Blackpool Olympian Alf Meakin on life in the fast lane at the Tokyo Games of 1964
The start of the Tokyo Olympics this week will be watched with particular interest at one Blackpool residence in Cornwall Avenue, North Shore.
That’s because its owner, Alf Meakin, competed at the previous Games in the Japanese capital in 1964.
Meakin, who will turn 83 next month, was a member of the British sprint team in Tokyo, part of his most successful sporting year.
Also in 1964, Alf formed a quarter of the GB 4x100m team which won bronze at the European Championships and he ended the year at the Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia, helping England to gold in the 4x110yards relay.
Meakin was not part of the relay team in Tokyo, where he was not expected to compete at all after pulling a hamstring and spraining an ankle in the build-up to the Games.
Then aged 26, Meakin defied the odds to earn a place in the team. Unable to compete to his highest standards, Alf had to settle for sixth place in his heat but took away memories to be cherished for a lifetime.
He told The Gazette: “It was really hard to get the injuries right in time but I did repair well then. I know I didn’t do myself justice but I don’t think I’d have won had I been fully fit.”
Those first Olympics in Asia did divide opinion at the time, coming fewer than 20 years after the Second World War ended, but Meakin’s experience of the Far East was completely positive.
He remembers: “The Olympics were really good and the Japanese people were great. It was so different to anywhere else I’d been.
“I’d served in the RAF and met the guy who ran the American airbase there, who was as good as gold.
“The highlight for me, though, was meeting Jesse Owens (the four-gold American sprint sensation of the 1936 Olympics), who was fantastic.
“I was told there was an opportunity to meet him and I didn’t need asking twice. He was the greatest ever.”
Meakin may not have hit the headlines on the track – made of cinders for the last time at Olympic events – but he did become a favourite of the Japanese media.
When Alf left a pearl ring he had bought for his fiancee in a Tokyo taxi, the driver duly handed it in and the media made a major story out of reuniting Meakin with the ring before his return to England.
The incident is so well remembered in Japan that a Tokyo TV crew paid Alf a visit for a documentary in the build-up to this year’s Covid-delayed Games.
The ring ultimately found its way on to the finger of fiancee Joy, now Alf’s wife of 56 years.
A Lancashire and England junior champion, Meakin joined the renowned Thames Valley Harriers on being stationed in the South East on national service.
Here his reputation grew, representing the RAF against other branches of the Armed Forces in high-profile athletics meetings.
Meakin returned to Blackpool on leaving the Air Forces but retained his links with Thames Valley, where he was honoured with a life membership.
The sport was purely amateur in those days, so competing in major international meetings would mean Alf taking time off work, while training was done during his lunch hour or in the evening.
Gifted with the gab, Alf worked largely in sales but had a string of jobs around the Fylde coast, including a spell at the premium bonds office.
He sold cars for a while, worked for an estate agency and also for a company specialising in decorative tiles for fireplaces.
To make some money out of his sporting skills, Alf turned his hand to rugby league with the former Blackpool Borough club, playing on the wing.
“I’d never played the game before but I could beat people one on one, though I quickly realised there was much more to the game than that and I didn’t stay for very long,” he recalls.
“Some players would tell me what they were going to do to me when they tackled me, but I just told them they’d have to catch me first.
“The players at Blackpool backed me. I remember them all coming up to me in the dressing room before the first game to wish me good luck.”
Meakin made headlines again eight years ago as the country’s oldest recipient of a bone marrow transplant to treat leukaemia, surgery which was wholly successful.
Alf’s thoughts turn to another sprinter who overcame major illness, the four-gold USA Olympian Michael Johnson, adding: “He’s another athlete I got to know. He’s an excellent broadcaster and a really nice person … the best people in sport usually are, you know?”
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here.