Olympics athletics: Ann Packer - from gold medal to walking geese

With each viewing, it seems more school sports day than Olympic final.

The white cotton vest and shorts would not look out of place in a PE lesson; the string that serves as the finishing tape is straight from the games cupboard; and the fresh-faced ease with which the winner crosses the line suggests a girl simply glad to have avoided doing her homework.

Watching Ann Packer win 800m gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964  takes you back to an era when sport was little more than a healthy pastime.

The race itself is astonishing enough, Packer coming from a distant seventh on the final bend to storm to victory courtesy of a sprint finish that still takes some believing even when you know the result.

Golden girl - Ann Packer's CV

Ann Packer
  • Olympic 800m gold - Tokyo 1964
  • Olympic 400m silver - Tokyo 1964
  • Commonwealth 4x110 relay silver - Perth 1962
  • European Championship 4x100m bronze - Belgrade 1962

Throw in the fact that no British woman had won a track gold medal before, and 22-year-old Packer broke the world record in doing so - and the scale of her achievement is put into clearer focus.

As with the most famous sporting moments, it is accompanied by equally memorable commentary, and David Coleman's "here she comes on the outside" is a fitting soundtrack to a landmark moment in British athletics.

Yet the manner of her victory is only one part of a story that also features a chapter on Packer taking a gaggle of geese for a walk.

The 400m was Packer's specialist event and she took up the 800m merely to improve her stamina.

She had raced over the longer distance only five times before the Olympics, and entered the 800m in Tokyo as an afterthought.

"Only two girls had qualified, and Great Britain were allowed to enter three, so the administrators said 'we'll put you down'," Packer tells BBC Sport at her home in Cheshire.

Favourite to win the 400m, she was beaten to gold by Australia's Betty Cuthbert. "I was very disappointed, and that is putting it very mildly," she says. "Psychologically I was down.

"I'd raced the last three days, so the prospect of another three hard races - in an event in which I wasn't very familiar - was daunting. I was planning on going shopping instead."

Spurred on by her fiance missing out on a medal in the 400m - Robbie Brightwell finished fourth in his final - and her room-mate Mary Rand winning gold in the long jump, Packer made a last-minute decision to run in the 800m.

"I just planned to qualify," she admits. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing; I was so ignorant about the way to run an 800m race.

GB stars of track and field

Only nine British women have won Olympic track and field gold medals:

  • Mary Rand: Long jump, Tokyo 1964
  • Ann Packer: 800m, Tokyo 1964
  • Mary Peters: Pentathlon, Munich 1972
  • Tessa Sanderson: Javelin, Los Angeles 1984
  • Sally Gunnell: 400m hurdles, Barcelona 1992
  • Denise Lewis: Heptathlon, Sydney 2000
  • Kelly Holmes: 800m & 1500m, Athens 2004
  • Christine Ohuruogo: 400m, Beijing 2008
  • Jessica Ennis: Heptathlon, London 2012

"We were put into lanes at the start. I didn't even know at what stage we could cut in, so I had to watch the other athletes to see when they were doing it. I struggled but I got through the heat and the semi."

The slowest of eight qualifiers, few expected Packer to feature at the front end of the field in the final.

Packer says: "Robbie thought I had a chance, and there was an Indian 400m runner, Milka Singh, who I bumped into in the lift. He said, 'you will win'. And he was right."

Packer's plan to be in touch with the leaders with 200m remaining may have been stretched to the limit, but her sprinting pedigree enabled her to reel them in on the final bend before overhauling Frenchwoman Maryvonne Dupureur just metres from the line.

"I never dreamt of winning a medal so it was completely out of the blue. It was a surprise to me as much as David Coleman. His commentary was so spontaneous.

"In every Olympics someone will pop up and astound the world, and it was me in Tokyo."

Not only was Packer's time of two minutes 1.1 seconds a new world best, but it was some 11 seconds quicker than she had run in the heat.

"I wasn't sure what to do when I won because it was so unexpected," she remembers. "If you ask me what I was feeling, it was relief that I finally got my gold medal."

There was no celebratory lap of honour. Instead, in scenes again more familiar with school sports field than Olympic stadium, she ran into the arms of Brightwell, who was still on the track after the men's 4x400m relay.

Running into each other's arms

Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell

"Robbie was the local hero in Shrewsbury - he had already been to the Rome Olympics in 1960. He presented me with my prize when I won as a junior. But we met properly on an international athletes' training course. We always planned to start a family, so whatever happened at the Olympics we would have retired."

It was a fitting image, for Packer never raced again, choosing instead to retire to start a family.

"We'd already planned before that we would both quit athletics. We got married and our first son was born the following year. I retired from teaching and became a mother," says Packer, who now works with her local branch of the London 2012 organising committee.

How difficult was it to quit at the pinnacle of her sport?

"It wasn't hard," insists Packer. "People now might look at my age, but it wasn't particularly surprising then. It was the way things were.

"I was never tempted to carry on. I would love to have been able to make a career at what I was good at, but it wasn't an option."

Packer instead brought up three children: Gary, the eldest, was a junior 400m champion, while David and Ian Brightwell made their own names as professional footballers with Manchester City.

Made an MBE in 1965, Packer - still a regular jogger at 60 - was the only British woman to win Olympic gold in the 800m until Kelly Holmes's exploits at Athens 2004 - and she remains one of only nine in track and field, including Jessica Ennis in the current Games, to stand on top of the podium.

But perhaps Packer's most unusual claim to fame is starring in a BBC programme documenting how far geese could walk.

"I was supposed to be the person that was really fit," she laughs. "They were testing the geese's fitness against mine so we walked for a couple of days.

"I don't know if there was any scientific resolution to what they were trying to find out, but it was really quaint."

It is an adjective that also sums up perfectly one of Britain's most famous Olympic moments.