Norman Richards, was a talented high jumper and also played a big role in Commonwealth Games history, by being a baton bearer in the first ever baton relay in 1958. We caught up with him to discuss some of the details of the 1958 relay. Here are some of the highlights.
In 1958, how did carrying the baton come about?
I was 18 and a member of the Rhonda Valley Athletic Team. I had a letter through the athletic club saying I’d been nominated as a member of the relay, turned up for a briefing and then received a card saying a van will pick you up. We were told about a month before, maybe longer. We got changed in people’s houses, somewhere near where you took over the baton. I can remember that we all followed the baton after we ran and from time to time we had to get out and run another leg because the person that was supposed to be there obviously wasn’t, but it all went smoothly.
Schools had time off, children were all lined up on the streets with flags, the streets were full and it was quite the occasion. There was a big buzz, people really appreciated that something big was coming to Wales, but at 18 I’m not sure you take it all on board with what was about to happen.
Can you describe the relay?
It was quite well timed, but about 10 minute mile pace and it was all covered in 4 days. It went around the whole of Wales, and a few counties in England. It was run 24 hours a day, I have a feeling they used headlights of the cars to navigate best online casino the runners. It was quite a hard thing to do, running through the night, health and safety wouldn’t allow it now of course. It coincided with the opening ceremony and was all done in the week build up to the Games.
There were some funny incidents, when I was waiting for the incoming runner, I heard someone shout “don’t you dare drop it!” the crowd laughed, but I knew it was my mother! I was embarrassed, an 18 year old and didn’t want to drop it. I remember that being the biggest fear.
I remember a couple of miles up the road, we were in the minibus behind, and one of the lads was really nervous, and as he had taken the baton, it shot out of his hands, and it was one of those frozen moments in time, where the crowd stopped, it skimmed across the road and it seemed to go forever, but it probably only went about 20 yards. It was absolutely dead quiet, it stopped at the feet of a young lad obviously from school and he picked it up, had a good look at it and gave it back to the runner, who said thank you very much and carried on running. The 1958 baton was designed for running as it was a conventional baton really. I think that when it skimmed across the road, I had visions of the Queens message shooting out and flying into the mountains but it held fast.
How different was carrying the baton in 2014 to 1958?
I think it was totally different, no comparison, in 58 you did your bit, in Pontypridd you had your photo taken then that was it, job done. This time I never expected anything like it to be honest. The first indication I had, was a telephone call from RCT saying you’d been nominated and I was selected. I think I was probably there as a survivor from 1958, and did a few radio and TV interviews as well as press and so forth. It was a huge event as far as I was concerned and thoroughly enjoyed it, I had looked forward to it for so long and it was a great occasion.
The crowds weren’t as big, we were in Aberdare, which was our section, the weather wasn’t good, but there were still loads of people out.