Full Name: Allan Wipper Wells
Date of Birth: 3 May 1952 Edinburgh
Club: Edinburgh Southern Harriers.
Coach(s): Wilson Young, Margot Wells (wife).
Paving The Way
When Allan Wells won the Olympic 100m title in Moscow in 1980, he became the first Briton to achieve that success since Harold Abrahams in Paris 56 years earlier; with the glory, came the engineering of a new era for the sport in this country.
Wells remains the last white man to win the blue riband event of the Games and when he achieved that success at the age of 28, he was the oldest man to win the title. He lost that honour to fellow Briton Linford Christie, who won in Barcelona in 1992, but often he praised Wells for setting a standard. With his wife Margot screeching from the sidelines, Wells scorched to victory from the tricky position of lane eight and though many people thought that his triumph was tarnished because more than 50 countries had boycotted the Games, led by the USA, the facts speak for themselves. He delivered on the greatest stage against some of the greatest sprinters - and the when he met the Americans in the following years, he beat them too. Take nothing away from the exploits of an Edinburgh-born athlete whose career never looked like taking the path of being an Olympic 100m champion.
In his first season of athletics in 1970, Wells won the Scottish junior triple jump title and it was another six years before he began sprinting seriously at the age of 24, having trained as a marine engineer.
Wells then moved to the Long Jump where he cleared 7.32m before he ran 10.55 for the 100m, 21.42 for the 200m and the decision was made that he would pursue a sprinting career having rarely shown much talent for it in the past. Britain was crying out for someone like him, to such an extent that the men’s team did not even have a competitor in the 100m at the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. Those Games became the worst in Britain’s track and field history when the team won only one medal, Brendan Foster’s bronze in the 10,000m, but within four years the sport had turned itself around. In Moscow, there was gold medal glory for Steve Ovett in the 800m, Sebastian Coe in the 1500m, Daley Thompson in the Decathlon and Wells. And at a time when Britain might not even have been at the Games.
Making It To Moscow
In 1978, Wells signalled his ability when he became the British record holder with a run of 10.15 in Edinburgh before then making an excellent major championship debut. He finished second in the 100m at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 10.07 behind brilliant Jamaican Don Quarrie in 10.03 before then winning gold in the 200m in 20.12 ahead of James Gilkes, of Guyana, who was second in 20.18, with Colin Bradford, of Jamaica, third in 20.43. Though the times were wind-assisted, Wells had shown he could deliver on the big stage and the countdown to Moscow began.
In March 1980, drama. Jimmy Carter, the American President, said that the USA team would not be competing in that summer’s Games because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year and their decision not to leave the country. As Russia stood their ground, other countries followed the American lead until more than 50 had chosen to boycott the Olympics, including Canada and China. Margaret Thatcher’s government supported the decision but in an incredible move, the British Olympic Association had the opposite view and in a vote on March 25, the decision was made that they would be going to the Games.Wells was there, and while the Americans were missing, he had one problem he had to overcome: starting blocks. He would never use them, insisting he was at a greater advantage without them, but the IAAF ruled that all athletes had to begin that way. Wells adjusted and in the first round, he won his heat in 10.11, a British record and a time which still leaves him seventh on the all-time national rankings. The final arrived and the two main protagonists were drawn across the track: Wells was in lane eight, while in lane one was Silvio Leonard, of Cuba. It proved to be as sensational an Olympic 100m final as you could imagine with both men neck-and-neck and as they crossed the line, it was not possible to work out who had won. Screaming at the side of the track, and being filmed at the time by BBC television, was Margot and as the result flashed up, there was total delight. Her husband had triumphed but not even the clock could separate Leonard and him. They were both timed at 10.25 with Bulgaria’s Petar Petrov third in 10.39. Joy rang out around the Olympic Stadium for Wells, who had sensationally risen from nowhere four years earlier to the top of the podium. But his medal glory was not over. He had become British record holder at the 200m that summer with a time of 20.35 and he beat that time to win Olympic silver in 20.21, being passed in the home straight by Italy’s Pietro Mennea in 20.19 with Quarrie, the Commonwealth 100m champion, from 1978, third in 20.29. Due to the US boycott he was denied the opportunity of showing that he could have beaten the top Americans in Moscow, but he did so after the Games and when he won the IAAF Golden Sprints and the World Cup 100m in 1981.
As famous a 100m as Moscow was, Wells’ defence of his first major championship 200m gold medal was equally historic. It arrived at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982, and while he had just edged Olympic glory in a close finish in the 100m, this time the officials could not find an outright winner in the 200m. Wells had already won the 100m in a wind-assisted 10.02, beating Ben Johnson, of Canada, who was second in 10.05, with Scotland’s Cameron Sharp third in 10.07. But in the 200m, England’s Mike McFarlane and Wells produced an amazing battle with them both crossing the line together - and the result being announced as a dead-heat in a time of 20.43 with Sharp third in 20.55.
Wells won six medals at the Commonwealth Games and he was fourth at both 100m and 200m at the first World Championships in Helsinki in 1983. He would have loved to have sealed his career with success in his home town at the Commonwealth Games of 1986, but he was unable to be fit enough in time, although he returned to finish fifth at both 100m and 200m in the European Championships in Stuttgart a month later. Again in 1987 he made a late but impressive start to the year, finishing third in the AAA 100m, but then he pulled out of the World Championships in Rome with injury.
Awarded an MBE, he works as a system engineer at the University of Surrey and as a fitness adviser for many organisations.
1977: 5th 4x100m European Cup
1978: 2nd 100m, 1st 200m & 4x100m Commonwealth Games, 6th 100m Europeans
1979: 3rd 100m, 1st 200m 5th 4x100m European Cup
1980: 1st 100m, 2nd 200m, 4th 4x100m Olympics
1981: 1st 100m, 2nd 200m European Cup ; 1st 100m, 2nd 200m World Cup
1982: 1st 100m, 1st equal 200m, 3rd 4x100m Commonwealth Games, 5th 100m & 200m Europeans
1983: 2nd100m, 1st 200m European Cup; 1st 100m & 400m Worlds
1984: sf 100m Olympics
UK Internationals: 17 (1976-86)
Won Scottish 100m 1977-80, 1983; 200m 1979-80
100m 10.11 (1980), 10.02w (1982); 200m 20.21, 20.11w (1980); 400m 49.1 (1975), LJ 7.32 (1972), TJ 13.27 (1971).
Indoors: 60m 6.68 (1978)