Tokyo 1964: No medal for Hugh Porter but he got the girl instead

Anita Lonsbrough already had an Olympic gold medal under her belt. She had also taken the top medal at the European Championship some two years earlier, and had picked up no fewer than six gold medals at the Commonwealth Games.

Crowds lined the streets of Huddersfield for Hugh and Anita's wedding in 1965
Crowds lined the streets of Huddersfield for Hugh and Anita's wedding in 1965

But officials were a little worried that her next challenge might prove a little too demanding, it could be a bit too much for her physique to bear.

"I had been selected to carry the flag during the opening ceremony, and they were a bit concerned the flag might be a bit too heavy for me," she recalls.

"I was the first female to carry the flag, and they gave me a holster."

As the Olympics continue in Tokyo, Wolverhampton's golden athletics couple Anita and her husband Hugh Porter recall how a chance meeting on the plane to Japan led to 56 years of marriage.

Hugh, now 81, says he didn't really want to bother with the opening ceremony when he was selected for the games.

Hugh Porter and Anita Lonsbrough met at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo

"There was all that standing around," he recalls. "When you are an athlete, you don't want to be standing around, you want to be off your feet as much as possible."

At least that's what he thought. Then, as he took his place with his team-mates and the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand on end.

"Marching proudly into the arena, and hearing the roar of those who have turned out to support you was just mind-blowing," he says.

"There is no prouder, greater moment. I was really proud."

For Hugh, the Olympics was a bittersweet experience. As a much-fancied member of the British cycling team at Tokyo, he never did get the medal which many experts were tipping him for. But having met his future wife while competing in the games, he didn't exactly return empty-handed either.

Hugh and Anita are now aged 81 and 79 and live in Tettenhall

"1963 had been a stellar year for me, I had come third in the World Championship," he says.

"I was one of the fancied contenders for a medal, but I went down with a heavy cold, with bronchial congestion, and I think that killed my chance of a medal.

"I had been working as a draughtsman for Chubb in Willenhall, and they very kindly gave me six months' leave of absence, unpaid, of course.

"That gave me the time to train, but because of that I think I over-trained a bit.

"I qualified with the fifth fastest time, but then went out in the quarter finals, I think if I had been fit and not had this problem, I would have won a medal. But of course, I met this young lady, so I can't complain."

Anita Lonsbrough pictured in 1960 after winning gold in the Olympics

Anita, who was born in York and living in Huddersfield at the time, had already won gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. She had won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 1962, and was in two minds about whether to compete in Japan, wondering if she would do best to retire while still at the top of her sport.

"I had some problems in 1962, and I had already completed the hat-trick of what you could win in swimming at that time, the European Championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics," says Anita, now 79.

"I went to the Nationals in 1963, and got to three finals, and couldn't decide whether to carry on or retire.

"My training was a bit haphazard, but in the end I decided to just see how it went.

"Of course, if I hadn't have given it one last go, I might never have met Hughie."

It was on the last leg of a gruelling plane journey from London to Tokyo that the couple met or the first time. Anita, of course was already an established star, and as a previous gold medallist was considered to be sporting royalty. For Hugh, the best was yet to come, although this would be his only shot at Olympic glory.

Hugh's cycling badges

"The swimmers were sat at the back of the plane, and the cyclists towards the front," remembers Anita.

"I got up and walked to the front because I knew one or two of the modern pentathlon boys, who were sat the other side of the aisle."

Seeing that Hugh was keen to talk to Anita, his team manager politely vacated his seat, and the pair agreed to meet up once they were safely ensconced at the Olympic village.

Much to her surprise, Anita became the first female athlete to carry the flag during the opening ceremony.

"In Rome, four years before, I decided not to take part in the opening ceremony because I was competing the next day, so I didn't expect to be asked to take part this time," she says.

Anita's Olympic gold medal

Hugh might actually have spent the night stranded at the opening ceremony venue were it not for the clout that Anita had with the event organisers.

While Hugh's bus was supposed to take him back to the Olympic village, some 25 miles away, at 8pm that night, the couple recall it leaving a good 10 minutes before, the young cyclist watching in exasperation as his team-mates waved from the back window. Anita explained the situation to an official, and a car was dispatched to ensure they got back in time for the 10pm curfew.

"We actually overtook the bus on the way back," Hugh recalls with a smile.

Anita and Hugh were married in Huddersfield the following year in scenes akin to a royal wedding, with thousands of well-wishers lining the streets to get a glimpse of the happy couple.

Hugh and Anita were married in Huddersfield in 1965

"One of the newspapers carried the headline 'spot the bride'," Hugh recalls. After finding the Pennines a difficult terrain to practise his cycling, the couple agreed to settle in Wolverhampton, and they now live in Tettenhall. For Hugh, the best was still to come, winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston in 1966, followed by four more gold medals in the World Championships.

The couple also went on to enjoy successful careers in the media, Hugh commentating on every Olympic Games from Atlanta in 1984 to London in 2012, and Anita forged a successful career writing for the Daily Telegraph. They have also enjoyed a third career as charity fundraisers, and are patrons of Compton Care, Kingswood School near Albrighton, and Radio Wulfrun which broadcasts to patients at New Cross Hospital.

Hugh Porter sets off on a 235-mile race with Mayor of Wolverhampton Stanley Tatem in 1969

Hugh says he feels for the athletes competing in Tokyo this time, who will be having to compete in very different circumstances to those which he and Anita did back in 1964. Virtually all of the events will be performed in empty stadia, and athletes will prepare for the games in sterile environments governed by rules on social distancing.

"When you compete in the Olympics, it is all about the camaraderie, about village life, and meeting athletes from all over the world," says Hugh.

"It's about having the support of the crowd, about performing in front of people who have saved up and travelled to support you.

"For many of them, it could be the only opportunity they will get to do it."

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