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A Mexican wave as Hawks hit the heights

By on June 17, 2015

Scotland’s World Cup squad and Vern Cotter head for the altitude of the French Pyrenees and the rarified atmosphere of Font Romeu tomorrow, a venue long associated with preparation for athletic endeavour especially that of an endurance nature, writes Hugh Barrow. 

The base first came to prominence in British athletics in 1968 when the team was preparing for the Mexico Olympics. That Games was to witness the destruction of sea level world record holders such as Jim Ryun, of the USA, and Ron Clarke, of Australia, who at the time stood head and shoulders above their peers over the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m.

However in the oxygen-starved air of Mexico City they fell to the Kenyans and the Ethiopians who destroyed them – and Clarke was seriously affected at the end of the 10,000m.

Amazingly this trend in Mexico was bucked by Mike Ryan, originally from Stirling, who was born at Bannockburn but had emigrated to Waikato and took bronze for New Zealand in the Marathon – given the circumstances, an unbelievable effort.

Prior to these Games not much notice had been given to the effect of altitude on sporting performance apart from the fact that British boxers seemed to have struggled in Johannesburg.
Since those pivotal Games altitude training camps have been widely used with some endurance athletes such as Paula Radcliffe basing themselves at altitude.

All this brings into sharp focus the importance of the research currently being undertaken by Glasgow Hawks’ Andy White and the University of Glasgow into the use of hypoxic masks as a training aid, where an attempt is made to simulate altitude conditions at sea level.

Font Romeu or Garscube – you take your pick!

Background: Hugh Barrow, pictured then and now, below,  is the former secretary of Glasgow Hawks. He ran for Victoria Park AAC and in 1961 set an under-16s record for a 4min 10.9sec mile.

He says: “Hard to believe from this time and distance but I had made the Olympic qualifying time for the 1500m in 1968.  As a result I got sent the advice for altitude training and effects. However, I did not make the team.”

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