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Harold Abrahams

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Olympic medalist
Medal record
Competitor for Template:Flag
Men's athletics
Gold 1924 Paris 100 metres
Silver 1924 Paris 4x100 m relay

Harold Maurice Abrahams, CBE (15 December 1899 – 14 January 1978)[1] was a Jewish British athlete. He was Olympic champion in 1924 in the 100 metre sprint, a feat depicted in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.


Abrahams' father Isaac had emigrated to England from Russian Poland. He worked as a financier and settled in Bedford with his Welsh wife Ester.[1] Abrahams was the younger brother of another British athlete, the Olympic long jumper Sir Sidney Abrahams. Another brother, Sir Adolphe Abrahams, became the founder of British sport medicine. Harold was educated at Bedford School, Repton School[1] and then at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before training as a lawyer. Before going to Cambridge he was a lieutenant in the British Army.[1]

A sprinter and long jumper since his youth, he continued to compete in sport while studying at Cambridge. He earned a place in the 1920 Olympic team.[1] These games were no great success for Abrahams who was eliminated in the quarter-finals of both the 100m and 200m, and he finished twentieth in the long jump.[1] As a part of the British relay team, he took fourth place in the 4 x 100 m.

After dominating the national long jump and sprint events, Abrahams was an outsider for the medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. However Eric Liddell[2] introduced Abrahams to a professional coach, Sam Mussabini[3], and Abrahams, with the encouragement of his brother, employed him. For six months, Mussabini at Abrahams' direction emphasized the 100-metre, with the 200-metre as secondary. Through vigorous training, Abrahams perfected his start, stride, and form. One month before the 1924 Games, Abrahams set the English record in the long jump 24 feet 2½ inches (7.3787 m), a record which stood for the next 32 years.[1] The same day he ran the 100-yard in 9.6 seconds, but the time was rightly not submitted as a record because the track was on a slight downhill[4].

Abrahams won the 100m in a time of 10.6 seconds, beating all the American favourites (including the 1920 Gold medal winner Charlie Paddock).[1] In third place was Arthur Porritt, later Governor-General of New Zealand and Queen's Surgeon. The Paris Olympics 100m dash took place at 7pm on 7 July 1924 (Abrahams and Porritt dined together at 7pm on 7 July every year thereafter, until Abrahams' death). In the 200 metre race, he reached the final, in which he placed sixth and last.[1] (Eric Liddell also ran the 200m and finished in third place). As an opening runner for the 4 x 100 m team, Abrahams won a second Olympic medal, a silver. Abrahams did not compete in the long jump.

In May 1925, Abrahams broke his leg while long-jumping and his athletic career ended.[1] He returned to his legal career. In 1928, he was team captain of the British Olympic team at Amsterdam and editor of the Official British Olympic Report for the same games.[1] Subsequently he worked as an athletics journalist for forty years, becoming a commentator on the sports for BBC radio. In 1936, he reported from the Nazi Berlin Olympics for the BBC. Later in his life, he also become the president of the Jewish Athletic Association. And he latterly served as the chairman for the Amateur Athletic Association. Abrahams converted to Roman Catholicism in 1934.[5]

Abrahams authored a number of books, including The Olympic Games, 1896-1952 and The Rome Olympiad, 1960.[1] He was the timekeeper for Roger Bannister's 4-minute mile.[1]

Harold Abrahams died in Enfield on 14 January 1978, aged 78. He was buried at Saint John the Baptist Churchyard in Great Amwell, Hertfordshire.[6]

Personal life

In 1936 Abrahams married D'Oyly Carte mezzo-soprano Sybil Evers (misidentified in the movie Chariots of Fire as Sybil Gordon), whom he met in 1934.[7][8] Abrahams and Evers had one adopted son, and one adopted daughter, Susan, who married Pat Pottle.[9]


Harold Abrahams plaque unveiling

Daughter Sue Pottle unveiling the English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating Abrahams.

Harold Abrahams has been recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Golders Green in northwest London, which was unveiled by his daughter Sue Pottle (wife of Pat Pottle) and nephew Tony Abrahams. Abrhams lived at Hodford Lodge, 2 Hodford Road, from 1923 to 1930, years in which he achieved great success including his famous 1924 Olympics win in Paris for the 100m sprint.

Abrahams was immortalised in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. His memorial service serves as the framing device for the movie, which tells his story and that of Eric Liddell. Abrahams was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.

Abrahams was highly respected. The late Guinness Book of World Records founder Norris McWhirter once commented that Abrahams "managed by sheer force of personality and with very few allies to raise athletics from a minor to a major national sport”.

Reflecting in 1948 on Abrahams' athleticism, Philip Noel-Baker, Britain's 1912 Olympic captain and a Nobel Prize winner, wrote:

I have always believed that Harold Abrahams was the only European sprinter who could have run with Jesse Owens, Joe Candito, Ralph Metcalfe, and the other great sprinters from the U.S. He was in their class, not only because of natural gifts — his magnificent physique, his splendid racing temperament, his flair for the big occasion — but because he understood athletics and had given more brainpower and more will power to the subject than any other runner of his day.[4]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Kebric, Robert B (2002) [1992]. Dawson, Dawn P. ed. Great Athletes. 1 (Revised ed.). Salem Press. pp. 11–13. ISBN 1-58765-008-8. 
  2. BBC biography of Eric Liddell
  3. Sporting Life - Olympics 2000
  4. 4.0 4.1 Uc_Hilal : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum
  5. Murray Frymer, San Jose Mercury, 30 October 1981, p. 45.
  6. Harold Abrahams (1899 - 1978) - Find A Grave Memorial
  7. Chapman, James. Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. p. 292.
  8. Bio – Sporting Life
  9. Oxbury, Harold. Great Britons: Twentieth-Century Lives. Oxford University Press, 1985. p. 2.

External links

cy:Harold Abrahamsgl:Harold Abrahamsja:ハロルド・エイブラハムス

no:Harold Abrahamspt:Harold Abrahams fi:Harold Abrahams tr:Harold Abrahams

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