Olympic silver medallist and Commonwealth champ McFarlane dies aged 63

  • Mike McFarlane and Allan Wells crossed the line together in 200m final
  • Despite 20 minutes of studying the photo finish they couldn’t be separated 
  • They were both awarded gold medals and shared the top step of the podium 

It was the race that took 20 seconds to run but 20 minutes to resolve. Mike McFarlane, who has died aged 63, achieved many things in his long life in athletics as both a top sprinter and a coach.

But he will be remembered not for a race he won, rather for the one he tied — the 200metres final at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

It was there, at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium and in front of Queen Elizabeth II herself, that McFarlane took on Allan Wells in a Battle of Britain.

McFarlane, a 22-year-old kid from Hackney, was very much the underdog against the seasoned 30-year-old Olympic 100m champion and 200m silver medallist from Edinburgh.

But McFarlane matched his more experienced and successful rival stride for stride. ‘Wells has the fight of his life, while McFarlane is running the race of his life,’ bellowed BBC commentator David Coleman.

olympic silver medallist and commonwealth champ mcfarlane dies aged 63

Mike McFarlane (R) and Allan Wells dip for the line at the 1982 Commonwealth Games

olympic silver medallist and commonwealth champ mcfarlane dies aged 63

Despite 20 minutes of studying the photo finish (above) they couldn’t be separated

As they crossed the line, there was nothing to split the England and Scotland sprinters. McFarlane and Wells both clocked 20.43 seconds — thousandths of a second were not used in those days — and a photo finish was called to decide the winner.

Only, a winner was never decided. After more than 20 minutes of deliberations, which included the judge even asking Wells to look at the picture himself, a dead heat was called for the first time in the history of the competition.

McFarlane and Wells were both awarded gold medals and shared the top step of the podium. The unprecedented outcome even entailed half of each national anthem being played.

‘It was a strange feeling standing on the top step with Allan,’ McFarlane — affectionately known as ‘Mac’ — told Mail Sport in 2018. ‘They call the Commonwealths the Friendly Games but they were fierce. The race that day was fierce.’

McFarlane also shared a step on the podium with team-mates six years later, albeit in more conventional fashion, after he claimed a silver medal with Elliot Bunney, John Regis and Linford Christie in the 4x100m relay at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

That was the hugely popular athlete’s third Olympics, having finished fourth in the 4x100m relay in 1980 in Moscow, then coming a commendable fifth in a 100m won by Carl Lewis at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

McFarlane’s other notable achievements include a European junior 200m title in 1979, European indoor 60m gold in 1985, Commonwealth 100m bronze in 1986 and European relay bronze the same year.

Daley Thompson, the 1980 and 1984 Olympic decathlon champion, led the tributes to McFarlane after his death was confirmed on Tuesday.

The 64-year-old wrote on Twitter: ‘Sad day as I lost another friend, Mike McFarlane. Faster than me, played cards better than me, if only he’d had my good looks!

’82 Comm Games his finest moment. My thoughts and love are with your family and friends Mike. RIP buddy.’

Following McFarlane’s retirement as an athlete, he became a highly respected coach, working with a number of British sprint stars, including Regis, hurdler Tony Jarrett and Dwain Chambers, as well as, more recently, Jodie Williams and Desiree Henry.

Married with a son, McFarlane was still coaching a number of high-ranking and upcoming athletes up to his death, which came after a recent heart attack.

Katharine Merry, who won 400m bronze at the 2000 Olympics, wrote: ‘Sorry to hear about the passing of Mike McFarlane. A wonderful coach and a super athlete. How sad. No age at 63. Always a smiling face. He will be missed. RIP Mac.’

McFarlane’s former club Newham & Essex Beagles said in a statement: ‘Mike’s extraordinary contributions to the world of athletics have left an indelible mark and his loss will be felt deeply by the entire sporting community.

olympic silver medallist and commonwealth champ mcfarlane dies aged 63

Wells and McFarlane (right) wave to the Brisbane crowd from the top step of the podium

‘His exceptional achievements as a sprinter were an inspiration to countless individuals around the world.

‘His dedication, unwavering determination and remarkable talent propelled him to the pinnacle of athletic success. His legacy as a sprinter will continue to motivate aspiring athletes for generations to come.

‘Moreover, Mike’s subsequent career as a coach has been equally remarkable. His passion for nurturing young talents and imparting his extensive knowledge and experience to others made him a revered figure in the field of sports coaching.

‘His guidance and mentorship have undoubtedly shaped the lives and careers of many athletes, instilling in them the values of discipline, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence.’

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