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Jim Alder: marathon runner, baton bearer

To celebrate the occasion of the first Stirling Marathon which takes place on Sunday 21st May our Exhibitions Assistant, Ian Mackintosh, writes about one of Scotland’s greatest marathon runner’s contribution to Commonwealth Games history.

Jim Alder is without doubt one of the greatest distance runners in the history of Scottish Athletics. Jim competed in the 1966 and 1970 Commonwealth Games and also represented Great Britain at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. Jim collected a complete set of medals at the Commonwealth Games winning gold in the marathon and bronze in the six mile race in Kingston in 1966, and silver in the marathon in Edinburgh in 1970. Another of Jim’s claims to fame is that he was involved in all three Queen’s Baton Relays when Scotland hosted the Games (in 1970, 1986 and 2014).

Jim Alder returns from Kingston, Jamaica, with his marathon gold and six-mile race bronze medals.

Edinburgh 1970

Jim’s first involvement with the Baton Relay came at the opening ceremony of the 1970 British Commonwealth Games where he had the honour of bringing the baton into Meadowbank Stadium and presenting it to Prince Philip. Jim recalled the day in a recent interview for the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive:

“I was captain of the Scottish Cross Country Team and a Gold Medallist for the Marathon at the last games. I got a letter from the Scottish Amateur Athletics Association asking me if I would be interested in taking part in the Baton Relay in Edinburgh. I replied that I was honoured to take part. They asked me to keep it secret and not to let my family know because I was to be the involved in the last leg of the relay in Edinburgh. I received a phone call a few days later during which they then told me that I would be carrying the baton into the stadium to hand it over to Prince Philip.

I was also given specific instructions as to what I was to wear. I was to wear my Scotland Vest a pair of white shorts and a pair of plain white canvas shoes. On no account was there to be any branding. At the time Adidas were my running shoe sponsors and they provided me with all of my gear. So I had to go out and buy a pair of shorts and shoes for which I was reimbursed. My wife and family were in the top stadium waiting on the teams coming in and when the Scotland team appeared I wasn’t in the team. She turned to her dad and our son and said yer dad is late again he’s missed the team. You see I had a reputation for being late. It was then that I made my entrance and it was flashed up on the scoreboard that the mystery Baton Relay runner was Jim Alder. It was great running round the track. The roar of the crowd was amazing. They were clapping and cheering and of course I knew most of the other British team’s athletes and they were cheering me on. It brought a lump to my throat and I was very emotional when I handed over the baton to Prince Philip. It was a fabulous occasion and when I handed the baton over to Prince Philip he asked if I had run all the way with the message.”

Jim Alder hands the Queens Baton to Prince Philip at Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh, 16 July 1970

Edinburgh 1986

In 1986 Jim was asked if he would like the honour of carrying the baton over the border into Scotland during the relay. Recalling the day Jim noted that:

“I was advised to be in Coldstream for midmorning and I was met by the committee. This was a very different occasion [from 1970] because my role was to carry the baton over the border and hand it over to someone at Coldstream. It was a less formal affair and I didn’t need to worry about what I wore. In fact I wasn’t even advised about what to wear so I decided I would wear my 1970 Scotland Uniform which still fitted me. I was still a serious runner back then and I maintained my weight well. I was still competing regularly in Cross Country, Road Races and Marathons. I was really happy to be involved in the baton relay once again and I never thought I would ever be involved in it again.”

Glasgow 2014

In 2014 Jim had the honour of being part of the final stages of the baton relay on the opening day of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. At an event in Scotland House (The Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow) he presented the baton to Prince Imran, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation. For Jim “it was a great day, because it was an opportunity be in my hometown and the reception I received showed that people hadn’t forgotten what I had achieved nearly 40 years before.”

Our exhibition Hosts and Champions: Scotland in the Commonwealth Games was also officially opened that day and we were present to witness Jim’s contribution to the day’s events. After the ceremony was completed, we met Jim and chatted to him about his career. Jim was very interested in our exhibition and was delighted when he saw that we had featured him in the display. The exhibition included a photograph of Jim taken shortly after he had won his silver medal in the 1970 marathon. The photograph was titled “A helping hand”. Jim was delighted to see the picture and was more than happy to chat with us about the race. He spoke fondly of his great friend and rival Ron Hill and highlighted the fact that five of the fastest Marathon runners in the world were competing in the race. For Jim “it has been a great privilege to be asked to take part in all three Commonwealth Games Relays and the fact that I was involved in the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay completes a unique set for me.”

Jim Alder with his photograph from the 1970 Commonwealth Games which features in our Hosts and Champions exhibition.

 

‘A helping hand.’ Jim Alder crosses the line to win silver in the marathon at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.