Kenny Ballantyne in the Edinburgh to Glasgow
Ken Ballantyne was a very talented and elegant runner who had a remarkable track career as well as being a top quality road and cross-country man. If we lay out his annual track rankings as a senior we get a grid like the one below, notable for its range as well as its quality.
It was a very good career over a long period of time spanning two distinct eras of Scottish middle distance running. It went from the heyday of Hugh Barrow, Graham Everett, Graham Stark, Jim McLatchie and Mike Beresford through to the days when the likes of Ian McCafferty, Lachie Stewart, Ian Stewart, Frank Clement and Adtrian Weatherhead ruled the roost; from the days when the four minute mile was a rarity, perhaps even a dream, to the days when it was almost commonplace. You will see from the comments at the end of Colin’s tribute to him what the opposition thought of Kenny Ballantyne.
Kenny Ballantyne enjoyed an illustrious running career and inspired many club-mates in Edinburgh Southern Harriers, a top Scottish club which he served with distinction, as athlete and official. He was a great competitor, invaluable in team events, and always friendly and encouraging – a true gentleman.
In the Scottish Junior National cross-country, he won team silver in 1961 and followed that in the Senior National with team gold (1964, 1965 and 1969), silver (1967 when he finished ninth) and bronze (1966 and 1968). Kenny was also very effective in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Road Relay. His first team medal in the event was in 1961 when ESH finished second with Kenny recording the fastest time for Stage 8, when he broke the record. His team was again second in 1963 and third in 1964. In 1966, Kenny was fastest on the prestigious Stage Two, in front of Hugh Barrow, Andy Brown and Alastair Wood. There was another bronze in 1968 and finally the longed-for gold medal in 1969. In 1970 ESH were squeezed into second but Kenny was fastest on Stage 8. A final bronze followed in 1971.
Kenny was even more successful on the track, representing Scotland every year from 1961 to 1966. His best distance was One Mile/1500m and, on the 21st July 1965 at Motspur Park, he raced a mile in 4.01.1, which at the time made him the fastest-ever Home Scot and topped the Scottish rankings that year. Donald Macgregor, who was to finish seventh in the 1972 Olympic marathon, relates in his autobiography that he was training with his ESH club-mate Kenny around then, and that they had changed over to Arthur Lydiard style training, doubling their weekly mileage from April onwards but taking care not to run too fast until closer to an important race.
In 1964 Kenny Ballantyne won the SAAA Mile title. He gained another one silver and three bronze medals in the event. In addition, he was East District Mile champion in 1965, 1966 and 1968.
Kenny’s other personal bests included: 1.53.2 (880 yards), 8.51.0 (2 miles) and 14.05.3 (3 miles).
Steve Taylor (Aberdeen AAC former SAAA 3 miles champion and Scottish Cross-Country International) says “I regard Kenny as a gentleman, a stylish runner and a true friend to me throughout my athletics career. I recall my first meeting with him was in the unlikely setting of the start line before a heat of the National Championships mile, when heats took place on the Friday evening. He told me that his parents lived in Burns Road, Aberdeen, which was close to my home at the time!”
Old rival Jim McLatchie comments from his home in the USA. “Ken and I locked horns several times over the mile and were on a few Scottish teams together. Tough bugger – I took him for granted in the 1959 Junior Mile Champs where I thought I would win the race, but Ken had a different idea – he ‘kicked’ my arse! He took off about 880 out, and I thought he went too early and I would haul him in over the last 100 – never happened – I left it too late. Credit to him for running a smart race. We would always have a good banter at track meets – East versus West bullshit – how they (East) were better than the West of Scotland, so when we went head to head in a race, I always felt I had to keep the West in front.”
Club-mate, Alistair Blamire (GB Steeplechase International) says “Kenny is a lovely guy and I always thought that he was a much better athlete than even his fine record suggests, especially if he had been able to compete more often down south. He was a legend at ESH, along with the other ‘Southern’ fanatics like Jackie White, Ian McKenzie, Jim Heggie, George Peat and co.”
Contemporary and rival, Hugh Barrow says: “Kenny was a man of his era : athletics was hugely important but not to the detriment of his career outside running. He sort of symbolised the amateur era – hugely competitive and dedicated but always in perspective.”
