Mark 10.3 for the Flying Officer, taking off along the super-fast people’s runway
Roy Sandstrom’s memories of a British 100 metres record of 1956
Through to the 1950s British sprinters had made a habit over the years of finding unexpected yards of extra speed when they got the rare chance to run overseas. So it was perfectly understandable that Roy Sandstrom wrote soon after achieving the country’s best ever 100 metres that “it showed that British sprinters can run fast times in good conditions on reasonable tracks”. The inference, of course, was that most British tracks, and the White City cinders in London in particular, where the national championships and major international fixtures were held, were not the least bit conducive to fast sprinting.
Even so, Sandstrom’s 10.3 clocking in an invitation race on 19 August 1956 at the Nepstadion, in Budapest, on a track that was known to be quick in those days before all-weather surfaces became universal, still came as something of a shock. In their immensely authoritative monthly magazine, “Athletics World”, Norris and Ross McWhirter devoted half a column to the feat, concluding, “Thus at a single stroke Sandstrom leapt from equal 14th on Britain’s meagrely contested all-time 100 metres list to Number One”.
By the end of 1956 five Britons had run 10.5 or faster for 100 metres in races abroad, which the McWhirters reckoned was worth a shade inside 9.7 for 100 yards, and only one Briton had ever run a valid 9.7 for 100 yards on home ground – Eric Liddell 33 years previously. Note the following fastest times at home and abroad for 100 yards and 100 metres by those five men who had run 10.5 or better for the latter distance:
Walter Rangeley: 9.9 Crewe 23 June 1934; 10.5 Oslo 15 September 1935
Cyril Holmes: 9.8w Leeds 11 May 1935; 10.5 Zurich 13 August 1939
Arthur Sweeney: 9.8 London (White City) 11 June 1936; 10.4 Wuppertal 3 July 1937
John Wilkinson: 9.9 Southampton 10 September 1949; 10.5 Paris 30 August 1947
Roy Sandstrom: 9.8 Uxbridge 6 July 1955; 10.3 Budapest 19 August 1956
All of these sprinters thus gained as much as three yards when they ran 100 metres beyond their homeland shores! It should be noted that Holmes set a time of 9.7 for 100 yards at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney but never in pre-war years even beat 10.0 seconds for 100 yards at home without wind assistance. A sixth man to have run 10.5 for 100 metres is Alastair McCorquodale; who did so in exceptional competitive circumstances at the 1948 Wembley Olympics, and whose 100 yards best was 9.9 at Aldershot, 3 July 1947.
Now living in retirement at Mount Richon, in Western Australia, Sandstrom at the age of 87 looks back more than 60 years to that memorable day behind the Iron Curtian and recalls: “There were two aspects that I believe contributed to my faster time in Budapest. One influence was the fact that there was a heavy rainfall during the meeting and the track had to be rolled because it was some form of cinder. The other factot that could have been beneficial was that under our temporary team maneger, Truelove, as Crump was unavailable, we were booked on flights that had us arrive in Budapest a day earlier than we would normally have been allowed, giving us an extra day to recover from the journey”.
Sandstrom’s record was equaled by Peter Radford on four occasions from 1958 to 1960, and then by David Jones twice in 1961 and 1963, by Berwyn Jones also in 1963 and by Menzies Campbell in 1966 before Campbell ran 10.2 the next year. The two Joneses did so on successive days on the same Nepstadion track in 1963. All of the other times were also achieved abroad with the one exception that the third of Radford’s records was at the Aldersley Stadium, in Wolverhampton. By the 1960s regular foreign competition was becoming much more readily available to British athletes, and it would not be until 1978 that another British 100 metres record was achieved on home ground – 10.29 by Allan Wells at Gateshead.
Eric Roy Sandstrom was born in Hull on 11 September 1931, and clearly had some Nordic ancestry because his name means “sand stream” in Swedish – and his blond hair was always a distinctive feature on the track. He was by no means of obvious promise as a junior, and by his own admission – in an “Athletics Weekly” questionnaire in the issue for 10 November 1956 – “met with little success outside the school championships”. He attended Kingston High School where he contested any event open to him, including 100, 220 and 440 yards, the high jump, long jump, shot, discus and javelin. Another pupil at the school who was to later gain international fame for his albeit brief athletic exploits was that marvellous actor, Tom Courtenay (“Lonelinsess of the Long-Distance Runner”), but he is six years younger than Roy Sandstrom and so they would not have readily crossed paths at school.
