McLEOD Willie, MBE

Willie McLeod MBE

Willie McLeod, was blind, won two Paralympic gold medals, a world championship title, and surpassed the world long jump best for the visually impaired athletes with a leap of 6.68 m, in 1985. Willie is Scotland’s most successful blind athlete to date.

When Willie decided to run a marathon, he could not find a guide fit enough to go the distance, so a relay of guides was enlisted, and they swapped the acoustic vest. He would recall his ski-ing experiences (he was the first visually impaired athlete to gain a slalom proficiency award) and told how children were watching the blind group, and their instructor was impressed by their style. “I want you to ski like the blind skiers, ” she told them. “The kids,” recounted McLeod with glee, “came down the hill with hats pulled over their eyes”.

Born in Springburn, Glasgow, Willie was a nine-year-old schoolboy when he lost the sight of one eye in a catapult accident. The other eye was affected, and he soon lost the sight of that one. He was a pupil at the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh from the age of 10, and later worked as a transcriber for Braille Press, rising to supervisor. Willie competed in four Paralympic Games, winning lawn bowls silver in 1976, in Canada. Four years later in Arnhem, McLeod won gold in the sprint and the bowls title. He was also British record holder at 100m and javelin, and gained several UK bowls titles.

Margaret McLean was his coach and mentor. As his “caller”, she stood with a loud-hailer at the end of the straight, or behind the pit when he jumped. “Five” is the call when running straight, “four” if the athlete strays to the left, and “six” if they go right. Yet that takes no account of running straight, but jumping squint. Every contest was a leap of faith, and once Willie landed on the concrete rim of the sandpit, hurting both feet badly. Willie taught Margaret to bowl, and they were still playing one another, having great fun, during the summer when he passed away.

When Willie broke the visually impaired world long jump record, he beat it by 77cms. This surpassed even the legendary Bob Beamon. When the American broke the world best to win Olympic gold in Mexico 1968, it was hailed as probably the greatest single athletics feat of the 20th century. He added “just” 55cms to the world best. It made him a legend. Beamon’s record lasted until the great Lewis v Powell clash in 1991 – the same night as Liz McColgan won world gold).

Information taken from an article by Doug Gillon and reproduced with the permission of the Herald.