My Own Goal

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The Independent Online
ONE of Britain's greatest athletes, the former middle-distance world champion describes the embarrassing day he almost revealed all during a Commonwealth Games race watched by the Queen and millions on TV. Although recently troubled by injuries, Cram is still training, competing and enjoying being 'one of the boys' again. He has no plans to give up athletics but is expected to expand a promising career in broadcasting.

WHEN you're running in major events you usually have everything planned and organised down to the last detail, especially your kit. So in the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh I went on to the track in the usual way for one of the heats of the 1,500 metres. The Queen and various other members of the Royal Family were there, and as I'd already won the 800m all eyes were on me.

Now I won't blame Adidas, or whoever it was provided the official kit for those Games, but when I stripped off my tracksuit I suddenly realised that the internal jock strap of my very short shorts just wasn't there. Well, to be honest, everything was more or less hanging out. I thought 'Oh my God, what can I do'. They were as good as ready to start the race, so there was nothing much I could do. A couple of the other lads noticed and started giggling.

I realised that somehow I had to qualify for the final but in such a way that I didn't make a spectacle of myself. Remember, too, that the television cameras were there and because I was going for the double, they were sure to have close-ups. All I could do was stay deep in the pack and hope I could jump out at the last moment, which I managed to do, but all through the race I kept on trying to pull the shorts down lower. You know what athletics shorts are like. They kept riding up. I got on the inside with plenty of guys around me and just refused to break cover until I really had to.

Nobody seemed to notice that anything was wrong and I certainly wasn't going to mention it to the media people afterwards (you can imagine the headlines). It was ages later before I could bring myself to mention it to anyone. It was the only occasion when I just couldn't think about the race at all. Luckily I was in such good shape (perhaps I should rephrase that) that I knew I could tuck into the pack and conceal myself until I needed to sprint for a qualifying place.

In a way it reminded me of the time I offended the dress code. I was in my early twenties and far too nice to people. I'd been invited as guest of honour to a black-tie job, the Vaux Sportsman of the Year dinner in Durham.

But on the same day I also had to attend a lunch in Newcastle. In between the events it snowed very heavily and Newcastle came to a standstill. I got stranded and couldn't get home. John Gibson of the Evening Chronicle kindly gave me a lift directly to Durham.

It took us nearly four hours to get there but I thought it was important to make the effort. I was welcomed by the organisers with the words 'Oh dear, you're not dressed properly'. So they lined up all the waiters in a back room and found one who was about my size and made me change into his suit.

These days I wouldn't put up with that sort of thing but when I was younger I was easily embarrassed. On another occasion I was supposed to be presenting some awards at a hotel but I wasn't too sure where it was. Anyway I went to reception and introduced myself and they sent me and my wife Karen down to a function room where there were about 40 people but no trophies in sight. I could only think that I might be awarding certificates.

People came up and introduced themselves and after about an hour we all went to sit down. I headed for the front but all three seats were taken.

Something odd here, I thought. Then the chairman stood up and said: 'It's nice to see a couple of guests here tonight, and our speaker is . . . the Governor of Accrington Prison who is going to tell us about prison life.' I quickly left what I discovered later was a Rotary Club monthly meeting.

Meanwhile down the road in another hotel 300 people were waiting for me to present prizes.

(Photograph omitted)