Obituary: Mike Lindsay, Scotland’s greatest shot putter and discus thrower

Mike Lindsay, athlete. Born: 
2 November 1938. Died: 
11 December 2019, aged 81

Mike Lindsay, who has died aged 81, was arguably Scotland’s greatest ever shot putter and discus thrower, raising standards in both events to unprecedented levels while winning a stack of honours domestically and internationally. A multiple British and Scottish champion and international on more than 35 occasions in the course of a long career, his high point came when, aged only 21, he secured 5th place in the shot at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. This was the highest place ever achieved in the event by a British athlete and was subsequently never bettered, albeit equalled once, by Geoff Capes at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

At the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia, he secured silver medals for Scotland in both shot and discus, in the former missing gold by a mere 4cms. A year later he became the first Scot to breach the 60ft barrier in the shot, a feat as significant athletically as the four-minute mile, while at the World Student Games in Brazil he collected another two silver medals in his speciality events. Being one of the first British athletes to gain a sports scholarship to the USA, to Oklahoma University in the late 1950s, undoubtedly enhanced his development into a world class thrower. Once retired from competition in 1971, he enjoyed an accomplished career in the field of physical education and academia, becoming very involved in the development of the study of bio mechanics.

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Michael Robert Lindsay was born in Glasgow, the younger son of Archie and Lucy, at a time when his father was stationed locally in the army. Elder brother Chris was also a noted athlete who represented Great Britain ‘B’ at 440 yards. Because of family connections they soon moved to Coldstream, where Mike attended the local primary school. When Mike was 11 the family moved to London because his father had secured employment with Royal Mail and he attended St Marleybone Grammar School, where his sporting potential was first noted. A talented all-rounder, he shone at rugby, cricket and athletics, initially competing in jumping events. As he developed physically and started weight training, his coach Doug Mannion switched him to throwing events, at which he showed promise.

It proved a wise decision as Mike achieved prodigiously as a junior athlete winning the AAA (British) titles at shot and discus in both 1956 and ’57, in the latter year also claiming the senior AAA title at discus while still a junior. He also set a world junior best in the event with a throw over 193ft, beating the previous best by 10ft by the iconic Al Oerter, later multiple Olympic champion.

In 1957, aged 18, he set his first of many Scottish records in the shot at Edinburgh Highland Games, obliterating the previous one by 6ft, represented Scotland in his first international against Ireland in Dublin winning both shot and discus and gained his first British international vest against France. The following year, in Cardiff, he made the first of four appearances for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, finishing a creditable 4th and 6th at discus and shot respectively, and in 1959 repeated his AAA discus success while runner up in the shot.

Oklahoma University, duly impressed, offered Mike a sports scholarship and he rewarded their faith by setting a British discus record within a year. Access to top level coaching and facilities while competing against throwers of the calibre of Olympic champions Parry O’Brien and Al Oerter edged him towards world class as he made his mark at the Rome Olympics.

After graduating in mechanical engineering in 1962 he returned to continue competing successfully for virtually the next decade under coach Ron Pickering. He added an AAA title in the shot to his CV, won the event for Britain in the 1963 contest against the USA, beating future Olympic champion Randy Matson, competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and made further Commonwealth Games appearances in Perth, Kingston and Edinburgh.

By the time of Mike’s final international match in 1971, for Scotland against the Home Nations, he had topped the Scottish ranking lists at shot and discus for 15 years consecutively, an unparalleled dominance. Throughout his career he remained steadfastly drug free at a time when drug misuse had infiltrated the sport.

After Perth 1962 he remained there for six months, teaching at the Scotch College, and on his return undertook a post graduate teaching qualification at Carnegie PE College in Leeds before studying for a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds when the significance of the application of Biomechanics to sport was being recognised. There followed lectureships in Biomechanics at Madeley College, Staffordshire, Dunfermline PE College, Edinburgh and a PhD in Bio Engineering at Strathclyde University. In 1979 he was appointed Director of PE at University of Leeds, where he remained until retiring in 2004, making a major contribution to the development of sports science degrees.

Eminent coach Frank Dick said: “Mike brought greater understanding to the application of Biomechanics to sport and developing athletes. He was also a true gentleman who hid his light under a bushel.”

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In 1972 Mike married Vivienne Greener, a teacher and lecturer whom he had met in Leeds and the couple went on to enjoy 47 years together, latterly living in Harrogate.

They had two children, Giles, who is lead performance analyst for England Cricket, and Jane, a civil servant in Whitehall.

Mike had an abiding interest in all sport and after retiring from athletics played squash, badminton, golf, did orienteering and enjoyed board games. He was a gentle giant and generous spirited individual held in high regard by all. He is survived by his wife, children and brother.