1980, Moscow Olympics, a tournament sadly overshadowed by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan on the first day of the year. The result of the invasion? Major competitors such as the USA, West Germany, Japan, China, and Argentina all boycotting the event as the Cold War came close to its climax.
Despite such adversity, the House of Commons voted in favour of sending a British team to represent the United Kingdom, even though there was heavy pressure to join the protests. Tam Dalyell, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party sports group, saw the potential boycott in a different light:
“In my heart I couldn’t see how my presence in Moscow was going to cause more deaths. A Russian soldier isn’t going to say, ‘Oh, Allan Wells isn’t coming. I’m not going to shoot somebody.’”
As right as Dalyell was, it was still Alan Wells who stole the show for all the right reasons; winner of the 100 metres. The then 28-year-old set a new British record of 10.11 seconds in qualification, but still faced the daunting task of defeating Silvio Leonard of Cuba in the final, the man who held the second-fastest time of 9.98 seconds over 100m, at the time.
Wells, unfazed, defeated the favourite in a photo finish; the UK rejoiced, the nations boycotting the event did not matter; a Briton was 100 metre champion.
What makes the result even more impressive is that Wells remains the last white male to win gold in the 100 metre Olympic final. The flying Scot was a legend in the sport, the greatest British athlete.
However, like any ‘out of the ordinary achievement’, eyebrows were raised; question marks constantly surrounded the result. A few years prior to the Scottish athlete’s success, he was not even a sprinter, but instead, a long jumper.
His wife, Margot – who was a 100 metre hurdles champion herself – was his coach and bedrock; the foundations to turn a long jumper to 100 metre Olympic champion. The woman to turn a man who could not break 11 seconds, to winning the pinnacle race in the sport.
But since the achievement, Margot’s impact has reason to be contested, and perhaps it was another stimulant which drove Wells to victory: the anabolic steroid, Stromba.
BBC Panorama ran a recent documentary which highlighted evidence that such substances were taken by Wells. Drew McMaster, who won gold with Wells in the Commonwealth 4 x 100m relay, spoke how Dr Ledingham supplied Scottish athletes with the banned drug.
Ledingham passed away in 1998, but supposedly stated in a private conversation how Alan Wells was allegedly illegally doping:
“He [Wells] was taking stuff from all over the place, not just from me … Everybody knew Wells took drugs.”
The evidence seems more compelling, when BBC Panorama spoke to an anonymous source involved with Scottish athletics at the time, and a close companion to Alan Wells.
The source explains how a long jumper went from such a big difference, in a remarkably short space of time through abusing the substance; it seemed unbelievable at the time, but unrealistic when looking back:
“Can an athlete go from 11stone 7 to 14stone and put on that build naturally? Not at that age. Not in my experience.
When I started to notice changes in him, the changes were big, and they were obvious. It changed his personality – a bit of aggression – that’s the side effects of steroids.”
Alan Wells has since commented on the allegations as a ‘shocking slur’, and continues to act as an ambassador against any illegal doping. He has never been found guilty, or failed a drug test in his career. Although the Olympic champion has refused an interview with BBC Panorama, it seems that Wells should remain innocent until proven guilty.
However, in a sport which has a highly contested history of drug issues; the last white male to win a 100 metre Olympic Gold, could have a long jump red flag forever surrounding his success.