Sandstrom first started to get his name mentioned in the “Sports Gossip” column of the “Hull Daily Mail” in June and July of 1950, when at the age of 18 he was taking part in local sports meetings. These were the sort of slap-happy affairs where the headliners were likely to be the Hull British Transport Commission Police tug-of-war team, of whom the local newspaper cheerily reported on one occasion, “Five burly men in yellow and green shirts earned themselves a day’s holiday from duty on Saturday by their muscle power”.”
Handicap racing in such a setting was a school of hard knocks where Sandstrom often found himself outpaced for the attractive first prize by a local school-teacher named D.N. McAlister, who was a member of East Hull Harriers and had won the Yorkshire 440 yards title the year previously. Boldly Sandstrom threw himself in at the deep end the next year and placed 2nd at both 100 and 220 yards in the Yorkshire senior championships to Brian Shenton, the reigning European 200 metres title-holder; As Shenton’s winning margin at 220 yards was only four-tenths – 21.5 to 21.9 – Sandstrom might well have been encouraged by the experience, but he had plenty of time to watch Shenton’s back as the course at the Horsfall Playing Fields, in Bradford, was straight all the way.
Now studying at Hull University College, Sandstrom’s best time otherwise was 22.3 for 200 metres in a semi-final of the International Student Games in Luxemburg, in which he was 5th in the final but only four-tenths behind the winner, Robin Pinnington, of Oxford University. A further modest first taste for Sandstrom of the pressures and hardships at international level came in the medley relay (800 x 400 x 200 ,x 200 metres) in which he took over in the lead for Great Britain on the anchor stage but could not quite hold off Germany’s Konrad Wittekindt, who had run a 10.6 for 100 metres earlier in the summer.
No signs of progress were evident during 1952 and 1953 as Sandstrom was furthering his physical education studies at Carnegie College, in Leeds, and it was only when he went into the physical fitness branch of the RAF that real promise began to be shown – but at first the circumstances were all against any form of serious activity. He explains:
“When I entered the RAF in January 1954 I was initially posted to the officer training station at Jurby on the Isle of Man, and for the winter I spent there I had to train alone. The conditions were harsh outdoors on the air-field ,and as it became dark in winter at 4 p.m. I was unable to train in the evenings. So I trained early in the morning in cold and damp conditions as dawn broke. My perseverancc provided a base for improvement which was a benefit when I left the Isle of Man and was stationed at RAF Waterbeach, from where I was able to travel to the University at Cambridge and train in better conditions. I was grateful to receive coaching and training advice from Allen Malcolm, the University athletics coach”.
Duuring 1954 Sandstrom won the Yorkshire and RAF titles at 100 yards in 10.0, ran a wind-aided 9.7 at Eastbourne for the RAF versus Sussex, a 10.7 for 100 metres in Holland, and at the season’s end a legal 100 yards in 9.9 inches behind Britain’s No.1, George Ellis, at the annual Birchfield Harriers floodlit meeting on 2 October – a highly popular fixture in those days, even if sometimes the autumnal evening at the end of a long season which had begun with the highly favoured Inter-Ccounties’ Championships in May was distinctly on the cool and dank side. Ellis, who was another Northerner, born in South Shields, was a student at Loughborough College.
By present-day standards Sandstrom’s training was sparse. Even after he had run his 10.3 for 100 metres he admitted that it amounted to “usually two or three days” in summer and “four or five whenever possible, whenever I can fit it in” in winter. Strongly built at 11st 12lb (74kg) for his height of 5ft 8½in (1.74m), he was a splendidly impressive barrel-chested sight at full speed, and he had plenty of exercise otherwise to keep fit, as he was good enough to play wing-threequarter for the RAF rugby football team from 1957 onwards. In winter he would run up to 6 x 150 yards or 2 x 440 yards in a shade under 60sec each. In summer he would concentrate on starts and sprints up to 40 yards from starting-blocks.
