Abrahams sees off Americans to clinch 100m gold

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.  

Picture by 1924 IOC

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.