Centurion Rampling passes baton to London generation

Britain's oldest Olympian recalls 'Hitler and all that' as he reaches his century

At the cosy nursing home in Bushey, Hertfordshire where, he says, he is "wonderfully looked after", they call him The Colonel. He retired with that rank in 1958 after 29 years in the Royal Artillery and he still has that military mien – firm handshake, impeccably groomed, wearing a blue blazer and Olympians' tie, clear-eyed and with a fine head of silvery white hair. He has been there for the last nine years and is now confined to a wheelchair. "I don't run any imore, you know," he says, impishly, but in his younger days he was one of the greatest relay racers Britain has ever seen.

Godfrey Rampling, Britain's oldest Olympian and last surviving gold medallist from the 1936 Games, will be 100 on Thursday. They are giving him a birthday party at the home next weekend and among the gathering of family and friends will be his daughter, the actress Charlotte Rampling.

Over tea we offer congratulations. "How old did you say I am? A hundred next week? Really? Are you sure? Good Lord, I'm surprised anyone remembers. How nice." You suspect the old boy is rather more cognisant of things than he likes to let on. It's a bit of a game, really. "These days it's rather like when I was running. The older I get, the slower I get," he confesses, apologising for his recall "not being quite what it was".

But slow he wasn't in Berlin 73 years ago, when he ran a magnificent second leg of the 4 x 400 metres relay to help strike gold for Britain over the American favourites, with Fred Wolff, Bill Roberts and Arthur Brown. Wolff had been overtaken, leaving Rampling "to make up a bit of ground". It was in fact about 12 metres. He finished more than four metres in the lead, handing over to Roberts, who fought off the American challenge for Brown to anchor a British triumph by two seconds. It was said that Rampling ran the race of his life to set up the victory. "Well I may have done. Other people know better than me."

Berlin was Rampling's second Olympics. He doesn't remember much about the first, in Los Angeles four years earlier, when he won a silver medal, also in the 4 x 400m relay, after narrowly missing out in the 400m final, as he did in Berlin. He does recall more of the infamous '36 Games. "Yes, Hitler and all that. And the wonderful Jesse Owens. Lovely chap, so unassuming." How did he feel about Hitler? "Never really came across him, but we wouldn't salute him, you know. We all laughed at him in the march past. Not a nice chap at all. Never saw much future for him, actually."

He says he keeps his gold medal "somewhere in my room". It is a replica, as he lost the original in the post after mailing it to a friend for safe keeping at the beginning of World War Two. A few years ago, the Princess Royal, president of the British Olympic Association, presented him and his former team-mate Roberts (whose own medal was stolen in a burglary) with specially struck replacements.

Rampling's carer, the home's activities organiser, Sandra Wotton, promises that the centurion's birthday party will be memorable. "Now don't you go spending too much money on me," he warns, adding that he is looking forward to seeing his grandchildren and Charlotte, 63, who lives in France. "I think she may be a bit more famous than me," he smiles.

A golf club secretary after his army days, he seems pleased that the next Games will be in London. "Where are they going to hold them? The East End, you say. Good Lord. Well I suppose they've got to do something like that. It's good that they're coming here because it's the highest level you can get in sport. I do hope they do it well."

He admits his interest in athletics now is minimal, because he doesn't watch television, preferring to listen to music. "Modern stuff, you know."

Born in Blackheath, he was an outstanding club runner, winning at the Empire Games, as well as the Olympics. "Of course things were so different then." Drugs, he says, were unheard of. "Mind you, I'm not sure they didn't discover some. But no one was ever tested and I don't think we ever suspected anyone of taking them. It was all done by natural ability.

"No one ever got paid and expenses were just a few bob, barely covered your travelling. I may have missed the boat a bit but I was never terribly interested in money – not that I have much, though it's enough to get by.

"I have everything I want here," he concludes. "I'm very content, quite happy. It's always nice when someone comes along and is interested in what I did. I've got no reason not to be satisfied with my life, none at all."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York