LONG before we had the skeleton at the Winter Olympics there was the high-speed thrill of rodelling. . . and East Lothian had its own champion.

Rodelling, more commonly referred to nowadays as luging, is an activity still practised in countries with abundant snow and alpine environments and saw competitors lie on top of a small sled and hurtle feet-first down long runs of hard-packed snow.

At the Winter Olympics in Grenoble 50 years ago, competitors in the sport reached speeds of 70 miles per hour and did not have the benefit of today’s modern safety equipment.

Among them was East Lothian farmer James Manclark who, at the age of 28, represented Great Britain as one of two rodellers on the French alps.

East Lothian Courier:

James Manclark in action on the luge

James told The Haddingtonshire Courier at the time that he believed the sport, which was fairly new in international competitions, would take off in the years to come.

And he revealed how he discovered the pastime four years earlier while on holiday in Switzerland.

Speaking to the Courier in 1968, he said: “I found I wasn’t much good on skis and took up Cresta Running on a toboggan.

“I did that for a while, then took up bobsleighing, which was much more fun.

“Then I heard that there was a sport still more dangerous – rodelling – and decided to give it a try.

“It really proved quite a thrill and as not many people take it up seriously, I found myself with a place on the Olympic team.”

James admitted he was not expecting great success at the Games, where the British team were up against experienced rodellers, some of whom had been taking part in the sport since they were just four years old.

And he confessed that a fatality on the runs had made the GB competitiors more careful.

After coming 40th out of 52 competitors, he said then: “One of the British rodelling team was killed last year and I rather think that was at the back of our minds – a sort of sub-conscious safety-first attitude.”

Nowadays, rodelling, which is German for sledding, still draws crowds to popular holiday resorts such as Le Massif, Quebec, where there is a 7.5km run described as the thrill of a lifetime.

In Tyrol, Austria, there are numerous runs high up on the mountains offers stunning scenery.

Mr Manclark, now in his late 70s, went on to represent Great Britain at the following Winter Olympics on the bobsleigh. He would later help found the sport of elephant polo.

East Lothian Courier:

James Manclark playing polo

And while he is no longer involved in high-speed pursuits, he remains a busy businessman in Haddington, running his property development business and overseeing company interests in the oil industry and in opencast mining.

He now looks back on his high-speed days with no regrets, telling the Courier: “I had the last rites twice and I’m not even Roman Catholic!”