Nothing irks a winner more than second place. The Falkirk Flyer is no exception to this. However his result is one of the best performances of all time at the Olympic Games by a home grown talent from a small team in Scotland.
Bobby McGregor was awarded a silver medal in the 100m Freestyle in 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He would rather be known as a gold medalist. McGregor was known as the Falkirk Flyer from Scotland.
Silver at the highest level of sport is a great achievement. But McGregor was looking for gold.
This amazing achievement didn’t come from a high performance centre. It was the result of hard work and a determination to win. His father nurtured his talent as his coach in Falkirk as the leader of the Falkirk Otter Amateur Swim Club.
In the 1960s swimmers were chosen for the British Olympic team by a panel of ‘selectors’ who visited swimmers in their home base pools. They could not believe that a swimmer of his calibre could train in the pool he trained in. They still selected him. This is how his race went:
The 100m Frontcrawl in Tokyo in 1964 had heats, semis and a final.
In the nine heats McGregor was in heat nine so he was able to see all the times of the first eight heats. He won his heat in 54.7. Out of the top twenty-four times, nineteen were in the 55’s and five in the 54’s. McGregor’s :54.7 ranked him fourth behind three American swimmers including Don Schollander.
The semi finals were contested by the top 24 swimmers so there were three semi finals.
McGregor won his Semifinal in :54.3, close behind was a German Hans-Joachim Klein (:54.4) and a Hungarian Gyula Dobay (:54.8). The finalists’ times ranged from :53.9 to :54.9, including three swimmers with 54.3. Gary Ilman of America went into the final first with a :53.9 and Don Schollander close behind with :54.0. Bobby was assigned lane 2 for the final.
The final seemed like it was gearing up for a battle between Schollander and Ilman for the gold and all the remaining fighting for the bronze. But the Falkirk Flyer had his eye on the prize.
McGregor shot off the blocks in the final, taking the race out hard. He split 25 seconds at 50m, which was a very fast split in those days. He was first at 50m. He was intent on winning. Don Schollander had a half-body gap to close and as a 400m specialist … he closed in.
Scholander had a long smooth finish, catching the Flyer under the flags. McGregor went :53.4 with a desperate lunge at the touch but Scholander went :53.3. McGregor was an agonising one tenth of a second outside gold, a very close finish.
Schollander went on to become the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all time, before the days of Mark Spitz.
Schollander trained in the infamous Santa Clara swim club in California. Coach George Haines produced more Olympians than any team in USA. Mark Spitz and many many more were a product of coaching there. This powerhouse club team, to give you an idea of its calibre, placed seven swimmers on the previous 1960 Olympics and four swimmers won gold medals.
The Falkirk Flyer raced a fine race and is an example of what a determined athlete can do despite the training situation. What happened on the day was; a tough proud Scot went for gold, and when you’re shooting to win, you’re guaranteed a medal!
“All I ever really wanted to do in the sport was to win an Olympic gold,” he recalls. “That was my target because that’s what people remember.
Nevertheless he returned home to a hero’s welcome, and he and the rest of the British Olympic team were guests at a lunch in Buckingham Palace.
The Queen told him: “I watched your race on television. It was very exciting and if you’d had a longer finger you would have won.”
The next day over 2,000 banner-waving supporters were waiting outside his Falkirk home as he was reunited with his proud parents and sister.
Interesting to see Bobby McGregor featured on the news recently in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. Still a great role model for young swimmers in Scotland and still swimming in his local pool in Helenburgh!