Remembering Robbie Brightwell

One half of British athletics' golden couple, Robbie Brightwell will be remembered for an iconic turn at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Born in Rawalpindi, India, Brightwell was brought up in Donnington, Shropshire, a few miles from the seat of the modern Games in Much Wenlock.

So the story goes that a bright-eyed 16-year-old Brightwell read about running and the Olympics for the first time in the local interest section of a Shropshire library.

Brightwell’s fascination with the sports and particularly the Games began there as he started training at Shrewsbury Technical College.

He would later take a role as a sports teacher at Tiffin School in Kingston-upon-Thames.

With a personal best of 45.6 for the 400 metres - universally known as the quarter-mile when Brightwell was in his pomp - he appeared first in the 220 yard race at the 1958 Commonwealth Games.

The Birchfield Harrier reached the semi-finals of his debut Olympics, Rome 1960, where he also featured in the 4x400m relay.

Brightwell would really kick in the Olympiad that followed as he took home two Commonwealth Games silvers in 1962.

He won gold at the European Championships that same year in a championship record time and went to his second Olympics two years later on a high.

There he was overhauled for 400m bronze by Poland’s Andrzej Badeński but would get his glory moment with a superb silver in the 4x400m relay.

Brightwell ran a brilliant anchor leg on a British team composed of Tim Graham, Adrian Metcalfe and John Cooper.

He would be enshrined in the nation’s memory as the fiancée of Ann Packer, who had an incredible time in Tokyo with 800m gold and 400m silver.

Packer’s triumph was made famous by her suggestion to Brightwell that she might go shopping in the well-heeled Tokyo district of Ginza rather than race the 800m.

“Do you think I should run in the 800-meter heats tomorrow?” Packer asked. “Maybe I should call it a day and go shopping.”

Brightwell gaped in astonishment. “Shopping? You must be mad! Shopping? This is the Olympic games, not the Moulsford Village sports!”

“I know, but I’m hardly likely to better a silver medal, am I? And I need to buy some presents for the folks back home.”

“Come off it!” I exploded. “Think about the British girls back home who would have given their eyeteeth to be here in your place!”

Brightwell was an impassioned witness to Packer’s talent and remained so in his older years.

He told the Times in 2020: “Ann’s win marked a revolution in women’s distance running because for the first time the 800m became a sprint event.

“In some ways it pre-empted Seb Coe and others if you look at their intermediate times.

“People also forget the 800m was the longest distance for women in those days. Ann showed you could sweat and still have grace and femininity.”

The couple married six months after their Tokyo triumphs in December 1964 and had three sons: Gary, and two former Manchester City players Ian and David.

After sport, Brightwell lectured at Loughborough College and worked as a director at Adidas and Le Coq Sportif. He also ran a fishing tackle business from home in Cheshire.

Brightwell passed away this week at the age of 82.

Sportsbeat 2022