Unforgettable: Sprinter John’s time in fast lane

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Forty years ago, John Dobbie, of Bonchester Bridge, made his mark in a big way in the world of professional running.

On a fog-shrouded August evening at the Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh, John shone in the mist with 
a dazzling winning performance in the Ladbroke Classic 110m handicap.

The Ladbroke Classic was a big event at the time. A summer meeting in which athletes had qualified for the finals by winning handicaps at various games venues throughout the summer months.

The sprint was the main event on the cards and it took a quality runner to gain the first prize. And it was a then 20-year-old John who turned out to be that runner.

John now lives in Hawick and suffers from motor neuron disease.

The Southern Reporter met up with him in his home where he told us of his running days and his big night at Meadowbank.

“I got into running by chance,” John recalled. “It was just out of the blue. A friend of mine, Johnny Wilson, who also came from Bonchester Bridge, was a runner at the games and one day he asked me to go training with him. I decided to do this and give it a go, so I started training and made my first appearance at Hawick Games. And that was the start of it.”

John began competing on the games circuit and pulled off his first win with a double victory at Ambleside Games, triumphing in the 200m handicap as well as the invitation sprint.

John’s wins, however, got him into hot water at work. Remembering this, he said with a smile: “I was a motor mechanic at Thornwood. The Ambleside Games were on a Friday and I didn’t think they would let me off work for the games, so I said I was going to a funeral.

“However, I didn’t get away with this as the next again week it was in the paper that I won two races at Ambleside. I got a wee row, but I think they were quite pleased that I’d won.”

John’s big year was to be 1975. Coached by Alan Scott, he qualified for the Classic by winning the Thornton Games sprint.

Looking back on the Ladbroke final, John said: “I was ready for the final. 
I’d been well prepared in training hard, as well as having the best of grub, from steaks to chicken to pots of honey.

“It was a terrible, foggy night and you could hardly see in front of you. However, I managed to run really well and won the £400 first prize which was real big money in those days. I also got a beauty of a cup which I still have.

“George McNeill, who was the greatest runner I ever ran against as well as the greatest runner I’ve seen, was third in the final. George was the first to shake my hand and congratulate me and I’ll never forget that night for a lot of reasons.”

Due to switching jobs and becoming a long-distance lorry driver, John retired from athletics at an early age as he could not find the time to train. However, he will always remember his times in the fast lane of the running track.