Ann Packer, 1964 Olympic champion, 800 meters
This is an unusual piece for Stuart Weir. Stuart Weir wrote this piece on Ann Packer, one of the first athletes he watched take Olympic gold, and an early favorite in athletics.
One of the first races I remember watching on TV was the 1964 Olympic women’s 800m race which was won by Ann Packer. She won the race but might well not have been in it. She was selected for both the 400 and the 800 and took silver in the 400 behind Betty Cuthbert of Australia, setting a new European record of 52.20. Her fiancé, Robbie Brightwell, expected to get a medal came fourth in the men’s 400.
Ann was considering skipping the 800 – a distance at which she was very inexperienced – to go shopping in Tokyo but was persuaded to run. Coming fifth in her prelim and third in the semi, she made the final as the second-slowest qualifier. In the final, she was sixth at the bell. Then she produced a blistering run round the final bend to win the race. BBC commentator Dave Coleman’s description of the end of the race went something like this: “Here comes Ann Packer. She’s got a lot of running to do…my goodness, she’s doing it!” as she took the lead and finished first.
A versatile athlete who reached the finals in the 200 meters at the European Championships and in the 80 meters hurdles at the Commonwealth Games and won medals at both events in sprint relays before breaking the world 800m record in that Olympic final
Packer commented on her win: “Middle-distance running for women was still in its infancy, and the 800 m had only been run in Rome four years earlier for the first time. I knew nothing about the event but being so naive was probably to my advantage; it meant I did not have any limitations in my head regarding what I should or could do. Ignorance proved to be bliss.” (source Wikipedia). After winning the gold medal, she announced her retirement at the age of 22 and so had one of the shortest athletics careers of any Olympic gold medallist.
She and her husband had two sons who both played professional soccer.
When Ann was presenting medals at the GB Champs last summer, I had to break my principles and have a photo.