ANNIVERSARY FEATURE: "I knew no-one could beat me.' Peter Elliott on winning Commonwealth Games gold in 1990

ANNIVERSARY FEATURE: "I knew no-one could beat me.' Peter Elliott on winning Commonwealth Games gold in 1990

By David Beddows | 13/11/2020

ANNIVERSARY FEATURE: 'I knew no-one could beat me.' Peter Elliott on winning Commonwealth Games gold in 1990

 

THE outcome of one of the greatest races of Peter Elliott's running career was almost decided before the starting gun sounded.

“As a sports person, especially as an athlete, you have a purple patch, a time in your life when you're almost invincible. I think that was mine,” he says.

“I went to the start line knowing no-one could beat me.”

Elliott is talking about the 1990 Commonwealth Games 1500m final in Auckland when he left his rivals trailing to win the gold medal.

Peter came home to Rotherham to a hero's welcome from friends, family and supporters chuffed to see the sacrifice, time and dedication of one of the town's most famous sporting sons rewarded.

The lad from Rawmarsh got on in the sport the hard way, holding down a physically demanding job as a joiner in the steelworks.

Getting up early, doing a shift, going home and then going out training at night in all weathers wasn't easy.

That didn't stop him reaching the 1984 Olympic semi-final and taking a bronze at the '86 Commonwealth Games and a world silver in '87 before becoming a full time athlete later in his career.

Hero's welcome back home in Rawmarsh.

Decades on, Peter rates his silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics as his biggest achievement purely because an Olympic medal of any colour trumps all others.

But that sunny day in Auckland was the day he became the main man, the champion. It was his golden moment.

All the promising signs were there during the build-up.

Looking fast, strong and confident, Eliott beat Steve Cram, himself an Olympic silver medallist, over 1200m on grass before flying out to New Zealand.

While most of the competitors at the Games stayed in the athletes' village, Peter lodged “just round the corner” from the Mount Smart Stadium with friends.

Not far removed from his lifestyle at home, it suited him. He was comfortable, a happy athlete, and he went out and set a new New Zealand record for the 1000m.

“All my training had gone well and the races beforehand as well,” he says. “I did a secret time trial over 1200m which was so quick. I made sure the right people got to find out about it so they could pass it on. People were stood on the start line knowing they couldn't beat me.”

That group of athletes was shorn of Seb Coe — another of the big names of that golden era of middle distance running — who was struck down by illness.

Peter was still in good company in a field that included the two dangerous Kenyans in Moses Tanui and Wilfred Kirochi and the ageing but imposing future of former Olympic champion and home favourite John Walker.

“Brendan Foster did an interview with me for the BBC,” recalls Peter. “He asked which athlete I feared the most in the race.

“I said Pat Scammell, the Australian, and it took him by surprise.

“He said 'why Pat?' 

“I said he had an ungainly style and he has a tendency to bring athletes down — and that's exactly what he did on the day. He brought John Walker down, of all people.”

By the time Walker was grounded with just over two laps to go, the leading pack had set a quick pace.

As the bell for the final lap sounded, Elliott had hit the front but had Tanui and Kirochi trailing him. 

Popular guy...pictured with Rotherham United supporters.

Just as it looked like Kirochi, the world junior champion, might have the legs to take the lead, Elliott kicked again and, roared on by the crowd, he surged away down the final straight to hit the line in 3.33.40 seconds.

He soaked up the applause, arms held aloft, for only a few moments before trotting across to commiserate with the stricken Walker.

“I knew it was John's last appearance in a New Zealand vest,” said Elliott. “The stadium was his home track so I encouraged him to come on a lap of honour with me.”

Watched by a smiling Queen and Prince Phillip and an appreciative crowd, Elliott and Walker did just that.

“I got probably more credit from the Kiwis for asking John Walker to come on the lap of honour with me than I did for actually winning the race,” smiles Peter.

Lap of honour with John Walker

The race is well worth a look back at on You Tube. It's accompanied by some great commentary by Foster and David Coleman, who eulogises about Elliott's brilliant run and that act of sportsmanship towards Walker.

“What a gesture, what a moment,” he says.

Peter, who now works as director of operations at the EIS in Sheffield, still has a special affinity with New Zealand that was first forged back in 1990. “Does it feel like yesterday? No. But it certainly doesn't feel like 30 years ago,” he says.

“The stadium was full, the weather was great. It was just one of those days when everything comes together.

“It was also my first visit to New Zealand. I always said that if I was to emigrate anywhere and it was only two hours away and not 26 then I would. The people are lovely and the country is lovely. I have been back since those Games. I love the place.”