Racing Past

The History of Middle and Long Distance Running

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                                Finish of the 1952 Olympic Final in Helsinki Germany returned to the Olympics in Helsinki seven years after the end of World War II, and in athletics three silver medals and three bronze medals, including those for the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres, were won. Writing in the British Olympic Association’s Official Report, Harold Abrahams – happily, as he admitted, “wallowing” in statistics – made the valid point that top six placings, of which the USA had 34, the USSR (competing for the first time at the Games) 20, Great Britain 15 and Germany 11. were as significant as medals in judging a country’s strength. However, such a favourable outcome might still have been a cause of some embarrassment to the then president of the German athletics federation, Max Danz.

Percy and the Finns Legitimize the Steeplechase

                                                        Iso-Hollo leads “The Last of the Flying Finns” – a turn of phrase which has a seductive ring about it, bringing to mind the adventurous tale of early American Anglo-French conflict, “The Last of the Mohicans”. But like the central characters of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of 1826 it’s not immediately obvious which individual might be most representative of the end of a line. To be precise, even the identity of the first of the “Flying Finns” – attributed invariably to Paavo Nurmi – can be questioned because Hannes Kolehmainen was by eight years an earlier Olympic champion. 

Hyla Stallard: His Olympian Mind-set

   “Quiet, chivalrous, generous to opponents”: the Olympian mind-set of Hyla Stallard Athletics successes in Great Britain in the years between the World Wars, 1918 to 1930, were socially divisive. The Olympic gold medals were usually won by undergraduates or graduates from Oxford and Cambridge Universities – most notably, Harold Abrahams, Lord Burghley, Guy Butler, Douglas Lowe, Tom Hampson, Godfrey Brown. Even the iconic New Zealander, Jack Lovelock, was at Oxford. Titles in the more prosaic 50 kilometres road walks were taken instead by less privileged members of society; one of them a railway-depot labourer, the other a motor-racing mechanic. Of the 586 athletes who represented Great Britain in that era, 118 were from Oxford or Cambridge.

Luigi Beccali: A Long Hard Route from Youthful Indiscretion to an Olympic Title

    Choosing 12 kilometres as the distance for one of your first races at the age of 14 is not the wisest of decisions, but everything turned out alright for Luigi Beccali in the long run – or rather, one could say, in a series of shorter runs. An Olympic gold medal and two World records at 1500 metres are enviable achievements by any measure. In purely statistical terms, he was the first man run under 3min 50sec for the distance twice – and, for that matter, three times – and though this might not seem too impressive now it’s a feat which is justifiably still thought to be of great significance more than 90 years later by anyone with a real sense of athletics history. 

Jack Potts: An Overlooked Olympic Hero

 In the wake of “The Gateshead Clipper”, Jack Potts, an overlooked Olympic hero      Jack Potts, fourth from right, in the winning English cross-country team (Paris, 1935) There was a time, back in the days of amateurism, when some British athletes of real international class missed out on the Olympic Games because they could not afford to lose their income while they were away from work. Now, in this age of rabid professionalism, the selectors choose only to send those competitors who they think could win medals in the belief that the greater the number of medals the more generous will be central funding. Other athletes not so highly thought of are denied their big-time opportunity, even when the necessary finance is available. No thought seems to be given to the idea that young and promising athletes not yet ready to challenge the very best would benefit from the experience of going to a Games, and would do rather better next time round.   

Profile


“A bit of a novelty in those days”. Who was the first Afro-American to break  four minutes for the mile?There are now more than 1,500 sub-four-minute milers, and so the names of Reggie McAfee and Tommy Fulton are just a couple among many which don’t immediately strike a chord. Yet within a lapse of time of only a few weeks 45 years ago they made a significant contribution to miling history. McAfee and Fulton were both Afro-Americans, and McAfee is the first US-born Afro-American to have broken four minutes for the mile, with 3:59.3 on 21 April 1973, which he improved to 3:57.8 three weeks later, and this latter time was equaled by Fulton in the most unlikely circumstances on 25 May.

A century Ago in War-time: How Athletics Survived and a Swedish Runner Prospered

“You Can’t Out-run a Bullet”. A Century Ago in War-time: How Athletics  Survived and a Swedish Runner Prospered “Don’t you know, there’s a war on ?” It would be natural to assume that athletics was on hold a century ago. The battle-fronts had been set remorselessly in Flanders fields since 1914, and in April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson won a 74-to-nil vote of confidence from Congress to bring the USA into the conflict. Mere sport was bound to suffer when hundreds of thousands of able-bodied men in uniform were being slaughtered, but the story is rather more complicated than that.

A Re-evaluation of the Career of Sin Kim Dan

A Re-evaluation of the Career of Sin Kim DanSuddenly there is a sound. “Ooosh ! Ooosh !” The “superwoman” can be beaten  Mysterious. The same description has been used by both the pre-eminent writers, Robert Parienté and Roberto Quercetani, in their comprehensive histories of athletics regarding the exploits of an athlete known to them as Sin Kim Dan but now referred to, presumably in the light of heightened linguistic awareness, as Shin Gheum Dan. She ran 51.2 for 400 metres and 1:58.0 for 800 metres during September and October of 1964 in her home town of Pyongyang, in North Korea (more correctly, the People’s Republic of Korea), and neither performance was ever ratified. The official World records then stood at 51.9 and 2:01.2.

