Lord Burghley crowned king of the hurdles

Although Lord Burghley is perhaps best remembered for a character and scene from the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, it is his outstanding hurdling that the record books will recognise most.

Burghley embodied the larger than life approach of the rank amateur’ living a champagne lifestyle and introducing the unique technique of placing matchboxes on the each hurdle to perfect his hurdling style. Strangely, Burghley made little impact on the Paris Olympics of 1924 even though he was later so caricatured on the big screen.

Three years after his Paris letdown he was acclaimed for running perimeter of the Great Court at Cambridge’s Trinity College in the time it took the clock to chime 12 o’clock. The name of his character was changed in the film, and the adaptation showed Burghley running the court against Harold Abrahams but it added to his reputation of joie de vivre. In Amsterdam he was eliminated in the early stages of the 100m hurdles but it was in the longer event that he would seal his place in the annals.

American hurdlers had won every event since its inception at the Games in 1900, and Burghley ran a measured campaign. He qualified for the final third fastest in his semi, and in the race for gold he ran a superbly measured race.

With Americans Frank Cuhel and Morgan Taylor the favourites, Burghley executed the perfect race. While the Americans, Cuhel in particular, were struggling with theit stride patters as the race entered its final third, Burghley looked the model of control.

With 60 metres to go he was level wityh Cuhel and looking across the cinder track at Cuhel he did just enough to win and secure the gold medal. It was a higely popular win for a tremendously likable character. He was hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow athletes.