Billy’s still going for glory 60 years after New Year Sprint debut

IN 1952, a young Hawick runner ran for the first time in the New Year sprint when the event was staged in the now long-gone Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh.

Time has marched on and that teenaged Teri is now a 76-year-old senior citizen. Billy Edgar is his name and running is still his game.

For although the years have rolled in, Billy is still highly involved in a sport that has been a huge part of his life – a running life that has seen him switch from a tip-top stylish sprinter to a highly-respected coach.

Indeed, what Billy doesn’t know about his chosen sport, in which he made his debut as a 10-year-old at Rulewater Games, isn’t worth knowing.

Talking ahead of the forthcoming New Year Sprint meeting, which is set to be staged at Musselburgh Racecourse on December 31 and January 1, Billy took a trip down memory lane, glancing back at his own experiences of New Year athletics, and told TheSouthern: “The first time I turned out as a runner in the New Year Sprint, I was 16.

“There were no blocks then, you just dug yourself in at the start, it was as simple as that. I didn’t expect to do anything and I didn’t. Young guys didn’t win big sprints such as the New Year then.

“You had to pay your dues to have a chance of winning. That’s the way it was.”

Come the mid-60s, Billy had paid his dues. He had won Hawick Games sprint before a crowd of 12,000 at the Volunteer Park in 1955, as well as the Selkirk Games sprint four years later.

With other handicap wins under his belt, Billy was due to reach New Year sprint finals in 1966 and 1967.

Taking up this story, Billy said: “It was completely different then to what it is now, as it was real big-time stuff. There was a lot of gambling done and runners would train wearing masks and balaclavas to conceal their identities, as people spied on you to see how you were running.

I didn’t bother as my long legs gave me away.

Some runners went on special preparations for the spring. You would get a backer and you would be off work for a few weeks, do nothing but train and get well looked after. In 1966 I went on a special preparation. I was away from home for six weeks and was put up in Peebles. During this time I was fed the best of steaks to build me up. I trained a lot, ran in trials and was paid £10 a week for doing this. That was a lot of money in those days, especially for me because I was on the dole!

“Unfortunately, my preparation didn’t do me any good. I managed to reach the final, though, and came in third. Mike Murray, a rugby league player from Barrow, won it.”

The following year, Billy got to the final again. On this occasion Eddie Cain of Carlisle emerged victorious, with Billy emerging third.

In 1989, however Billy eventually tasted victory at the New Year in winning the veterans’ sprint at the Meadowbank Stadium.

He said: “Okay it might not have been the big sprint that I had always dreamed of winning, but I was chuffed to bits to win the veterans’ sprint. I had trained hard for it and to win a race at the New Year was just great.”

Further glory was to come Billy’s way in this unique athletic occasion, set in the heart of winter. Not as a competitor, though, but as a coach. For in 2009. Billy saw his young protégé, Daniel Paxton blitz to a glorious New Year Sprint win at Musselburgh Racecourse.

Billy was delighted, to say the least.

He told us: “Daniel did something I had never been able to do.

“I had trained him since he was a laddie and he made me a very proud man when he won. Gary Wilson, another runner from our school had been beaten by two hundredths of a second in the final in 2004 and that really gutted me as that is as close as you can get.

“Daniel’s brilliant win was my best moment in running but I still feel for Gary.”

Looking ahead to the forthcoming sprint, which consists of 10 heats, Billy commented: “Nobody really stands out for me, but the winner could well come from the first heat.

“Kieran Kivlin of Edinburgh, Ewan Dyer of Pitreavie and Dave McKay of Kelso are all potential winners, so the first heat is going to be very interesting as they have been drawn against each other.

“There has been a lot of talk about a young boy Ben Robbins from Edinburgh going to be the winner.

“By all accounts he seems to be a good one, but he is still just a laddie and will have to prove himself.

“Dylan Ali who is from Hawick, but runs for TLJT, will take a lot of beating. He showed up very well during the summer on the games circuit and he is going to be there or thereabouts. The sprint is open, though, and anything can happen.”

Borders runners set to get down on their marks for the Musselburgh sprint handicap are: J. Fleming 8.75m; D. McKay 15.5m; A. Hogarth 11m; M. Fleming 14.5m (all Kelso); Craig Bruce 16.5m; Colin Bruce 12.25m; K. Gerrard 11m: C Douglas 23m (all Selkirk); D. Rae 8.75, D. Ali 9m, L. Marshall 5.75m, J. Park 10.5m, C. Gillan 7.75m, C. Grieve 5.75m (all TLJT); H. Mackay 21.5m. L. Lowther 16m, C. Grieve 9.5m, I. Heard 22.5m, S. Richardson 7m, S. Harrison 6.5m, K. Amos 14m, M. Douglas 23m, I. Barskanmay 5.75m (all Jed AC); D. Bryson 22.25m, C. Wilson 11m, J. Wilson 14.5m (all Hawick); and A. Clancy 18.75m (Peebles).

The 10 heat winners and the 10 fastest losers shall progress to the semi-finals of the sprint. Semi-final victors and the four fastest losers will then make up an eight-strong final, which will be run on New Years Day. Other senior events and youth racing completes the seaside track meeting.