A Record-breaking Track Career Begins Under the Eyes of the Nazi Invaders

A Record-breaking Track Career Begins Under the Eyes of the Nazi InvadersEuropean middle-distance running during the World War II yearsSwedish runners, benefiting hugely from their country’s neutrality, dominated the middle-distance track events during the years of World War II, as is well known, and the great duo of Hägg and Andersson set 21 World records between them from 1500 to 5000 metres. Neither of them, though, was fast enough to add the 800 metres to their accomplishments. The World record for that event of 1:46.6 would, in any case, remain out of reach to all and sundry for another decade after peace was declared, and the fastest man in the event in the latter war years came, surprisingly, from another country with a much less well-established athletics tradition than its Scandinavian neighbour across the straits that led into the Baltic Sea..

A Vision that Paved the Way to Vaporfly

A vision that Paved the Way to VaporflyHigh-grade running-shoe technology is no new phenomenon The current controversy over Nike’s Vaporfly road-running shoe is merely a reminder that footwear fussing and feuding have been going on in track & field athletics for much more than a century. The Finnish manufacturers, Karhu, had been founded in 1916, and enterprisingly produced a distinctive all-white pair of running-spikes which Paavo Nurmi effectively displayed in his gold-medal triumphs at the 1924 Olympic Games, but it was during the Melbourne Games of 1956 that the contest between rival companies to persuade the champions in their choice of brands really began to be waged in earnest. The term “marketing” wasn’t in common use in those days, but the concept had nevertheless by then invaded the cinder-tracks of the World.

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History


184 years of talking – Parrot fashion –  about someone running a four-minute mileby Bob Phillips When I was researching a book I wrote to mark the 50th anniversary in 2004 of the first sub-four-minute mile I became intrigued by the ”near-misses” and the “might-have-been” – the performances by athletes who could perhaps have preceded Roger Bannister by a few years, or even more, had they been given the right opportunity. There are a surprisingly large number of them, and I came to the conclusion, for example, that not nearly enough credit had been given to the fastest mile run in the years before World War II. Contrary to what you might suppose, that was not the official World record of 4:06.8 by Great Britain’s Sydney Wooderson in 1937 but the 4:04.4 indoors by the USA’s Glenn Cunningham the following year.

Early marathon running - the British and Irish influence

Los Angeles and Paris will bid on 13 September to stage the 2024 Olympics. The first Games that were held in Paris, in 1900, were prolonged and often chaotic – in particular, the marathon, which was to be highly influenced in its formative years by British & Irish involvement.  Pandemonium in Paris. “Preposterous”, says the perplexed Mr Poolby Bob Phillips The marathon race at the first Modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens was a rip-roaring success, and the main reason was that it was won by a Greek, accompanied for the last few yards by royalty, no less, to the immense pleasure of the 40,000 or so onlookers packed into the stadium and many thousands more on the surrounding hill-sides. The home victory was certainly helped by the fact that the only competitors who had any experience of marathon-running were the Greeks themselves, who had qualified via two trial races, and a lone Hungarian, whose athletics administrators had also been sensible enough to stage their own eliminator to see if any of their countrymen could last the distance.

Josy Barthel: A “Fiery Little Man” from the Grand Duchy

                                Finish of the 1952 Olympic Final in Helsinki Germany returned to the Olympics in Helsinki seven years after the end of World War II, and in athletics three silver medals and three bronze medals, including those for the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres, were won. Writing in the British Olympic Association’s Official Report, Harold Abrahams – happily, as he admitted, “wallowing” in statistics – made the valid point that top six placings, of which the USA had 34, the USSR (competing for the first time at the Games) 20, Great Britain 15 and Germany 11. were as significant as medals in judging a country’s strength. However, such a favourable outcome might still have been a cause of some embarrassment to the then president of the German athletics federation, Max Danz.

Percy and the Finns Legitimize the Steeplechase

                                                        Iso-Hollo leads “The Last of the Flying Finns” – a turn of phrase which has a seductive ring about it, bringing to mind the adventurous tale of early American Anglo-French conflict, “The Last of the Mohicans”. But like the central characters of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of 1826 it’s not immediately obvious which individual might be most representative of the end of a line. To be precise, even the identity of the first of the “Flying Finns” – attributed invariably to Paavo Nurmi – can be questioned because Hannes Kolehmainen was by eight years an earlier Olympic champion. 

Why Is the Marathon 26 Miles, 385 Yards Long?

We all know that the marathon is 26 miles 385 yards. But why? Whose idea was it?by Bob Phillips Pheidippides didn’t do it. Or if he did, the Ancient Greek press corps were a bit slow on the uptake, and there could only have been a blithe disregard for any sort of reasonable topicality among the scribes of the day. Treating deadlines with disdain, one of the most widely read columnists of 2,400 years or so ago, Herodotus, only picked up on the story some three or four decades later. Plutarch – even more renowned among his avid readership – waited half-a-millenium before putting a pen to paper, or more precisely a split reed to papyrus/ Maybe he was short of anything newsworthy that week and so revived a vaguely remembered myth instead. Even in the 1st Century A.D. when Plutarch was scribbling away (or should that be “scratching” away?), publicity for Greek war messengers was still a sensitive subject because they had often been suspected of being deserters.

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History


                                Finish of the 1952 Olympic Final in Helsinki Germany returned to the Olympics in Helsinki seven years after the end of World War II, and in athletics three silver medals and three bronze medals, including those for the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres, were won. Writing in the British Olympic Association’s Official Report, Harold Abrahams – happily, as he admitted, “wallowing” in statistics – made the valid point that top six placings, of which the USA had 34, the USSR (competing for the first time at the Games) 20, Great Britain 15 and Germany 11. were as significant as medals in judging a country’s strength. However, such a favourable outcome might still have been a cause of some embarrassment to the then president of the German athletics federation, Max Danz.

See all History articles