He won the AAA 100 yards in 1955 and made the first of his 13 international appearances for Great Britain that year His form during 1956 gained him selection for the Melbourne Olympics even before he had run his 10.3, and maybe it was the receipt of that welcome news on the eve of going to Budapest that also boosted his morale and sharpened his speed. Yet he was by no means the undisputed No.1 in the country. He had finished 3rd in the AAA 100 yards to a youthful prodigy, 18-year-old John Young (later to be an England rugby-union wing-threequarter) and Nigeria’s Titus Erinle, and he was beaten again by Young in the GB-v-Czechoslovakia match at the White City.and by Liverpool’s Ken Box in a fast 100 yards on a grass track, 9.7 to 9.8.
The pivotal race in Budapest eight days later was no matter of nipping over to the continent for yet another excursion, as is the case with most British sprinters these days. In the 1950s, and until the sport became legally professional in the 1980s, foreign competition other than international matches or major championships was available only through invitations extended by meeting promoters via the omnipotent British Amateur Athletic Board, and on this occasion the lucky recipients at the behest of the saturnine British team manager, Jack Crump, were a group of six – John Salisbury (400 metres), Alan Gordon (1500 metres), Ken Norris (5000 metres), John Disley (Steeplechase) and Jack Parker (110 metres hurdles) being the others.
Sandstrom’s was one of those faultless performances which every sprinter hopes for once in a lifetime. After a perfect start he was challenged by the East German, Manfred Steinbach, but put his strength and stamina to full use and drew away to win by a metre as Steinbach and Lászlo Kiss, of Hungary, finished 2nd and 3rd both in 10.4. Unfortunately, Sandstrom was unable to sustain that form, and back on the same track at the end of September for the Hungary-v-GB match he was beaten by Kiss and Béla Goldoványi, 10.5, 10.6, 10.6.
At the Melbourne Olympics Sandstrom went out in the heats of the 100 and 200 metres but finished on a much more pleasing note as the GB 4 x 100 relay team including three Northerners (Box, Sandstrom and Shenton, with David Sgeal on the third stage) equaled the national record of 40.6 in the semi-finals and then again in 5th place.in the final – automatic timings of 40.68 and 40.74. The North-South ratio in that team is particularly interesting considering that London and its immediate surroundings had 17 public cinder tracks in operation that year and the entire North of England only nine – in Berwick-on Tweed, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Gateshead, Huddersifld, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Sandstrom’s final season of 1958 brought even greater relay success. England were the winners at the slightly longer 4 x 110 yards in the Empire & Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in another British record of 40.7 (40.72). with a line-up of Peter Radford, Sandstrom, Segal and Adrian Breacker. Then came yet another record for the same quartet with 2nd place by the narrowest of margins to Germany (both 40.2) at the European Championships in Stockholm a month later. A 9.7 for 100 yards behind Radford’s British record 9.6 at Wolverhampton in June and another personal best of 21.5 for 200 metres in Gothenburg in August completed Sandstrom’s competitive career on a high note. By now Peter Radford had already initiated a new era in British sprinting..
Concluding his questionnaire in the issue of “Athltics Weekly” for 10 November 1956, Sandstrom had made a point with which sprinters of six decades later will certainly sympathise. “I feel very strongly about sprinting against the wind”, he wrote. “To run fast one must have the experience of running fast, and the more one can get that experience, especially in competition, the better. There is no reason why the 100 yards should not always be run with the wind”.
Having been promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Leiutenant, Sandstrom laft the RAF, gained a further degree at the University of Oregon and became a senior lecturer in physical education at Melbourne University. He retired from the Departmentof Physiology in 1988 . :
Note: The mathematical formula devised by the McWhirter twins for comparing times for 100 metres to those for 100 yards was published in their “1957 British Athletics Record Book” as follows – 10.3 for 100 metres = 9.48 for 100 yards, 10.4 = 9.57, 10.5 = 9.66, 10.6 = 9.74, 10.7 = 9.83, 10.8 = 9.92. Opened in 1953, the Nepstadion in Budapest was demolished in 2017 to make way for a new stadium. On its all-weather track in 1987 Linford Christie had run 10.03 for 100 metres. My thanks to Trevor Vincent in Australia for putting me in touch with Roy Sandstrom.