A relay baton is not just for Christmas

tooting running track

I was never going to be Balham’s answer to Jessica Ennis; although I did enjoy the annual sports day during my final year at St Mary’s, primary school, Balham. It was our chance to become the next David Hemery, Bob Beamon or Mary Peters if you were big-boned (I enjoyed her singing duo with Lee).

Reports of my ever-decreasing sporting career has already been written about here: https://mikerichards.blog/2017/02/26/odd-shaped-balls/

Our school sports day was not within Beijing’s Bird’s Nest or under the record-breaking sheets of Perspex construction which is the Olympic Stadium, Munich. No, we walked to what is now called Tooting Bec Athletics Track & Gym.  In 1968, the year of our sports day, it was a dilapidated cinder running track where the caretaker was called Jim.

It was the only year and only activity when we were divided into houses, a foretaste of being in Delta House the next year for my first year at Bec. I look back and wonder why we weren’t named after famous people who’d lived in Tooting: Hardy; Lloyd George; Gibbon; Harriott? (OK, I get why).

We undertook all the normal races: 100 yards (the only meters in SW17 in 1968 were the ones you’d put half a crown in for the heating); 200 yards; the relay race (with a sherbet fountain being used as a relay stick) and, because we were only 11, the three-legged race.

There were fifteen boys and fifteen girls in our final year, the three-legged combinations was quite egalitarian. I was partnered to a girl (soppy though that may seem to any eleven-year-old reading this).

I’d been taken several times to my dad’s place of work (an advertising agency in Gloucester Place) a consequence of which was that, when I grew up, I wanted to be part of this Mad Men world. My three-legged race partner wanted to be a golden retriever!

Ostensibly this is a major advantage: faster over 100 yards, more desire for running and a wet nose (handy extra moisture if there’s a photo-finish). Sadly, there were disadvantages too – she wasn’t a bloody golden retriever being the most obvious (ironically she was prone to puppy fat).  Also, I was 11, theoretically, my partner, mentally, was 77 years old. Not a good age for sprinting.

The prizes were bars of chocolate for first and packets of Spangles for second and third. Sadly, my partner was not incentivised as she was after some Winalot or a tin of PAL (Paired with A Looney).

Ironically my three-legged race partner craved a career in advertising but failed to get in the Andrex ads as she had a fear of quilted paper. I believe she is doing stunt work in the backs of cars selling insurance.

If you have a sports day coming up, don’t partner with someone who wants to be a golden retriever when they grow up – get someone who has aspirations of being a whippet or a greyhound and get one of their parents to throw a pretend rabbit at the finishing line.

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