morning.
Christian Malcolm and Doug Turner know everything there is to know about each other's form. For the past three months they have been training side-by-side – in the shelter of the Welsh National Indoor Athletics Centre in Cardiff, in the warmth of Lanzarote and exposed to the elements on their home track, Newport Stadium.
The pair are ranked one and two in Europe this year, Malcolm having clocked 20.58sec and Turner 20.59sec behind the American Shawn Crawford in the Norwich Union Indoor Grand Prix meeting in Birmingham last Sunday. Barring accidents and a sudden loss of form, the race for gold in the Dusika Stadium, by the banks of the Danube, is likely to be a straight battle between Jock's boys – both Newport men and members of Cardiff Amateur Athletic Club.
"I've not put a lot of thought into the situation," Anderson maintained as he prepared for a midweek speed session at the Cardiff indoor track. "It's just the best one wins, isn't it? If Christian's good enough he wins it. If Doug's good enough he wins it. I'm not getting overexcited about it. The pair of them will run well. It's just whoever's the best wins it."
Such pragmatism is perhaps only to be expected of a son of Hawick, where a spade has never been known as a digging implement and where they breed their rugby men on the granite side of hard. In his sprinting youth Anderson was a flying wing-three- quarter in a Hawick first XV that included the legendary Scottish international prop of whom a brash young opponent ironically enquired at the start of one game: "I wonder what lesson we'll learn from the great Hugh McLeod today?" At the first scrum McLeod stood on his hand and said: "Here endeth the first lesson, sonny."
Anderson is much too affable a fellow to hand out such painful lessons but he knows how to teach his track pupils to run fast. Now 65, he moved to South Wales to work as a plumber at the Llanwern steel plant. He started coaching when he took his son to join Newport Harriers and has moulded Malcolm from a raw talent of a 13-year-old into one of the world's leading 200m men.
At 22, Malcolm has won a Commonwealth silver medal, a world indoor championship silver and the European indoor title he defends in Vienna against the training partner he faces in an intriguing form pointer in Lievin this afternoon. It says much for Anderson's coaching that Turner has rejoined his group this winter, while at the same time being guided by another sprint trainer, Gwyn Williams. "Gwyn is coaching Doug," Anderson said, "but we're both working with him together. I was Doug's coach. We kind of fell out a couple of years ago, but he's back in the fold now."
There was a time when Turner was temporarily out of the track and field fold, serving a three-month ban after testing positive for ephedrine, a minor stimulant. He recovered from that early setback in his sprinting career, though, to beat Michael Johnson in what proved to be the American's last race in Britain, at Crystal Palace in 1997. He also took the 200m silver medal behind Doug Walker at the European championships in Budapest in 1998.
"I think he's running better now than he was then," Anderson ventured, "but he's such a big bloke it depends which lane he gets when he races indoors. He doesn't like the tight inside lanes."
Malcolm has no great fondness for the inside lanes either but he has a more suitable frame to cope with them. With his slender, featherlight build, his smooth sprinting style could hardly contrast more sharply with the steamroller subtlety of the charging powerhouse Turner happens to be. "They're different altogether," Anderson said. "Christian is a completely different type of bloke. He's so laid-back it does my head in but he's just a nice kid basically."
He is that – and a nice kid notorious for turning up late to training or to other engagements and for arriving at the wrong hotels to meet up with the British team. The scatterbrained Malcolm even found himself in front of Abergavenny magistrates last Wednesday for nothing more serious than failing to produce his motoring documents on time after a routine police check – and for subsequently handing over his insurance schedule rather than his insurance certificate. There is the one place, though, that he tends to arrive on time: the finish line on the track.
Whether Malcolm gets there in Vienna ahead of his training partner remains to be seen – by an expectant audience that will include the sprint guru who is guiding them both. "I wouldn't like to say who I think will win," Jock Anderson said. "Just whoever's the best on the day."
New Britons on the blocks in Vienna
Akinola Lashore (60m sprint)
Britain's third man in the 60m at the European Indoor Championships in Vienna, Akinola Lashore has not followed the conventional route into the fast lane of international sprinting. Unlike Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis, who both emerged through the junior ranks, the 28-year-old Blackheath Harrier was discovered pogoing in a London discotheque. A group of athletes from Serpentine Athletics Club were so impressed by his athleticism they persuaded him to sprint for their club. Now coached by the former international sprinter Clarence Callender, he will be making his British debut in Vienna.
Rachel King (60m hurdles)
It was one of Rachel King's teachers at her Cardiff school who suggested she should try the hurdles. She has learned the subject so well she is heading to Vienna to make her Great Britain debut in the European Indoor Championships, having come within 0.01sec of the Welsh 60m hurdles record held by her old teacher. Kay Morley-Brown's record, 8.16sec, has stood for 10 years. King clocked 8.17sec as runner-up to Diane Allahgreen in the AAA Indoor Championships in Cardiff three weeks ago. Like Morley-Brown before her, the 25-year-old Belgrave Harrier is coached by Malcolm Arnold and trains with Colin Jackson.
Jenny Meadows (800m)
Not the first Wigan athlete to make an impact in recent months. In June last year Susan Jones won the European Cup high jump competition in Bremen and just three weeks ago Amy Spencer won the AAA indoor 200m title in Cardiff at the age of 16. Meadows won the 800m title in the Welsh capital and, having clocked 2min 3.35sec in Steffi Graf's world record attempt in Birmingham last Sunday, the 20-year-old will be making her debut for the British senior team in Vienna. She won a gold medal in the world junior championships two years ago as a member of the victorious British 4 x 400m relay team.