Three decades on, Bellshill Bullet Tom McKean’s record still stands

McKean (right) battles GB team-mate Brian Whittle in 1991
McKean (right) battles GB team-mate Brian Whittle in 1991

It’s almost exactly 30 years since one of Scotland’s top track performances unfolded over two laps in London and Bellshill’s own middle distance sensation Tom McKean was right in the thick of it.

Such was the oustandingly high level of performance from ‘The Bellshill Bullet’ McKean (now aged 55) that the Men’s National Record for 800m has remained elusive for pretenders ever since.

The event where it all happened three decades ago was the Dairy Crest Games at London’s Crystal Palace on July 28, 1989.

The big name in the field was the Kenyan Paul Ereng, the 1988 Olympic Games 800m champion.

Ereng set the perfect pace: 24.43 at 200, 50.14 at 400, and 76.57 at 600, before McKean (24.55, 50.48, 76.87) attacked off the final bend and hit the front some 35m from the line.

“Ereng ran such a perfect pace,” said a surprised McKean afterwards.

“But I won on strength in the home straight, rather than speed.”

It was Ereng’s first defeat in 19 races since his Seoul Olympic success.

It was the fastest time in McKean’s career – 1:43.88 to Ereng’s 1:44.25 – and remains the Scottish national record some 30 years later.

Six days earlier, McKean had enjoyed an easier victory, winning the Scottish title at Crownpoint Stadium in Glasgow by over four seconds, blasting away right from the start to go through 200 in 24.78 and 400 in 49.91.

As with his national record, 30 years later and Tom’s Scottish title win remains as the Scottish Native Record.

These times were no one-offs either.

Between 1986 and 1992, Tom bettered 1:45.00 on 18 occasions and ran under 1:46.00 on a further 27 occasions, an astonishing total of 45 sub-1:46 times.

McKean’s illustrious career included him winning 800m gold medals when representing Great Britain at the 1989 World Cup in Barcelona, the 1990 European Championships in Split, the 1990 European Indoor Championships in Glasgow and the 1993 World Indoor Championships in Toronto.

Also in a GB vest, The Bellshill Bullet landed a silver medal at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart.

When representing Scotland, McKean won two Commonwealth Games silver medals, in the 800m in 1986 in Edinburgh and in the 4 x 400m in Auckland in 1990.

But McKean, who became a Strathclyde Police Constable (see picture, inset) after his retirement from athletics, was also no stranger to disappointment when competing in the sport.

One of the favourites for the 1987 World Athletics 800m crown, he finished last in the final after suffering an injury when catching the foot of rival runner Stephen Olei Marai.

He failed to reach the Olympic 800m final both in 1988, when he was disqualified for too much physical contact, and 1992.

In first round qualifying for the 1991 World Championships in 800m McKean slowed up too early before the line.

He ended up third and failed to qualify.

The two athletes ahead of him were eventual gold and bronze medallists Billy Konchellah and Mark Everett.