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Abrahams sees off Americans for 100m gold

03/07/1924

The story of Harold Abrahams was given a good deal of poetic license when portrayed in Chariots of Fire, yet the reality was in fact no less dramatic or captivating.

 

The scriptwriters did take liberties with the facts but what Abrahams proved beyond all doubt was that he was the fastest man at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924.

He had long been a prolific long jumper and sprinter and his failure to reach the later rounds of the 100m in Antwerp four years earlier spurred him to success in Paris.

Abrahams and Scot Eric Liddell were famously meant to be spearheading a British double bid for gold, but the latter focused on the 400m knowing that a preliminary round of the 100m fell on the Sabbath.

And so it was left to Abrahams to take on the might of the Americans, led by reigning champion ‘California Flash’ Charlie Paddock and team mate ‘The New York Thunderbolt’ Jackson Scholz.

It was at Liddell’s behest that Abrahams hired a professional coach, and the decision to work with Sam Mussabini paid the richest of dividends.

He saw the raw pace in Abrahams and encouraged him to focus on the 100m and 200m after his disappointment in Antwerp.

His times improved and despite setting a British record long jump shortly before the Games he focused on the sprints.

He set an Olympic record of 10.6secs in the quarter-final and, astonishingly, equalled it in the semi-final despite giving the field a yard when he froze thinking there had been a false start.

Images of the final showed the elaborate routine of the athletes using small trowels to dig their footholds for the crucial start.

There was little to separate Abrahams, Paddock and Scholz at the halfway mark but Abrahams made the decisive move and by the time he broke the tape he was two feet clear and again recorded 10.6secs.

He would later finish last in the 200m, with Liddell a surprise third, and barely a year later his active athletics career was at an end when he badly broke his leg in a long jump competition.

Abrahams typified the notion of peaking at the right time, and Hollywood helped him go down in history as one of the most famous winners of the Olympics’ blue riband event of them all.

Discover the best photos of Paris 1924

  • Johnny Weissmuller (USA)

    A part of Hollywood legend for his role as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was nonetheless an accomplished swimmer. At the Paris 1924 Games, he won gold in the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. We see him here after his 400m freestyle surrounded by his fellow medal-winners, Sweden’s Arne Borg (2nd, on the right) and the USA’s Andrew Charlton (3rd, on the left)
    ©IOC

  • Paavo Nurmi (FIN)

    Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at the Paris 1924 Games. He won the individual cross country, team cross country, the 1500m, 5000m and the team 3000m events. On 10 July 1924, he won the 1500m before victoriously taking gold, 55 minutes later (!) in the 5000m

    ©IOC

  • Winner’s medal Paris 1924

    The reverse of the medal is occupied by the representation of an athlete helping one of his opponents to stand. This motif thus perfectly illustrates the solidarity that we expect from any athletes taking part in the Olympic Games. Besides this, the Olympic rings appear for the first time on a medal (they are visible here on the upper part of the medal)
    ©IOC

  • Liddell Chaired

    18th July 1924: Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945), winner of the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is paraded around Edinburgh University after his victory. He was known as the 'Flying Scotsman' and was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire. (Photo by Firmin/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • Liddell Triumphant

    18th July 1924: Scottish athlete Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945) is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite t

  • Eric Liddell

    Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Henry Liddell (1902 -1945) being carried round the streets after his Olympic victory. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite to win the 100 metres race but refused to run because he felt that running on a Sunday conflicted with his Christian beliefs. He won a bronze medal in the 200 metres event instead and then ran the 400 metre race despite having little experience at the distance. He not only won the gold medal but broke the world record by completing the race in 47.6 seconds, an achievement which is celebrated in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'. Liddell gained two degrees, one in science and the other in divinity, before leaving Britain to work as a Scottish Congregational Church missionary in China as his parents had before him. Original Publication: People Disc - HG0205 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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