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Great Scot Elliot lifts the Athens crowd

07 Apr 1896
Athens 1896, Great Britain, Weightlifting

Named after the city in Tasmania where he was allegedly conceived, Launceston Elliot was born and raised in India, spent most of his adult life in England, but was always a Scotsman in his heart. Born into a prominent family from the Scottish Borders region, and descended from the Earl of Minto, Elliot’s grandfather was the governor of Madras in India, where Launceston was born in 1874.

After returning to Great Britain as a teenager in 1887 to attend school, he began to train under German weightlifter Eugen Sandow, who was the man regarded as the founder of modern-day bodybuilding. By the time he was 16 he was competing at the first ever British weightlifting championships, and three years after that claimed the national title.

In 1896, Elliot joined the small group of British athletes sailing for Greece to compete at the inaugural Olympics. Although his main interest was the weightlifting, he also chose to compete in the 100m sprint, the curtain-raiser for the Games. He finished fourth in second heat and was duly eliminated, but put the disappointment behind him the following day when the weightlifting events got underway.

First up, was the two-handed lift. Elliot’s compatriot, Lawrence Levy, who had earlier withdrawn because of a dispute over whether dumbbells or barbells should be used, joined the Crown Prince of Greece on the judging panel.

Elliot meanwhile made it all the way to the final where he was pitted against Denmark's Viggo Jensen. Both men lifted 110kg but the Crown Prince decided to award gold to Jensen, who had lifted the weight cleanly, while Elliot had appeared to struggle. However, Levy contended that, as both men had lifted the same weight, they should both be given the opportunity to try a heavier weight. So plates were screwed onto the 110kg weights and both men tried to lift them.

After another complaint from Levy that Jensen's lift was not legal, the original result was allowed to stand, with the title going to the Dane, and Elliot having to settle for second place.
Next up was the single-handed lift final, with the Dane and the Scot again going head to head.
Jensen had injured his shoulder with his last two-handed lift and could not compete with Elliot's lift of 71kg, so Great Britain had its first ever Olympic champion.

However, Elliot had no plans to rest on his laurels. He went on to compete in the 14m rope climb, finishing last, and also in the Greco-Roman wrestling, where he was extremely unhappy to lose his first bout, and had to be escorted from the stadium. That didn’t stop him winning hearts and minds among the Athens crowd, and the handsome Scot even received a marriage proposal “from a highly placed female admirer”.

Undeterred by the decision to leave his favourite event, weightlifting, out of the programme for the 1900 Games in Paris, he competed in the discus, though didn’t make the podium.

In 1905 Elliot embarked on a career in music hall, touring the world with a show that featured various feats of strength, such as carrying a metal bar across his shoulders with a bicycle and rider suspended from either end.

Elliot would then start to turn bearing this weight, getting progressively faster until both bikes and riders were horizontal. He retired soon after World War One, eventually relocating to Australia, where he died in 1930.

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