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Olympic champ Mike: 'I'm not anything special' RUNNER'S RACE TO VICTORY Half a century after his greatest triumph, Stirling-born runner Mike Ryan talks to the Observer about his athletics journey from Ladywell Park, Bannockburn, to the Olympic podium.

Byline: John Rowbotham

Mike Ryan is one of the greatest athletes the Stirling area has ever produced - but his stellar achievements have largely been forgotten here.

Mike grew up in Bannockburn and spent his school years at St Mary's Primary and St Modan's High where he was a contemporary of Raploch football legend Billy Bremner.

The runner's sporting journey started in the early 1950s at Bannockburn Gala Day, in Ladywell Park, when as an 11-year-old he won his first race and collected a prize ... of half a crown.

From that humble beginning, he went on to win bronze medals in the marathons at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, and at the Olympic Games two years later in Mexico City.

On both occasions, he was wearing the black vest of New Zealand having emigrated there in 1963 to progress his running career.

To mark the 50th anniversary of his spectacular run at altitude in Mexico City Mike, who will be 77 on Boxing Day, spoke to the Observer from his home in Auckland.

Mike grew up in Murrayfield Terrace, Bannockburn, before moving around the turn of the 1950s to Randolph Crescent, Hillpark.

He was the youngest of seven children - five girls and two boys - born to Mary and Robert Ryan who had served in the Black Watch as a deck gunner on merchant shipping convoys.

Mike explained he left school on his 15th birthday, and added: "I was badly served by the education system in Stirling and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it.

"I found virtually all the teachers to be tyrants, and at St Modan's they seemed to forget about the lower ranks who were not required to wear uniforms.

"I was a three-day-a-week attendee and spent most of my time wandering the highways and byways, walking up the Wallace Monument, Back Walk and sometimes down to the railwayline at Fallin or in the Fintry Hills.

"I had an inquisitive mind and enjoyed birding and the outdoors and I became adroit at identifying wildlife. My happiest school days were the two weeks we spent every year picking potatoes. The rest of the time I just rumbled along."

Mike was, however, a natural athlete and enjoyed long distance running at school "because it meant you got to run out into the country and at the end you could have a shower - we only had a bath at home".

He also received help and drew inspiration from his English teacher at St Modan's Joe McGhee, who won a gold medal in the marathon at the Empire Games in Vancouver when he famously defeated English runner Jim Peters..

Mike won the Scottish junior title at the mile and an open cross country title at Clydebank while also heading south of the border to take on England's top cross country talent.

Away from running, he spent five years as an apprentice diesel mechanic at Alexander's in Stirling and was a keen climber, joining Ochils Mountaineering Club to fulfil a passion for the outdoors.

However, despite making his mark on the Scottish running scene, Mike felt he could do better and switched his focus to New Zealand where coach Arthur Lydiard had trained some of best distance runners in the world.

He moved in November 1963, settling in Tokoroa, South Waikato, where he drew inspiration and advice from John Davies, the New Zealand middle distance runner who went on to win a 1500-metre bronze at the Tokyo Olympics and was using Lydiard's training methods.

Lydiard's proteges also included 17 Olympic medallists, among them Peter Snell (800 and 1500 metres), Murray Halberg (5000 metres) and Barry Magee (marathon).

He believed training schedules had to be planned to build up heart and lung capacity through 28-week programmes featuring periods devoted to base conditioning, hill training, speed development, 'sharpening' and tapering and rest.

Mike said: "Even as I progressed in Scotland I had an itch to improve and decided to go to New Zealand. One of my mother's many sisters went to New Zealand as an emigre in 1951 and I stayed with her.

"It was also good to get away from mountaineering as I was spending too much time doing that when I should have been doing core training.

Early days Club teammates win in the Kingsway team members "I joined a nearby club in New Zealand and it was very companionable.

"I became recognised in New Zealand and made to feel special and there was no question over who I would run for (internationally). I derived great solace from putting on the black singlet and in any sport in New Zealand, wearing the black singlet or shirt lifts the individual who is wearing it."

While working with John Davies, Mike was able to build up the endurance that earned New Zealand track titles at 5000 metres, six miles and 10,000 metres and he finished fifth in the 10,000 metres at the first Pacific Conference Games. He also won the national cross-country championship and represented New Zealand at the world cross country championships.

It was, however, as a marathon runner that he excelled and in 1966 he gave a hint of things to come when he won the prestigious Fukuoka marathon in Japan, clocking a New Zealand record time of two hours 14 minutes and five seconds.

And 1966 was also the year he represented New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, battling his way to a bronze behind Scotland's gold medal winner Jim Alder and Bill Adcocks of England who took silver.

Mike, whose time was 2.27.59, recalled: "The race took place at 5.30pm and it was extremely hot and it was the first time in a marathon that I had struggled so early, but at no time did I ever consider not finishing."

Two years later, Mike was on the start line for the Olympic marathon in Mexico City where the altitude of 7382ft above sea level was expected to pose problems for athletes who did not train in such an environment.

Mike took bronze with a performance that place him among the greats of marathon running in New Zealand and Scotland and in 2008 he was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Bbut the run took a toll on his health. He said: "I carried on for 10 years and I was never sick, but also I was never healthy. I couldn't stand for long and I had great difficulty hydrating and in the end I gave up. I got into other things. I took up choral singing and operatics. I took up anything I enjoyed but was never encouraged to do at school. I tended to look forward and live for the day. I worked in a variety of jobs including forestry work, health and safety, construction."

Mike and his wife Marie, 71, married in the year of his great Olympic triumph and they have two children: Janette, 48, and 46 year-old Stefan.

Although still working occasionally as a landscape gardener, Mike had a health scare last year when he underwent a fourhour potentially lifesaving operation for an abdominal aortic aneurysm which is a swelling of the main blood vessel running from the heart down through the chest and stomach.

Mike, who lost almost 27 pounds at the time, was sounding fit and well when he spoke to the Observer, and he added: "I still get many people who think I am super special and I get a lot of kudos from that and I take it in but I don't think I am anything special. I am somewhat humble. That is the Scottish nature."

It was hard enough to run 26 miles in high altitude and heat without having to also hurdle in the middle of the race Mike Ryan

CAPTION(S):

Legends Mike with Ismail Akcay at an event last year in Turkey in honour of the Turkish runner

Record breaker The 1968 Olympic marathon in Mexico, and Mike running to victory in 1966 in the annual Fukuoka marathon, right
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Stirling Observer (Stirling, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 8, 2018
Words:1347
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