Okotoks got hall-of-famer out of the blocks

Track: Annabelle McLean won bronze at ’54 Commonwealth Games

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014 02:43 pm

Annabelle Murray McLean comes out of the blocks whilel running for Calgary Track Club in the 1950s.
Annabelle Murray McLean comes out of the blocks whilel running for Calgary Track Club in the 1950s.
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It wasn’t just speed and heart which got one of the newest members of the Okotoks Hall of Fame to the Commonwealth Games.

It was also the heart of Okotoks that helped Annabelle (Murray) McLean win a bronze medal with Canada’s 4x110-yard relay team at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver in 1954.

“I learned how to run from George Sutherland, who lived in DeWinton, who saw us at a plowing match and he talked to my dad and said: ‘Look, she can run, let me teach her how,’” McLean said during her acceptance speech Friday at the Okotoks Recreation Centre. “So I went out to George’s field and that is where we learned.”

A few years later when McLean went to a national meet in Toronto it was the community that helped her.

“We didn’t have the money to go to all these meets and one time, the town sent me to Toronto,” said McLean, the sister of fellow inductee Jim “Bearcat” Murray.

“And it was the town that was there to greet me when I got back.”

McLean’s crowning moment came when she competed in four events at the Commonwealth Games, the 100-yard dash, 220-yards, the broad jump (now long jump) and the 4x110-yard relay.

“I made it in the long jump at first, but through my training going into the Games I was good enough to make the other events too,” McLean said.

She ran the second-leg on the bronze medal winning team.

“It wasn’t like today’s times, but we had a real good team,” she said. “It was just so exciting, but you know that is why you’re there.”

Their time was 47.8 seconds.

McLean also got to see arguably the most famous moment in track history at those Games. She was watching from the infield when England’s Roger Bannister became the first man to break the four-minute mile, just edging Australia’s John Landry.

“I was standing right beside the track where they came in,” McLean said. “We were all wanting Landry to win because he trained with us and helped us. We knew that someone might break the four-minute mile, that was all everybody was talking about.

“What made it so exciting and what people forget was a Canadian Rich Ferguson was right there, he was third — a Canadian boy.”

The Commonwealth Games were far from McLean’s lone achievements.

She was a Canadian champion in the 100 yards in 1954 and won back back-to-back national titles in 1955 and 1956 in the broad jump.

As she made her quest of making Canada’s Olympic team in 1956, an Okotoks namesake was there to help her as she recovered from an injury.

“I got injured my last year of competing when I was trying for the Olympic Games,” McLean said. “Dr. (Morris) Gibson he gave me physiotherapy every other day all summer and fall. He was another Okotoks man who helped me a lot.”

McLean thought she had made the Olympics team, but was disappointed to find they had selected someone.

“That’s old news,” she said with a laugh. “We don’t talk about that too much.”

Throughout her hall-of-fame career, McLean ran with Okotoks in her heart, and sometimes across her heart.

“I had the Okotoks shirts really until my last few years when it said Calgary,” McLean said. “It was just an Okotoks High School shirt.”

McLean was elected to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1960, the first female track and field athlete selected for the hall


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