Ann Packer was among the favourites to win the 400m at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 but when she finished the event,and rtetired she did so with a amazing record. She had made it to the top of her event, but in her secondary event, the 800m, becoming the first British woman to win a track gold medal at the Olympics. It would be another 40 years before a British woman would repeat that glory in the 800m when Dame Kelly Holmes triumphed in Athens, but Packer’s performance was all the more astonishing because she had achieved it in a world record time.
Winning an Olympic title over two laps was never on the agenda when Packer started out in athletics. She began at high school as a high jumper, before quickly moving to the track where, in 1959, she won the English Schools 100yards crown, though she was disappointed with second place in the English Schools 200yards in 1960. But she varied once again and won the WAAA long jump and made her international debut that year. Her first major championship arrived in 1962 when she competed at the European Championships in Belgrade and the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, ending the year with a bronze medal from the 4 x 100m at the first and a silver in the 4 x 110yards from the second. She was working as a PE teacher at the time but she did not reach world class heights until she moved up to the 400m in 1963 when she ran 53.3. In 1964 she won the WAAA title and headed to the Tokyo olmpics seeking medals
Packer had not run the 800m prior to 1964, and she moved upto double her distance to use it as a test of endurance. No one could have expected the progress she would make after clocking 2:11.1 on her debut in May, before she ran three slower times. A 2:05.3 at the White City Stadium in London was a excellent improvement, but to think then that she would run a world record at the Olympic Games, never mind winning a gold medal, was not even on her mind. It was very much a family affair in Tokyo because Packer was engaged to Robbie Brightwell, Britain’s No 1 400m runner, the European champion from Belgrade, and the British record holder. Brightwell finished fourth in the final while Packer had to settle for silver in her final, even though she set a European record of 52.20 as the Olympics staged this event for women for the first time. Betty Cuthbert, of Australia, who had won three sprint gold medals at the Games in Melbourne in 1956, was just too strong, taking victory in an Olympic record of 52.0. The day of the 800m final drew closer and Packer had Brightwell’s disappointment as much as anything on her mind; she wanted to make up for his upset at missing out on even a medal.
In the Olympic village, Packer was sharing a room with Mary Rand, who had been crowned Long Jump champion and wore the gold medal around her neck; it proved to be tremendous inspiration for her friend.Packer did not push it in the heats, qualifying with energy to spare, and in the final she had the slowest time of the eight lined up. It made little difference to the outcome. With Brightwell trackside, Packer stayed in the pack as Maryvonne Dupureur, of France, took control. By the home straight, Dupureur was still in charge but Packer had moved into third and her sprinting speed now told when she stormed home to win in 2:01.1. It was a world record, an amazing performance for someone so new to the distance, with the Frenchwoman second in 2:01.9 and Ann Marie Chamberlain, of New Zealand, third in 2:02.8. She had triumphed for her partner and as she said afterwards: “I wasn’t nervous, because I was thinking about him, not myself.”
Packer and Brightwell were married after the Games and she never ran again. She was awarded the MBE in 1965 but sport very much remained in their family. Their son Gary (b. 6 Oct 1965) ran 47.90 for 400m in 1984, and his two younger brothers Ian (b. 9 Apr 1968) and David (b. 7 Jan 1971) became professional footballers with Manchester City. But her story has its own place in Olympic history.
1962; sf 100y & 220y, 6th 80mh, 2nd 4x110y Commonwealth Games; 6th 200m, 3rd 4x100m Europeans
1964: 2nd 400m, 1st 800m Olympics
UK Internationals: 9 (1960-4)
Won WAAA long jump 1960, 440y 1964
100y 10.9 (1963), 10.8w (1960); 100m 11.7w, 12.0 (1960), 200m 23.7 (1964), 400m 52.20 (1964), 800m 2:01.1 (1964), 80mh 11.4 (1960), HJ 1.60 91959), LJ 5.92 (1960), Pen 4294 (old tables) (1963).
Indoors: 60y 7.1 (1960)