ST LEONARDS man Les Piggot is taking part in his third Olympic Games this week – and his first since 1972!
Les ran as a sprinter at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and in 1972 in Munich – and he’s making it a games hat-trick in 2012 by acting as a volunteer games maker at the London Olympics.
He will spend two weeks on site in London, helping in the suite where athletes go to get ready before they enter the Olympic Stadium.
Having started out as a rugby player with Cambuslang RFC, Les hung up his rugby boots and swapped the pitch for the athletics track, and made a name for himself as a sprinter, qualifying for two successive Games.
Les remembers the Games with great fondness – although there was a change from the usual cinder tracks on which he was used to running.
He said: “In 1968, I went to the Olympics in Mexico, and four years later to Munich, where I did the 100 metres and the 4x100m relay.
“In 1968 it was a new experience for all of us as we weren’t used to running on rubber tracks. We were used to running on the cinders at venues like the White City.
“It was much faster on rubber, and it was very different from running on our usual cinder tracks, like the one they had at Ibrox where I trained.
“In 1968 I made it to the second round before I was put out. I can still remember it well.
“I think the ceremony was a real highlight, walking into a stadium in front of 100,000 people.”
In the late 60s, Les found that athletics was almost a two-tier sport.
He explained: “In those days sport wasn’t for all. There was very much a class system, of them and us, with the likes of the Oxford Blues, the university clique, and the other guys like myself who were coming through, and had to work during the day.”
In Munich, where he competed in the 100m and the 4x100m relay, Les found that the sport had begun to change.
He explained: “1972 was the year when all the bombings were going on. Munich saw the start of commercialism, as the Olympics began to sell itself.
“I got knocked out in the quarter-finals.”
After two appearances at the Olympics, most athletes would have been happy to call it a day, but Les almost made it to Montreal in 1976.
He explained: “I nearly made it to Montreal, but it was a political move that made me miss out. There were four Scottish sprinters, including myself and Allan Wells, who were up for consideration.
“But the British squad must have a certain amount of athletes from each of the home countries, so many Scots, so many English or whatever, so they couldn’t send all the Scots sprinters.
“But I had been a British international since 1965, and to be honest, I was pretty well over the age for a sprinter.
“Since I was considered, it just showed that the guys around me weren’t achieving all that much.”
Back in the day, Les was an important figure on the Scottish athletics scene.
He was even sacked from his position as British team captain in 1975 only days before a major event because he was training at Ibrox alongside professional sportsmen.
He fought hard to improve the rights of athletes and helped to shape the current athletics set-up.
“The whole athletics scene has changed since my day, so I couldn’t really compare myself with anyone today.
“Everybody is in it to see what they can get out of it for themselves. I think there was more camaraderie in my day.
“There was the old community aspect. When I was running, Wright the Butcher in East Kilbride used to give me meat, and Wiseman’s gave me milk.
“These days it’s all big sponsorship deals.”
But now, the retired sales-agent is making an Olympic comeback, by helping out the next generation of sporting stars at the 2012 Games in London in his games maker role.
“It’s really just something that will encompass the whole Olympic ethos, and pass on to young people the help and assistance I got when I was there,” said Les.
“I’ll be working in the athletes’ lounge underneath the stadium, not out in the open air, and the athletes will come into the warm-up track where I’ll be.
“Along with the International Olympic Committee federation guys, we’re there to look after them and answer their questions.
“I felt with the Games coming up in the UK, it was a once in a lifetime chance to be involved. My grandchildren are very keen on sport so I thought I should get involved.
“But the whole thing has changed so much since my day. We were amateurs and did it part-time, but these days there’s all the physical therapists, podiatrists, dieticians and every form of medication, with a whole medical team behind them.
“The facilities are fantastic. I’ve been down several times for orientation, and getting used to the idea of how big it’s going to be.
“The Olympics I ran in were the last of the true Olympics before all the commercialisation came in.
“We didn’t have any of the sideshows, as I’d call them.”
l Watch Les running the 100m in Munich online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIrwJE6FtjI