Lanark athletics legend John Prior reminisces about 1956 New Year half mile race triumph

John Prior is pictured crossing the finishing line when romping to victory in the 1956 half mile at Powderhall
John Prior is pictured crossing the finishing line when romping to victory in the 1956 half mile at Powderhall
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Lanark athletics legend John Prior has been reminiscing about the memorable day he became the youngest ever winner of the half mile race at Powderhall.

John (now 80) was just 18 years old when he triumphed in the 1956 version of the traditional festive race meeting, including the sprint race which has since been switched to Musselburgh Racecourse where it will once again be staged on January 1, 2018.

“Back in those days the meeting at Powderhall (an Edinburgh district) was the biggest in the British athletics calendar,” John said.

“There were 25,000 spectators watching it, it was a big thing. When I went over the finishing line, I remember the crowd giving a big roar like I’d just scored a penalty kick!

“I won by a big distance and winning was the finalisation of three years of hard training.”

The New Year’s Sprint meeting, which dates back to 1870, was transferred to Musselburgh Racecourse in 1999 after a 28-year stint at Meadowbank Stadium.

And John was present at the 2018 race’s official draw earlier this month, when he was assisted by fellow Lanarkian Millar Stoddart.

The New Year’s Day sprint, over 110m, is being screened live on ITV4 (in between live horse racing) and will see the winning athlete receive a whopping £4000.

Unlike the early days, amateurs are allowed to take part with a head start handicap system in place as a leveller for athletes of all ages. John will be race timekeeper.