John Freebairn: Veteran Athlete

 
It should be said right at the start that it is absolutely impossible to give a comprehensive run-down of all that John did or achieved as a veteran athlete because he did so very much, but we can look at the various aspects of that career and then wonder how he managed to cram as much in. His career as a vet started in January 1978 and was still going strong well into the twenty first century.   There is many a career in athletics that is shorter but has received a lifetime achievement award.   Remember too that he took part in highland games, open meetings as well as these veterans championships while he was still a very active coach.   
 
If we look first at the official Scottish rankings for all age groups for the period when John was eligible to compete as an amateur, ie after 1986, he was ranked four times as in the table below.    Remember that in 1987 he was an M45 Vet in 1987 and in 1988 when he was ranked seventh in the country for the shot putt, he was an M50 vet.
Year
Event Distance Rank
1987
DT 35.26 18
1988
DT 37.74 17n
1988
SP 13.18 i/12.63 7
1993
HT 33.46 37
That was competing against all Scots, regardless of age or status.
 
 If we next look at how he compares as a Masters athlete on the British stage, we find that he was in the top 10 no fewer than 22 times in the period up to 2014 covering high jump, shot putt, discus, javelin and weight throws and the Pentathlon.   In 2005 he was British number one M65 in the shot putt, and number three in high jump and Pentathlon.   His last ranking at British level was as an M75 in shot putt in 2014.   He had been ranked for 31 years as a veteran athlete at that point.   
 
If we then look at his competitive record as a veteran at Masters Championship level, even just going back to his wonderful season in 2005 where he won multiple events at Scottish, Welsh and British Championships we get the following table.
Meeting
Age Gp Event Performance Position Date Venue Comments
Scottish Masters
M75 Shot 4K 6.01m 2nd 2/3/2014 Emirates Indoor
Scottish Masters
M 75 Shot 4K 7.82m 1st 10/2/2013 Emirates Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 7.84m 3rd 12/2/2012 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters. M70
Shot 4K 7.99m 2nd 13/2/11 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 8.35m 1st 24/1/2010 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 9.26m 2nd 16/2/2008 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M70 Shot 4K 8.39m 1st 21/6/08 Dunfermline Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.40m 2nd 10/2/2007 Glasgow Indoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.68m 2nd 19/2/2006 Indoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 8.91m 2nd 20/05/2006 Glasgow (S) Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Discus 1K 27.94m 2nd 20/05/2006 Glasgow (S) Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 10.13m 2nd 12/2/05 Glasgow Indoors
Scottish Masters
M65 Shot 5K 9.75 1st 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Discus 1K 30.95m 2nd 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Javelin 600 29.32m 1st 28/5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Scottish Masters
M65 Hammer 5K 30.85m 2nd 28//5/05 Aberdeen Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 High Jump 1.30m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Shot 5K 10.20m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Discus 1K 32.07m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Hammer 5K 31.94m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
Welsh Masters
M65 Javelin 600 30.25m 1st 28/6/05 Cardiff Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 High Jump 1.30m 3rd 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Shot 5K 10.46 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Weight 9.08K 12.52 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Discus 1K 33.01 2nd 16/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Hammer 5K 30.32m 1st 17/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Championships
M65 Javelin 600 31.90 5th 16/7/05 Birmingham Outdoor
BMAF Weight Pentathlon
M65 5 Events 3671 points 19/6/05
 
You see the problem: he was winning so much that to list them all would be almost impossible.   The point is that he was a prolific championship winner here at home.
 
Domestically he competed in a multitude of events and as a veteran he was at or near the very top of his age group in up to 7 events each year.   For instance, in
* 1993 as a M55 he was ranked 3rd in the 110 yards hurdles, 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 1st in the discus, 1st in the hammer, and 1st in the javelin.   
* A year later and still an M55, we find him 1st in the hurdles, 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 2nd in the discus, and first in the javelin. 
* Still an M55 in 1995, he was 1st in the high jump, 2nd in the pole vault, 1st in the shot putt, 2nd in the discus, 2nd in the hammer and 2nd in the javelin. 
* 1997, as an M55, 5th in high jump, 1st in pole vault, 1st in shot, 2nd in discus, 3rd in javelin, 1st in decathlon with 5722 pts.
* 1998, as an M60, 2nd in 110 hurdles, 1st in high jump, 2nd in pole vault, 1st in shot, 2nd in discus (as M55 – championship held on 1st January), 3rd in hammer, 2nd in javelin, 1st in weght pentathlon, 2nd in decathlon with 6161 pts.
We could go on listing his rankings for the whole 40+ years and it would only confirm what we now know – that he was a class performer over a range of events.    However both long and triple jumps do not appear at all in the rankings although he did compete in the long jump in the decathlon and indoor heptathlon well.
 
Among his many successes at British level was the British Throwers Decathlon at Milton Keynes in 2001 where as an M60 he won the supreme Victor Ludorum award, and at the same event daughter Susan won the Victrix Ludorum for the women’s decathlon.   However it is instructive that he is still highly ranked in UK Decathlon ranking tables.   
 
