Australia’s only competitor at the 1896 Games, Edwin “Teddy” Flack won both middle distance running events, the 800m and 1,500m, and made a huge mark on the local crowds and media, earning himself the nickname of the “Lion of Athens”.
Born in London, England, Flack moved to Australia with his family when he was five. Having studied Greek history at grammar school he went on to work for this father’s accountancy firm, Davey, Flack & Co, while honing his talents on the local middle distance and cross country running scene.
In November 1893, at the Australasian Championships, Flack won the mile in a time of 4 minutes 44 seconds with a winning margin of two yards, and the following year claimed the 880 yards and mile titles.
Then, at the age of 21, he moved to England to further his accountancy career, and joined the London Athletic Club. By now he had the inaugural Olympics firmly in his sights.
Given a month off to compete in Athens, he endured an uncomfortable six-day rail and sea trip, but shrugged off the ill effects to win his first race on the opening day of competition in the 800m heats, clocking a relatively slow time of 2 minutes 10.0 seconds. The following day he came up against American hotshot Arthur Blake in the 1,500m, matching him all the way before surging ahead in the final straight to win by five metres to claim his first Olympic title. Two days later he added the 800m title, despite clocking a time that was a second slower than his qualifying effort.
Just a day later Flack tried for a third title, as he entered the first ever marathon. The longest distance he had competed over previously was 10 miles, but he still found himself leading the way as the race entered the last four miles, before collapsing from exhaustion, and was treated by Greece’s Crown Prince Nicholas.
Flack also competed in the tennis singles and doubles in Athens. In the singles, he lost in the first round to Greece’s Aristidis Akratopoulos, while in the doubles he partnered Great Britain’s George S. Robertson, and they advanced to the semi-finals, losing to Dionysios Kasdaglis of Egypt and Greece’s Demetrios Petrokokkinos, eventually finishing third.
He later returned to Australia, dividing his time between his job for the family accountancy firm and a farm where he bred cattle. He subsequently joined the newly founded Australian Olympic Committee and was a delegate for Australia at the inaugural IOC Congress. He died in 1935, but is widely commemorated, with various streets and sporting venues in Australia named in his honour.