Nimmo remains one step ahead

THIRTY-THREE years ago today the heavens opened over Meadowbank Stadium, sending the competitors in the annual East v West athletics match scurrying for cover.

Well, not quite all the competitors. As the thunder growled and rain pelted down the women's long jump carried on. The 19-year-old Myra Nimmo powered down the approach and put in an extraordinary series of jumps, including the 6 metres 43 effort that is still the Scottish record three decades on.

Now a professor of exercise physiology at Strathclyde University, Nimmo recalls the event prompted by the scrapbooks of cuttings proudly compiled by her mother.

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"The hardest thing about being a jumper in Scotland in those days was getting in 'legal' jumps. It always seemed to be too windy," she said. "But when that thunderstorm broke the wind dropped and that was my chance.

"Ron Marshall, who kept the athletics records for so long, told me later that five out of my six jumps were longer than my personal best going into the competition."

The longevity of her record is the more remarkable because Nimmo was something of an accidental athlete and her career extraordinarily short. "I didn't really take any great interest in athletics until I was 16," she admitted. "Madge Carruthers was my PE teacher at school and introduced me to the 100 metre hurdles. She knew how to coach the event, so I learned how to take the hurdles in my stride while other girls had to improvise some kind of a high jump over each one."

Within a matter of months Nimmo had taken the Scottish women's sprint hurdles record. She said: "Then Madge took a group of us to the Scottish Schools Athletics Camp at St Andrews University and as part of that everyone had to do a 'fun' pentathlon. The long jump was new to me but I had a go. I jumped and everybody went, 'Oooh!' Suddenly I was a long jumper."

As a matter of preference, Nimmo enjoyed the hurdles more and she competed in both for Scotland and Great Britain. She was also a more than handy sprinter and ran in the Scottish relay team. However, the long jump was exceptional.

Nimmo continued: "I was really a power jumper. But I did a good winter of training with Frank Dick in 1972-73 so I was raring to go when the season started. At British level I came from nowhere when I won that event at Meadowbank. Everybody was very surprised."

At the time the two women who had dominated the event at UK level were Mary Peters and Sheila Sherwood. They were in the twilight of their careers, but later that summer Nimmo beat them both in the British International Games - again at Meadowbank. Consulting the scrapbook again she picks out the cutting recording her victory that ran "so it's not a fluke!"

At 19 she was British No1 and was the first Scotswoman to win a British athletics title. Was this a golden age of Scottish women's athletics? "It would be hard to say that," she said. "What I think we had at the time was a clutch of athletes over a few events and a clutch of coaches and we were competitive among each other. Training always included a series of 150 metre sprints and we all gave it all we had. I can't say we were more talented or better coached in specific events, but we were coached to compete."

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Up to a point. At Scottish level Nimmo did not have much competition. She said: "I got into the habit of putting in a good jump early and generally lost impetus after that."

When the Commonwealth Games came round in New Zealand in January 1974 she was favourite for the event but came a disappointed fourth with a best jump of 6:34, well below her regular form. "I jumped appallingly. I was terribly homesick. I think it was a bad Games for the whole Scottish team," she recalled. "In general I still had this motivation problem with domestic competition - just doing enough early on and then coasting. Basically I was a bit soft and didn't have the aggression to keep pushing. "

Nevertheless, still the British No 1, Nimmo was selected for the 1976 Montreal Olympics team. It was not a success. "The truth is that it was too big for me," she said. "I wasn't ready for that scale of event. I remember walking into the stadium at the opening ceremony with Helen Golden and instead of bursting with pride we both just burst into tears. There were bigger crowds at the warm-up track than I'd experienced before. Like my finals at University I just wanted it to be over. I jumped like a tube and didn't make the final."

But surely, at 22, and only three years into her senior career there was more to come? "No. That was it," she said. "I had a conversation with Frank Dick about committing myself to the next Olympics in four years time and I just didn't want to do it. I still did some events here and there for a while but effectively I was retired."

Nimmo got her Scottish record in early and 33 years later is still waiting for the rest to catch up.