3 May 1952 |
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Allan Wipper Wells MBE (born 3 May 1952) is a former British track and field sprinter who became the 100 metres Olympic champion at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Within a fortnight of that, he also took on and beat America's best sprinters at an invitational meeting in Koblenz. In 1981, Wells was both the IAAF Golden Sprints and IAAF World Cup gold medallist. He is also a three-time European Cup gold medallist among many other sprint successes.
He was a multiple medallist for his native Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, winning two golds at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and completing a 100 metres/200 metres sprint double at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Wells also recorded the fastest British 100/200 times in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 100 m in 1984.
Early years and long jump
Born in Edinburgh, Wells was educated at Fernieside Primary School and then Liberton High School. He left school at age 15 to begin an engineering apprenticeship. Wells was initially a triple jumper and long jumper and crowned Scottish indoor long jump champion in 1974.
His wife, Margot, helped him win an Olympic gold and silver medal in the 100 m and 200 m respectively at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. In the run-up to the games, she protected him from hate mail generated by the then Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan.
Commonwealth and European sprint titles
Wells's big breakthrough came at the start of the 1978 season, when his times and victories began to improve, and he won the UK 100/200 Championships. British sprinters had made little impression on the international scene, and the sight of the Scot winning two gold medals (200 m, 4 x 100 m) and a silver (100 m) at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was a surprise for British athletics fans.
1980 Olympic success and the showdown in Koblenz
At the start of the 1980 season, Wells won the AAA's 100 metres, then went to the Côte d'Azur to finish preparing for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Wells never used starting blocks, until a rule change forced him to do so for the Moscow Olympics.
In Moscow, 28-year-old Wells qualified for the final, with a new British record 10.11 s, where he faced pre-race favourite Silvio Leonard of Cuba. By 60 metres the field were fading, and by 80 metres the race was between Leonard on the inside and Wells on the outside. Wells edged ahead, but Leonard drew even again. With seven metres to go Wells began an extreme lean which allowed his head and shoulder to cross the finish line 3 inches (76 mm) before Leonard's chest in a photo finish; both men were given a final time of 10.25 s. Wells became the oldest Olympic 100 m champion at that time at the age of 28 years 83 days. He remains the last white male athlete to win the Olympic 100 metres title.
The 200 m final was another close affair. Wells from lane 7, exploded out of the blocks and ran a spectacular turn making up the stagger on Mennea to his outside after only 50 metres. Coming out of the turn he had a two-metre lead over Leonard, with Quarrie close behind in third while Mennea looking fully eclipsed. But Mennea shifted gears in the straight and caught Wells with 10 metres to go. Wells attempted a final dip which had brought him victory in the 100, but he fell short, and Wells won the silver medal behind Pietro Mennea, who beat him by 0.02 s; again he set a British record of 20.21 s. He went on to break a third British record, 38.62 s, with the sprint relay team that finished fourth in the final.
Following the Moscow Olympics, there was some suggestion that Wells's gold medal had been devalued by the boycott of the games. Wells accepted an invitation to take on the best USA sprinters of the day, among others, at a track meeting in Koblenz in Germany. Less than two weeks after the Moscow gold, Wells (10.19) won the final that included Americans Stanley Floyd (10.21), Mel Lattany (10.25), Carl Lewis (10.30) and Harvey Glance (10.31). At the end of 1980, Wells was awarded Scottish sports personality of the year.
1981 World Cup win
In 1981, after a successful tour of Australia and New Zealand, Wells won the European Cup 100 metres, beating East German Frank Emmelmann. Wells also finished 2nd in the 200.
He then demonstrated his calibre by finishing first in the "IAAF Golden sprints" in Berlin; which was the most prominent Sprint Meeting in the World that year. Although finishing second to the Frenchman Hermann Panzo by 0.01 secs in the 100, Wells emphatically won the 200 beating the top four American sprinters Mel Lattany, Jeff Phillips, Stanley Floyd, Steve Williams as well as Canada's Ben Johnson in the 100/200, 10.15/20.15 (200 wind assist) for Wells to win the event in an aggregate 30.30.
To add to this, Wells won the 100 metres at the IAAF World cup in Rome, beating the American Champion and world's fastest 100 m performer of the year which was 10.00 by Carl Lewis; Wells then finished 2nd in the world cup 200.
Later sprinting career
In 1982, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Wells won two more Commonwealth titles in the 100 m, a wind assisted 10.02. and then the 200 m, and a bronze medal in the relay. He shared the 200 m title with Mike McFarlane of England in a rare dead heat.
In 1983, he won his 3rd European Cup title by winning the 200 metres, beating his old adversary Pietro Mennea in London, and again took 2nd in the 100.
He then went on and finished 4th in both the 100/200 sprint finals at the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki.
He reached the 100 m semi-finals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and was a member of the relay team that finished 7th in the final.
Wells missed most of 1985 with injury. He was not selected for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986, as he had failed to compete at the Scottish trials. However, in a stunning comeback, he soundly beat both Johnson and Mahorn, the respective Commonwealth 100 m and 200 m champions at Gateshead.
Wells gained additional attention at Gateshead for being the first to be seen sporting the now common Lycra running shorts. The sight of these led to him being dubbed Wilson of the Wizard (a comic book character).
Wells was consequently selected for Stuttgart in the European championships, coming fifth in both the 100 m and 200 m finals. To add to this, he also had a victory against Linford Christie at Crystal Palace at the end of 1986. One of his last victories was winning the Inverness Highland Games 100/200 double in 1987.
Wells's later career was punctuated by injury, but, by competing into his mid-30s, he helped to set the trend for sprinters to have longer careers.
After competitive retirement
After retirement, he was a coach for the British bobsleigh team. His wife Margot Wells was also a Scottish 100/100 hurdles champion, and they are now based in Guildford, Surrey where she is a fitness consultant, and Allan is a systems engineer. Wells was also inducted alongside Eric Liddell and Wyndham Halswelle (two other former Scottish Athletic Olympic Champions) into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. Allan currently coaches the Bank of Scotland specialist sprint squad alongside another former Scottish sprinter, Ian Mackie.
Wells's personal best for the 100 metres is 10.11, and for the 200 metres is 20.21, run at the Moscow 1980 games, and both are still Scottish records.
In July 2014 Alan received, along with his wife Margot, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Edinburgh Napier University.
In June 2015, a BBC documentary (Panorama: Catch Me If You Can) uncovered allegations by Wells' former teammate of historical doping by the 1980 Olympic 100m champion, beginning in 1977. Allan Wells forcefully denies the allegations.
- Rob Bagchi (15 June 2012). "50 stunning Olympic moments No39: Allan Wells wins 100m gold in Moscow". London: The Guardian.
- Turnbull, Simon (7 February 1999). "Athletics: Wells warms to golden oldie day". The Independent (London).
- Allan Wells profile at IAAF
- 'Thatcher tried to blackmail us not to go to Moscow. That made me very angry'. Article from The Guardian