Olympic Games special: 1985 interview with Norfolk’s first track and field star Yarmouth’s Stanley ‘Flying’ Fuller
Fifty-two years ago, a man dubbed 'Flying Fuller' brought honour to his home county of Norfolk when he went as a sprinter to the Los Angeles Olympics. With the Games almost ready to open again in that city, 76-year-old Stanley Fuller remembers…
Stanley Fuller's rising reputation as a sprinter of Olympic potential counted for nothing in the small town carnival sports meeting.
He didn't even warrant a place in the programme's list of leading athletes.
To the Sheringham carnival organisers, the result of the 100 yards short limit handicap appeared little more than a formality. For lining up alongside Stanley, was England's hero of the hour, Jack London, the nation's 100-yards champion who had just scorched his name in the record books by equalling the 100 metres Olympic record.
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The crowds poured on to the seaside sports field in the hope of catching a glimpse of the black flash speeding towards the finishing tape.
But the spectators, the organisers, and no doubt London himself, reckoned without the power and speed of the local hero. In the space of a little under ten seconds on that day 53 years ago, Stanley Fuller made sure that his name was not easily forgotten in the future.
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In an astonishing burst of sprint running, he totally eclipsed London finishing two yards clear of the champion to give him an overall margin of victory.
Stanley, already dubbed 'Flying Fuller', by his Yarmouth athletic club teammates, was not a man to boast of his triumph. Naturally self-effacing, he maintained that his greater experience of running on grass had given him an edge.
Sports writers were not so shy. And in the wake of that Sheringham upset, one headline writer posed the question: 'Fuller, The Fastest Englishman?'
Just over a year later, Stanley Fuller had gone some way to answering that question when he set sail in the summer of 1932 with the British Olympic team bound for the Los Angeles Olympics.
Now, 76, Stanley, the veteran Olympian, remains modest of his achievement of half a century ago. The first Norfolk man to run in the greatest sporting competition the world has ever known, lives quietly with his wife, Mary, overlooking the sea from Gorleston's clifftop Marine Parade.
To the visitor, there is little outwards sign in his home of his most memorable sporting moment – only a framed medal, with the inscription Xth Olympiad 1932 hanging above the television gives the game away.
Stanley Fuller was 24 when he appeared in those Games. He never reached the finals in any of his events – the 100 yards, 220 yards or the relay.
Steady and in many ways unremarkable, Stanley's triumph was in scaling undreamed of heights against the odds.
To say that he exploded on to the international scene would be an understatement. Before being selected for the British Olympic team, he had only been chosen once to run for his country – and then he had turned down the opportunity. 'I couldn't spare the time off work,' he said.
It is all a far cry from today's build-up to international competition, where so-called amateurs devote themselves virtually full time to their sports in the pursuit of success.
Despite Stanley's natural ability as an athlete, running always came second to work, and his job as a salesman with the Yarmouth firm of J. & H. Bunn.
'My job was the most important thing,' he recalled. 'That was my bread and butter.'
Running, in fact, wasn't even his first sporting love. As a teenager, football had been his favourite game. He played for St. Georges, a church team where his lightning pace made him a natural winger. He might have remained so, but for the number of injuries he sustained.
He recalled: 'I used to wring my ankles over a lot, and a friend advised me to take up running instead. I hadn't really given it any thought before. I didn't think I was anything special at school, although I had won the school's Victor Ludorum Trophy. But I just toddled along to the athletics club anyway.'
Shortly after, he surprised everyone, including himself, by beating the county champion at 100 yards in an open meeting at Attleborough. Even so, there was a world of difference between beating a Norfolk champion and reaching the Olympics. And Stanley, for all his natural ability, had more obstacles to overcome than most.
'At Yarmouth, we used to train at the Wellesley,' he said. 'In those days we didn't have a cinder track. We just had to train o grass or run on the cycle track which was rock hard.'
He rarely had the opportunity to use a trowel to dig the small holes in the cinder track – that have since been superseded by sprinters' blocks.
'We weren't allowed to dig holes in the Wellesley grass. And the track was like concrete. You couldn't dig holes in that even if you tried.'
In spite of such setbacks, Stanley progressed to Southern Counties championships and the AAA finals at White City. His training had become more serious, designed specifically at increasing his speed.
At least four nights a week were spent at the Wellesley. His efforts were rewarded with his selection for the Olympic team in the summer of 1932 following his best-ever results in the AAA tournament of that year.
Just over a month later, the man, who had only taken up serious running four years before, was marching behind the British team captain, Lord Burghley, in the giant Los Angeles stadium.
'It had taken us some nine days to reach Los Angeles – and we had about two days to settle in before the competition began,' he said.
Memories of that great sporting occasion remain vivid. 'The stadium itself was beautiful,' says Stanley. 'It was by far the best I ever ran in. It was packed out every day.'
The runners who stand out in his memory of the games were Eddie Tolan and Ralph Metcalfe of the United States. Together they dominated the sprints.
Stanley's performances, like the majority of British athletes', were unspectacular. He was knocked out in the first heat of the 100 yards, eliminated in the second heat of the 220 yards, and has some vague recollection of a dropped baton ending any hopes of relay success.
But in keeping with the Olympian ideals, the results neither disheartened him nor soured his view of the Games.
'I knew there were better runners in the events than myself. And I also realised that I was up against the world's best. To me it was just a great thing to race in the Olympics,' said Stanley.
'I don't like the kind of attitude which seems to think that winning is everything. We can't all be winners. The very fact that people have competed is what is important.'
It is a view that has survived the 52 years that it has taken for the Olympics to come full circle and return to the Californian metropolis.
During that time, Stanley has taken up tennis, badminton and golf and then seen them too fade away each in their turn.
Now the chairman of the company that he worked for 50 years ago, he is resigned to being an armchair sports spectator. It is two years since he played his last stroke on the gold course. His sprinting days are long since departed.
'I had about one more year serious running after I came back from Los Angeles,' he recalled. 'A lot of the enthusiasm seemed to go after the Games.
'It was just one of those things. I suppose I had just had enough of my life being so restricted because of all the training.'
He stopped for a second, the sunlight flooding in through the window on to the scrapbook full of newspaper cuttings recalling the triumphs of half a century ago.
'Now,' he said, 'it's just a memory. It was all a long time ago.'