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Tokyo 1964


Ann Packer

Ann Packer


Track and Field

If versatility is a virtue for sportsmen and women, Ann Packer must be ranked among Britain’s best athletes of the era. She had won the 100 yards (91.4m) title as a schoolgirl in 1959, and the women’s national title in long jump the following year. She made her international debut as a long jumper in 1960 but was shortly to make the European Championship final in the 200m in 1962, as well as the final of the Commonwealth Games 80m hurdles. The following year, still unsure of where her best talent lay, she tried out the 400m and ran a high-class time of 53.6secs in just her fourth race.

So for her, the choice of event for Tokyo was rather complicated. She decided to concentrate her efforts on the 400m and then, almost as an after-thought, entered the 800m, another event in which she had little experience but lots of potential.

Packer set a European record in the 400m final, but had to be content with a silver medal behind the Australian Betty Cuthbert, who had sprinted clear and held on, despite Packer closing in the final stages. The British athlete turned now to the longer distance, but was not confident of matching that medal-winning performance.

She could finish only fifth in the opening heat, scraping into the next round, and was then third in her semi-final. Feeling tired, and lacking confidence, Packer considered missing the final entirely to go shopping. But she was inspired by her fiancé, athlete Robbie Brightwell, who had finished a disappointing fourth in the men’s 400m final and was despondent on missing out on a medal.

And so, to cheer him up, Packer decided to race anyway. The race was led from the start by the French athlete Maryvonne Dupureur, who broke away from the pack and held first place for most of its distance. Behind her, though, Packer moved up from eighth, to sixth, to third and then overtook Dupureur with 70 metres to go, holding on to win in a new world record time. “It was so easy, I could not believe I had won,” said Packer afterwards. “I knew nothing about the event and that probably helped.”

It was a triumph that appeared to set up this exceptional athlete for a glittering sporting future. Instead, Packer retired from competition at the age of just 22. She married Robbie – who had won his own medal with a silver in the 4x400m relay - and they had three sons – one became a 400m runner, the other two became professional footballers.

Discover the best photos of Tokyo 1964

  • Vyacheslav Ivanov - 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games

    1964 Tokyo - Vyacheslav Ivanov (URS) 1st, on the top, and HILL Achim (EUA) 2nd. © 1964 / IOC

  • Opening Ceremony Tokyo 1964

    Yoshinori Sakai has lit the Olympic cauldron


  • Opening Ceremony Tokyo 1964

    Yoshinori Sakai, the last torchbearer, stands next to Greek actress Aleka Katseli at a rehearsal prior to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games


  • Larisa Latynina (USSR)

    Larisa Latynina, with a bronze medal around her neck, on the third step of the podium after the beam competition of the Tokyo 1964 OG. On the top step is Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska, while Tamara Manina (USSR) stands on the second step


  • Yoyogi National Gymnasium

    An aerial view of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, circa 1965. Designed by Kenzo Tange to house the swimming and diving events in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it is now a major venue for basketball and ice hockey. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Anton Geesink

    Dutch judo champion Anton Geesink arrives back in his home town of Utrecht after winning the gold medal in the open event at the Tokyo Olympics, 6th November 1964. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)