Track Stats - Sting

A sprinter’s youthful memories . . . with a sting in the tale

From “Track Stats”, March 2008.

Having discussed the athletic talents of such celebrities as Johnny Mathis, Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenneth Horne in recent issues of “Track Stats”, another name to add to the list is that of Sting, who describes his brief teenage sprinting career in detail in his refreshingly honest autobiography, “Broken Music”, published by Simon & Schuster in 2003. From 1962 he was attending St Cuthbert’s Grammar School, in Newcastle, having been born in nearby Wallsend, where his father managed a dairy. Sting (his real name is Gordon Sumner) writes as follows, and his vivid description evokes memories of the words of another sprinter from the North-East, W.R. Loader, whose “Testament of a Runner” will be familiar to many “Track Stats” readers:

“I am too awkward and clumsy to be much good at football, but I can run. No one has ever beaten me over 100 yards at any of the schools I have attended. I am big-boned and strong from all the exercise I get working with my dad and, of course, all the free milk. I hold the school record for the 100 yards and have qualified for the Northumberland County Championships in Ashington. It is the summer of 1967 and I am 16. This is the biggest race of my life. I can recall the nausea of waiting for the starting pistol, the agony of the silences between the instructions: ‘On your marks …’ My spiked feet in their blocks, measuring the distance between my left knee and my fingertips. ‘Get set …’ Now an eternity as I raise my head and push back on my hips and stare down the long tunnel to the finishing line. Bang!

“I return home that evening flushed with pride and victory, having won the race by a good length and blurting out the news of my triumph to my father, who is rousing himself from his afternoon sleep on the sofa. ‘That’s very nice, son’, is his only response, before he drifts off to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. I am at first deflated and then angry at him. He is too embedded in his own unhappiness to be able really to share in my success or take pride in it as something that he himself had helped to create. His pride in me will continue to be ossified in the bones of his sadness, unvoiced. I understand this now, but I didn’t then.

“My running career ends that summer after I am beaten for the first time in the early rounds of a national tournament. I have lost heart in the sport, consoling myself with the knowledge that there is no strategy involved in sprinting, no real tactical training. You are either born with the right musculature to be the fastest, or you are not. Excellence in sports is cruelly definitive, and this is the nausea in the pit of your stomach and in your throat, this is the fear – that you will not be good enough, that you will be beaten, that you will fail”.

Editor’s footnote: the “national tournament” to which Sting refers is the All-England Schools’ Championships held that year at Peterborough at which the intermediate (under 17) 100 yards was won by F. Dennis (Somerset) in 10.2 from P. Pinnington (Middlesex), J. Molyneux (Lancashire), K. Lowery (Yorkshire), R. Johnstone (Hampshire) and J. Cooper (Kent). Paul Pinnington seems to be the only one to have gone on to compete as a senior, running 10.8 for 100 metres as a member of the Borough of Enfield club.