Half of British athletics’ golden couple, Robbie Brightwell will be remembered for an iconic turn at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Born in Rawalpindi, India, Brightwell grew up in Donnington, Shropshire, a few miles from the Modern Games headquarters in Much Wenlock.
So the story goes that a bright-eyed 16-year-old Brightwell first read about running and the Olympics in the local interest section of a Shropshire library.
Brightwell’s fascination with sports and in particular the Games began there when he began training at Shrewsbury Technical College.
He would later take on a role as a sports teacher at Tiffin School in Kingston-upon-Thames.
With a personal best of 45.6 for the 400 meters – universally known as the quarter mile when Brightwell was in his pump – he appeared first in the 220 yard dash at the 1958 Commonwealth Games.
The Birchfield Harrier reached the semi-finals of his first Olympic Games, Rome 1960, where he also competed in the 4x400m relay.
Brightwell would really launch the Olympiad that followed by winning two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in 1962.
— Olympic Games (@Olympics) October 23, 2016
He won gold at the European Championships the same year in championship record time and made it to his second Olympics two years later on a high.
There he was revised for bronze in the 400m by Poland’s Andrzej Badeński but would get his moment of glory with a stunning silver in the 4x400m relay.
Brightwell ran a brilliant anchor stage in a British team consisting of Tim Graham, Adrian Metcalfe and John Cooper.
He would be enshrined in the nation’s memory as the fiancée of Ann Packer, who had an incredible time in Tokyo with gold in the 800m and silver in the 400m.
Packer’s triumph was made famous by his suggestion to Brightwell that he go shopping in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza district rather than run the 800m.
“Do you think I should run in the 800 meter heats tomorrow?” Packer asked. “Maybe I should stop sometime and go shopping.”
Brightwell gaped in astonishment. “Shopping? You must be crazy! Shopping? This is the Olympics, not Moulsford Village sports!”
“I know, but I’m unlikely to do better than a silver medal, is it? And I have to buy presents for the people back home.
“Go for it !” I exploded. “Think of the British girls back home who would have given their teeth to be here instead of you!”
🗣️ “We were both distraught, but we had each other”
Despite early disappointment, Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell eventually picked up three medals between them to become Britain’s golden couple at Tokyo 1964 🥇🥈🥈
Read the incredible story behind their medal-winning success👇 pic.twitter.com/EEVR7RErNY
– Team GB (@TeamGB) October 22, 2019
Brightwell was a keen witness to Packer’s talent and remained so into his old years.
He told The Times in 2020: “Ann’s victory marked a revolution in women’s distance running as for the first time the 800m became a sprint event.
“In a way, it got ahead of Seb Coe and others if you look at their split times.
“People also forget that the 800m was the longest distance for women at that time. Ann has shown that you can sweat while maintaining grace and femininity.
The couple married six months after their triumph in Tokyo in December 1964 and had three sons: Gary and two former Manchester City players, Ian and David.
After sports, Brightwell taught at Loughborough College and worked as a manager at Adidas and Le Coq Sportif. He also ran a fishing tackle business from his home in Cheshire.
Brightwell died this week at the age of 82.
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