Hubbard's Cupboard: Embarrassed Halswelle's solo run to controversy and a gold medal
The man with incredible tales from past Games
The 400 metres is always one of the most competitive of Olympic events, as tonight's men's semis and women's final should demonstrate.
It has produced some one-lap wonders, notably Cuba's Alberto Juantorena and the American Michael Johnson, and also some great controversies. But none can match that of London 1908 when the gold medal was won by a Briton who was the only runner in the final
By rights, Wyndham Halswelle should be celebrated as a national hero, but Scotland's first Olympic track gold medallist won in circumstances that left even himself embarrassed.
Born in London, he had been a noted athlete throughout his school career and also during officer training at Sandhurst.
The 1908 Games had been plagued by political rows, and one erupted between Britain and the USA over the omission of the American flag from the stadium at the opening ceremony.
It intensified when the American standard-bearer refused to dip the flag on passing the Royal box.
With tensions raised, the controversy was played out to the fullest on the track in the final of the 400m.
Halswelle won through to the final, setting a new Olympic record of 48.4sec in his heat, where he lined up against three Americans: William Robbins, John Carpenter and John Taylor. But Carpenter was disqualified for blocking the Scot and using his elbow to prevent him overtaking.
Although blocking was permitted by by the American Athletics Federation, the Olympics were held under British rules, which did not allow the practice.
Amid American fury, Carpenter was thrown out and the race scheduled to be re-run two days later. Unsurprisingly, the other two American competitors refused to participate and Halswelle, under duress from officials, completed the final on his own around the White City track. He gave up athletics shortly afterwards
A tragic postscript came seven years later when, as Captain Halswelle, he lost his life during the Great War. Commanding troops at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, he was shot and wounded by a sniper. After receiving treatment in the field he returned to his post, only to be shot through the head by the same sniper.
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