Ken’s obituary after his death in 2016 is below:
KEN BALLANTYNE-ATHLETE OBITUARY: Born:15th October 1940; Died 10th November 2016
Ken Ballantyne who has died aged 76 was a leading Scottish international athlete of the 1960s who very nearly became the first home-based Scot to run a sub 4 minute mile. At the time breaking the mythical barrier was not commonplace and only one Scot, Anglo Mike Berisford, had achieved it. On 21st July 1965 while competing in a British Milers’ Club race at Motspur Park in Surrey, Ballantyne was clocked at 4mins. 1.1 sec, the fastest ever by a home Scot. He was Scottish champion over the distance in 1964, placed in the first three several times, and won the Eastern District title on three occasions. Although the mile was his best event, he was a quality runner over a wide range of distances, good enough to feature in the national ranking lists each year from 1959 to ’71 at half mile to six miles.
He was a stalwart member of Edinburgh Southern Harriers for whom he competed with distinction at the top level of the Scottish and British Leagues, scoring many valuable match points. Between 1961 and ’66 he represented Scotland eight times in international contests against countries including Wales, Ireland and Belgium.
Away from the track, he also excelled at cross country and road running. With his ESH team he won three gold medals as well as bronze and silvers in the National Cross Country Championships. He shone in the famous Edinburgh to Glasgow road relay, winning a coveted gold medal in 1969 and several lesser medals. On three occasions he recorded fastest stage times including over the prestigious second one in 1966 when he beat leading runners Hugh Barrow, Andy Brown and Alastair Wood.
Once he stopped competing he joined the ESH committee and became their British League assistant team manager before taking over from Jimmy Smart in 1982. During his involvement the club enjoyed a period of considerable success throughout the U.K., competing with distinction in the first division of the British League and in 1975 winning the British Gold Cup. As a dedicated and selfless official he contributed much to the club.
Born at Kalimpong near Darjeeling in India, Ken’s father was manager of a tea planting estate owned by the Duncan company where he and his wife had lived for several years. The family enjoyed a fairly privileged lifestyle with house servants and a nanny who helped look after Ken and his sister Aileen. Aged six he was sent here to be educated, initially at Blairmore prep school near Huntly where his running talent first emerged. He then attended Strathallan School where he gained his first notable success winning the Scottish Schools’ Championship mile in 1958. The following year he won the Scottish junior mile title setting a championship best, smashing the record by almost five seconds, equivalent to about thirty yards.
Taking up a position as trainee manager with the Commercial Union insurance company in its George Street office in Edinburgh he joined ESH, which was to play a large part in his life. He trained initially at various venues including old Meadowbank and Inverleith Park with teammates Ian Mackenzie and future Olympians Fergus Murray and Donald McGregor. Like many at the time he was self-coached, learning training methods from books, latterly a disciple of Arthur Lydiard, the famous New Zealand coach.
There is no doubt that had he been exposed more frequently to the high calibre of opposition faced in his 1965 record run, he too would have broken the 4 minute barrier. His win four days later in the invitation mile at the prestigious Sward Trophy meeting at Chiswick supports that contention.
In September 1967 he married Doreen Hamilton, originally from near Penrith, whom he had met socially in Edinburgh and together they enjoyed a long and happy marriage, bringing up daughters Julia and Nicola. Appointments as branch manager at Hawick, Kelso and Berwick followed till he took early retirement from Commercial Union. He then joined Lowland Insurance Brokers in Berwick where he was particularly valued for his agricultural insurance expertise, becoming a director of the company till it was bought over by a national concern.
Through his work he was well known among the farming community in the Borders and, having lived mostly in Kelso for the past forty years, he played a full part in the life of the town, being a former chair of the Round Table, and member of Probus and the 41 Club. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Kelso rugby club and attended their game a week before his death.
Unfortunately his quality of life latterly was marred by ill health requiring surgical intervention and regular medication, which was particularly cruel for one who had been so fit and active. He remained positive and was much respected and well liked by people from all walks of life. His friend and fellow athlete Ian Mackenzie commented, “Ken was a very affable and friendly man who did lots of good work for the various organisations he was involved with, always giving 100% in all he did. As a runner he was a seriously hard trainer and one of the best athletes of his time.”
Despite his achievements he was extremely modest, with many of the large turnout at his funeral unaware of his sporting pedigree. He is survived by his wife, daughters and sister.