Ann Packer: The Accidental Olympic Champion

Ann Packer wins 800 meters.
Ann Packer wins 800 meters.

She wanted to go shopping.

Ann Packer had won the silver medal in the women’s 400 meters, finishing second to Australian, Betty Cuthbert. So instead of bothering with the 800-meter race, it was time to ease the disappointment with a trip into town. Her fiance, and captain of Team GB at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Robbie Brightwell, convinced Packer that she was here to compete, and that she should. So she did.

Packer had little experience in the 800 meters. And as you can see in this film clip, Packer was at the back of the pack for most of the race. But in the final two hundred meters, she climbed to third, and in a burst sprinted out a dominating finish. A world record finish, in fact.

Packer explained subsequently that the 800-meter race for women had only been introduced 4 years earlier in Rome, so not many women were experienced in this distance, and for her personally, she had no preconcpetions about how to run the race. But being naïve, and being a sprinter, was Packer’s advantage. As she later said, “ignorance proved to be bliss.”

Sport Illustrated also noted the Packer cool, a modesty and lack of concern about the bigness of the moment, and that her future husband had to re-emphasize to Packer that her achievements were indeed a big deal.

“But what is it, really?” Ann said. “So many have won medals. I don’t think it is better than doing anything else well. I won a gold medal because I ran twice around a track, that’s all.”

Brightwell looked at her. “I don’t think you realize what you have won,” he said. “It will take years, maybe, before you realize what it means to win an Olympic gold medal. But one day you will open a book and see that Jesse Owens won four gold medals in 1936, and you will see your name in the book, too, and then you will realize what you have done.”

Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer celebrate her 800 meter victory_from the book
Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer celebrate her 800 meter victory_from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Services”