Age Gp
Ranking Pts Date Venue 100m LJ SP HJ 400m 110H DT PV JT 1500
M45
33/75 5426 1/6/87 Glasgow 13.4 5.15 11.34 1.66 63.7 20.6 31.86 2.95 42.20 6:01.9
M50
18/78 5795 6/7/89 Aberdeen 13.3 4.89 12.22 1.57 65.80 18.00 37.78 2.90 36.12 5:55.80
M55
29/50 5418 16/7/94 Glasgow 14.51 3.97 11.67 1.53 70.92 19.08 36.82 2.60 35.66 6:53.12
M60
14/36 5675 2/3/98 Glasgow 15.07 4.08 12.31 1.49 75.37 19.44 37.33 2.30 38.09 6:56.33
 
These were not the only decathlons in which he took part – merely the best one in any 5 year period.   For instance in June 1991, he and Eamon Fotzgerald battled one out at Pitreavie in which Eamon was victorious.   
 
He also competed in, and is UK ranked in the all-time list, for the indoor heptathlon:
Age Group
Ranking Pts Date Venue 60m LJ Shot HJ 60mH PV 1000m
M50
5th 4206 14/2/90 Kelvin Hall 8.84 4.69 12.10 1.65 10.66 2.90 3:45.48
M55
6th 3962 15/2/97 Kelvin Hall 9.23 4.29 10.88 1.52 11.41 2.60 4:02.19
M60
4th 4265 14/2/98 Kelvin Hall 9.31 4.14 12.12 1.50 11.48 2.50 4:19.40
M65
3rd 3190 25/1/03 Kelvin Hall 10.25 3.29 11.18 1.36 13.16 2.00 0:00.0
 
To be fair, the indoor heptathlon was a short lived event and was not widely supported in England largely because they did not have permanent indoor arenas.   It was nevertheless recognised throughout the country and there were in fact three such events in Scotland in 2003.   His Scottish friend and rival Eamon Fitzgerald, who has great memories of John as a competitor in these events. says that after many years as a professional vaulting with an aluminium pole, John never really came to the same proficiency with the ‘bendy’ pole used in these amateur competitions.   But in the much more widely practised  UK All Time Throws Pentathlon, John is also highly ranked.
Age Group
Ranking Points Date Venue Hammer Shot Discus Javelin Weight
M60
16th/59 3218 2/10/01 Burton 33.77 11.31 36.73 31.74 14.58
M65
8th/44 3423 28/7/04 Arhus 33.29 10.66 33.79 31.50 14.16
The M65 performance in Arhus, Denmark, in 2004 was another father/daughter performance – but while John was fifth, and only Briton of 17 competing in the pentathlon, Susan won the W35 discus and was fourth in the Throws Pentathlon.   They competed fairly often in the same competitions as masters athletes.   It came two years after he had competed in the same EVACs championships in Potsdam.
 
When we think of throwing events, we, brought up in the amateur code in the 20th/21st centuries tend to think only of shot, discus, hammer and javelin.   But there are many more implements that are used in competitions, and there are also variations within the categories 0 the simplest is that between the wire handled and wooden handled hammers.   John took part in many competitions in many arenas using a wide variety of implements.   Susan also took part in many of these competitions and set records but if we only look at what there is for John on the UK records database we see that as an M65, competing in Tata in Hungary in 2003, set a record of 43.99m for the Iron Slingball weighing 3.3 lbs.   One of his favourite venues had to be Rochester where in 2001 he set an M60 record for the 56 lb one hand hammer of 5.37m, but it was in the Rochester meeting on 5th October 2002, still an M60, he set UK records for no fewer than four events.   There was the 35 lb Sling Hammer which he threw 6.89m, the 35 lb Putt of 6.56m, the 56 lb Putt of 4.80m, and the 11 lb Shafted Hammer of 30.73m.    (… and don’t forget the caber  … or the Wellie Boot from his professional career!)
 
In addition to these more unusual events, we now, looking over his range of events as a competitor as a professional athlete, and as a veteran amateur athlete see that his talents covered hurdles, high jump, pole vault, long jump, shot, discus, hammer, javelin and weight plus combined events such as weights pentathlon and decathlon.   We note from the BMAF performances in the table above that he had the strength, mental as well as physical, to tackle six events over two days.   If we look at the results from Wales as well as Birmingham, we note that he travelled well with five victories there as well.   I have criticised Dunky Wright, mildly, in the past but he might well have been correct when he said that an amateur John Freebairn could have been a GB decathlete.
 
The picture above is of John carrying the Commonwealth Games torch for the Glasgow 2014.   Not too many had that honour.  John thoroughly deserved it.   One of the amazing things about his career is that so many people know of him as an ex professional footballer but so few know anything, or not very much about his achievements after that.   This is partly because he him self was so quiet about what he did.   He just got on with it, gave it it as much as he could and moved on.   And he did that year in, year out for in excess of 60 years.   He had of course the full backing of his wife Celia and his daughters Joanne and Susan – and there are many stories that I have heard of the four of them working together to help the cause of coaching throwing events in Scotland.