Memories – Frank Clement (Mar 19)

Linlithgow Rugby Club Memories Group – Frank Clement

25 March 2019

Report by Hamish McIntyre

Frank Clement the Olympic middle distance athlete was the guest speaker at the Memories Group held at the Rugby Club. There were 50 members of LOSS – the Linlithgow Old Sods Society – in attendance.

Frank addresses the Memories Group

Frank was born in 1952 in Glasgow and attended St Peter’s Primary School where there were many handbags at dawn confrontations with the pupils from a nearby private school. On one occasion Frank was cornered by a group of Hyndland pupils and suffered a number of bruises, he also lost his cap which he found the next day, but by then it was filled with you know what – he had it washed out but never wore it again. He got his own back some time later when he chased a single pupil from the private school and gave him what for – his first indication that he could run a bit.

Frank realised early on that he was good at running, but like most athletes he was also proficient at other sports – football, swimming, and basketball. At the Glasgow Schools’ Cross Country Championships, a competition usually dominated by the private schools in Glasgow, Frank and his team arrived in their usual football gear, while the private school teams all had their spiked running shoes and Bri Nylon track suits. Nevertheless his team were heroes for the day when they came in first, second and third.

His PE teacher at school – Don Clancy – a cross country champion – took the class to Pollock Park for training, which was a lot better than following the normal school PE programme, and it was about this time that he decided to focus on athletics. That year he went on a school outing to the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, where he saw the great French skier Jean-Claude Killy in action.

The next step in his athletics career was to join Bellahouston Harriers, where he was trained by Robin Sykes at Nethercraigs in Pollock estate. Strathclyde Police and other groups also used the facilities.

When Frank left school he studied engineering at Strathclyde University, where he could train at lunch time  – clocking up six miles per day – and study in the evening, but as he became more focused on the running his studies suffered. He then decided to make sure that he did not lose sight of the main objective which was to gain a degree. On a university competition in Ireland, Frank realised that Guinness tastes better in Ireland than anywhere else! At home he could get eight pints of Bass for a pound at the uni bar!

At the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1970, Ian Stewart came first in the 5,000 metres, Ian McCafferty was second and the brilliant Kenyan Kip Keino was third. On the BBC radio the announcer, who was giving the results was speaking in a very plummy voice, said that Ian Stewart had finished first, and very close behind was another Scot Ian MaccaFarty!

At the cup final at Hampden, Lachie Stewart who had recently won the 10,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games, had been asked to perform a lap of honour, but was wearing a blue track suit. He was told ‘don’t go past the Celtic end wearing that’. The only other attire he could find was green bottoms, so he wore a blue top and green bottoms, and true to form he was given pelters by both Rangers and Celtic fans.

When he was picked to speak to the press, he had to choose his words very carefully. On one occasion after winning an AAA championship in Cosford he was asked ‘which football team do you support’ and he replied ‘ I don’t really support any football team, but I think that Celtic could do well in Europe this year with new players the likes of Kenny Dalgleish and Danny McGrain’. The next day the newspaper headlines read ‘Celtic daft Frank Clement is the new athletics find’.

At the World Student Games in Moscow in 1973, Frank won the 1,500m in a time of 3 mins 40.6 secs and later that year he was offered a place in the Scotland team for the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. He was undecided what to do, but his university professor told him to to take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, and put the pros on one side and the cons on the other. It then became an easy decision and he refused the offer to take part, to concentrate on his studies.

In 1974 he did not make the final for the European Games, and he came in for some criticism from officials for not taking part in some events, but Frank had opted to concentrate on his studies to gain his degree to enable him to obtain employment. Sport would not pay the bills.

After obtaining his degree, he worked for Babcock and Wilcox, and he took part in events in both New Zealand and South Africa, the latter was trying to encourage sport at a time when there was a very tense atmosphere regarding apartheid.

Frank married Anne Marie in 1975, and while on honeymoon in Scandinavia he ran a number of events and in one race managed to beat the British record for the 1,500 metres.

