Multitalented Osborn wins unique double gold

The 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris are probably best remembered for two things; the exploits of the athletes marked in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, and the breathtaking achievements of Finnish running machine Paavo Nurmi. Yet one all-round American athlete could have rightly left the Games thinking he had made the most indelible mark on events in the Olympic Stadium.

Picture by 1924 IOC

When Harold Osborn sustained a severe eye injury as a teenager, it put a huge dent into his potential athletic career as he became unable to judge distances easily.

It was a condition which made his later success in the decathlon, where skill, precision, endurance and raw speed are put to their most severe test, all the more surprising.

And for an athlete who finds it difficult to assess and perceive objects, it’s hard to imagine a more difficult event to succeed in than the high jump.

Raised on an Illinois farm in an athletics-keen family, Osborn had always been encouraged to jump, run, leap further and faster than all of his school friends.

He enjoyed a massively successful collegiate career and went to Paris as the favourite in the high jump but as something of an unknown quantity in the decathlon.

1924 IOC

The high jump turned into a one-man show. He cleared every height using an accurately measured run-up which helped him assess the precise moment he should execute his leap.

In a whirl of arms and legs he set an Olympic record of 6ft 6ins which would remain unbeaten until Berlin 12 years later.

Later in the week he faced the ultimate Olympic test; the decathlon. Spread over two tiring, hot days, Osborn trailed American compatriot Emerson Norton thanks mainly to a huge pole vault of 3.80m.

However Norton’s throwing arm deserted him in the penultimate event, the javelin, and Osborn then finished over 40 seconds ahead of Norton in the closing 1500m to secure the gold.

It was a world record of 7,710.775 points, and to this day he is the only athlete to have won the decathlon and an individual event at the same Games.