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Unsung Osborn makes Olympic mark

Unsung Osborn makes Olympic mark

12/07/1924

The 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris are probably best remembered for two things; the exploits of the athletes marked in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, and the breathtaking achievements of Finnish running machine Paavo Nurmi. Yet one all-round American athlete could have rightly left the Games thinking he had made the most indelible mark on events in the Olympic Stadium.

When Harold Osborn sustained a severe eye injury as a teenager, it put a huge dent into his potential athletic career as he became unable to judge distances easily.

It was a condition which made his later success in the decathlon, where skill, precision, endurance and raw speed are put to their most severe test, all the more surprising.

And for an athlete who finds it difficult to assess and perceive objects, it’s hard to imagine a more difficult event to succeed in than the high jump.

Raised on an Illinois farm in an athletics-keen family, Osborn had always been encouraged to jump, run, leap further and faster than all of his school friends.

He enjoyed a massively successful collegiate career and went to Paris as the favourite in the high jump but as something of an unknown quantity in the decathlon.

The high jump turned into a one-man show. He cleared every height using an accurately measured run-up which helped him assess the precise moment he should execute his leap.

In a whirl of arms and legs he set an Olympic record of 6ft 6ins which would remain unbeaten until Berlin 12 years later.

Later in the week he faced the ultimate Olympic test; the decathlon. Spread over two tiring, hot days, Osborn trailed American compatriot Emerson Norton thanks mainly to a huge pole vault of 3.80m.

However Norton’s throwing arm deserted him in the penultimate event, the javelin, and Osborn then finished over 40 seconds ahead of Norton in the closing 1500m to secure the gold.

It was a world record of 7,710.775 points, and to this day he is the only athlete to have won the decathlon and an individual event at the same Games.

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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