His first car was a Morris Minor, which he used to travel to venues, and at this time he was suffering from a niggling hamstring problem. On seeking advice from the physio Lena Whitman, he was told that ‘ there is nothing seriously wrong’ but she said ‘do you have a car’. Frank said ‘ yes, it is outside’. He was asked to sit in the driving seat and the physio said ‘that’s your problem, you are too hunched up, increase the height of your seat and you will be OK’. And he was.

In 1976 he won the 800m in Zurich in a personal best of 1 min 46.76 secs, and he was now giving his full attention to the olympics in Montreal. Babcock and Wilcox wanted to encourage his athletics and gave him time off for the Olympics, and also raised enough money from the workforce for his wife’s flight to Canada, provided he compiled a report for the Company when he returned.

After the Israeli massacre at the 1972 Olympics, security at Montreal was very tight – all passesengers were frisked and luggage searched. Then when they got their kit – blazers, trousers etc Frank found that his blazer was too large, but another competitor had one which was too small so they swapped. Everyone was happy.

The athletes lived in a purpose built village, men on the first floor of one building and women on the first floor of another building. It was six beds to a room and food was available 24 hours a day. Eventually the athletes realised that a light breakfast and an evening meal were quite sufficient to keep them in peak condition.

Princess Anne was also taking part in the games – horse riding – but although Frank did see her he didn’t have an opportunity to speak to her.

On the day of the first heat Frank was feeling very nervous, but so were all the other runners. The stadium was very large with an overhanging roof that culminated in a largehole in the middle, which the sun and the rain that was falling could come through – and it was raining. Frank usually had about 30 minutes warm up before a race, but the nerves kicked in and this time he did 45 minutes.

In the 800m he won the first heat, John Walker was third, but Frank came last in the semi final, held the next day. He consoled himself by saying that the 1,500m was his main event. He was quite relaxed in the third heat when he came second, and then was placed fourth in the semi final.

In the final he was knocked off the track and then boxed in and finished in fifth place. In a very tight race he was only half a second behind the winner – John Walker. Steve Ovett did not make the final.

Frank had a serious injury which resulted in five operations, and he has recently had a hip replaced, which is number six. It is always surprising how athletes can pick up an injury in training or in a pre match warm up, but that is exactly what happened to Frank. He was warming up at the University Sports at Meadowbank and did not see a hole in the turf, and sustained a back injury which kept him out of athletics for four months – it was towards the end of his athletics career and is his only serious injury.

After the operations he tried to come back to athletics, but this was the golden age of middle distance running and the opposition had just got better – Steve Cram, Seb Coe, and Steve Ovett – and Frank did not go to Moscow in 1980.

His work career after Babcock and Wilcox was mainly sport related. He spent 26 years working with Glasgow City Council, mainly in the Leisure and Recreation Department where among other responsibilities he organised the Glasgow Women’s 10k race, and the Great Scottish Run, and was one of the four British contacts on the international AIMS list. He was also the key local authority figure in granting authority to the British Milers’ Club to stage one of their Grand Prix meetings in Glasgow.

On the family side Frank has a grandson Andrew McGill who is following in his footsteps.

He took part in invitation races where it was usual for the two best runners to agree a plan with each taking the lead at different stages in the race, till the last lap when it would be every man for himself. This was a way to ensure that a good race time could be guararteed. Frank made such an arrangement with Steve Ovett and he led for the first lap  as agreed however, come the second lap there was no sign of Steve Ovett who was supposed to take on the pace setting, leaving Frank out front till the home straight of the final lap, when Ovett suddenly burst past to win in the last 50 metres. Steve apologised afterwards but Frank was not best pleased! It may only be a game but for some it is more important than life and death.

After coffee and cakes the meeting concluded with a Q and A session, when Frank answered questions on doping , diet and keeping fit. Frank has lived in Linlithgow for 40 years, with his wife Anne Marie, his five daughters, and seventeen grandchildren. We can only wonder how he can possibly get a word in edgeways.