Stan with his Cologne medal
Olympic memories and obstacles
By Andrew Woodger
Felixstowe's Stan Cox has been remembering his career as one of the nation's top runners at two Olympic Games: "I had to take a day off work in order to run for Britain!" He's also served in Iraq and he's hoping to carry the torch in 2012 in London.
Stan Cox was born in Wood Green, north London on 15 July 1918. He even lived on White Hart Lane for a bit and although he says he's a Tottenham Hotspur fan, running was always his first love.
He joined the Southgate Harriers Athletics Club and over a 30 year career competed in middle and long-distance races and represented Britain at the Olympics in London, 1948 and Helsinki, 1952.
One of his friends at the Southgate club was Norris McWhirter of Guinness Book of Records/BBC Children's TV Record Breakers fame. Stan credits Norris with advising him to train in heavier shoes, so that when he competed in lighter shoes he'd feel a real benefit.
Athletics was fully amateur in those days and Stan's day job was as an assistant computer analyst for Standard Telephones & Cables:
"I worked about three miles from home and in the mornings I would put my running gear on and when I got to work I'd have a shower and put a suit on which I'd leave there. Then I'd eat breakfast in the canteen and go to work."
However, it was an event before that which he considers to be his career peak...
The shadow of war
In August 1939 Stan was selected for the 3 mile (now the 5,000 metres) track event as Britain took on Germany at an international meeting in Cologne. He won a bronze:
"I was called up into the RAF for six months in 1939 and I had to get released, in civilian clothes, to go to Germany. I didn't dare go in an RAF uniform!
"So I was in Germany winning the medal just 10 days before we went to war with them!"
Stan spent most of his war in the desert in Iraq, serving with the RAF in an armoured car unit as a gunner. The unit was a forerunner of the RAF Regiment which is now based at RAF Honington in Suffolk.
Stan said they were there to protect oil pipelines, but they didn't see any real action.
A day off work for the London Olympics
In 1948, Stan was the British Champion at six miles (now the 10,000 metres) and was an automatic choice for the British squad at the Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium:
"Everything was rationed in this country and they sent us to Dublin to boost our weight up with steaks. Southern Ireland weren't involved in the war, so they had plenty of food.
"For the actual games at Wembley - people won't believe me - I had to take a day off work unpaid in order to run for Britain! We were accommodated at RAF Uxbridge, but I only stayed there a couple of nights because I had to go back to work.
1948 appearance medal
"Wembley only had a greyhound track so the track was put down brand new for the games - only a cinder track. The sprinters had to dig holes with a trowel - no starting blocks!"
One of the BBC's commentators was Harold Abrahams, the 100 metre runner who won gold at the Paris Olympics in 1924 and whose story was re-told in the film Chariots of Fire. Stan Cox remembers Abrahams' view of the 1948 six miles:
"To his dying day, he claimed that I ran a lap too many. There was a runner called Zatopek [who took gold] and Abrahams claimed the judges were distracted and I got the bell a lap too late, so my time should have been a lot faster. Oh well, never mind!
"I think I ran the Games on the Friday and the next day I was more or less back to work!"
A boneshaker to Helsinki
In 1951, Stan won the Windsor to Chiswick marathon in what they thought was a world record time, although it was disputed. After complaints, they went back to re-measure the course and found out that, although it was actually even longer than it should have been, the record couldn't stand.
In 1952, Stan went out to Helsinki to take part in the marathon, but his trip out there proved to be his downfall:
"Because myself and Jim Peters were the top two marathon runners in the world, in order to avoid the media in Helsinki we got permission not to fly out with the team but to stay at home and do our training at home.
The York 'boneshaker'
"We flew out about three days before the games. The planes we flew out in were 'boneshakers' - old York aircraft which were used to carry freight in the war.
"They'd just put seats in it and when I got airborne I looked to the left and the label on my luggage was flapping about and I could see daylight through the door! They weren't pressurised - that's what we had to travel in!
"When it came to the race, I collapsed. From my feet upwards on my left side I couldn't feel anything. I'd done about 22 of the 26 miles.
"When I got back to London and Harley Street, they put this collapse down due to the fact that we were in this plane where we could see daylight and it affected my my left side. That was that!"
Czechoslovakia's Emil Zapotek took gold in the marathon as well as the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. His wife Dana Zatopkova also won a gold in the javelin.
A return to London
Stan Cox retired to Felixstowe in 1980 having been posted to the Suffolk town briefly during the Second World War. His late wife Audrey (née McCusker) was from Ipswich.
Stan has dreams of appearing at the 2012 Olympics in his home city of London:
"I shall be 94 in 2012, and, if I feel like I do now then, I'd like to take part in some way. I'd like to carry the torch even if it's just for 100 yards and hand over to the one who lights the flame.
"That's my ambition and it would be quite a story, wouldn't it?"
Lap of Honour
A series of films is being made to celebrate the achievements of past and present Suffolk Olympians, Paralympians, coaches, referees and volunteers. It's managed by Suffolk Artlink on behalf of Suffolk County Council.
Stan Cox's full 15 minute film will be part of a touring exhibition of 12 films which go out on the road in September 2009. By 2012, they hope to have 48 films which will be saved in the East Anglian Film Archive. Visit the Artlink website for the latest news.
last updated: 10/03/2009 at 17:54
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Quite a story, eh?