The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March 1, 1938.)
New Zealanders in — The Empire Games — Specially written for the “N.Z. Railways Magazine”
“I Always thought I had a heart of stone,” wrote one of New Zealand's British Empire Games team to a friend in Wellington, “but when Cecil Matthews mounted the victory dais after winning the three-mile event and the band played the New Zealand an-them, I had a lump in my ‘swallow.’ I guess if I am lucky enough to mount the dais, I'll break down and cry!”
Even the most phlegmatic are stirred by the pageantry and symbolism of the Empire Games opening and victory ceremony, but the man who visualised the great gathering died before he could see it staged on the patch of ground he knew so well—the Sydney Cricket Ground.
To Mr. R. W. (“Dick”) Coombes) formerly athletics editor on Sydney “Referee,” is credit due for the suggestion which brought about the Empire Games. Dick Coombes, first and only president of the Australian and New Zealand Amateur Athletic Union, was well-known in New Zealand for his interest in track and field sport, coursing and rifle-shooting.
When plans were being made to celebrate the Coronation of King George V, in 1911, Mr. Coombes brought forward the suggestion of a Festival of Empire Games. Through the columns of his paper he kept hammering away with the suggestion, and he was a proud man when the scheme was adopted.
At that Festival of the Empire, Australia was represented by five athletes and New Zealand by four. The team, a composite one, competed for Australasia, the New Zealand track sport at that time being controlled from Australia.
Only three countries competed at the meeting—Great Britain, Canada and Australasia. In exciting competition the Games championship was won by Canada by one point from Great Britain and Canada thus became winners of the Lonsdale Cup, a silver trophy standing 30 inches in height and weighing 340 ounces. This cup was won outright by Canada, who generously suggested that it should become a permanent trophy for the British Empire Games. As by the rules of the Empire Games there is no “winning country” it was at first decided that the cup should be held by the British Empire Games Federation.
When the cup arrived in England, it was found to be so large that it would have become an embarrassment to any custodian and was covered with engraving without space for further inscription. Lord Lonsdale and Mr. M. M. Robinson (manager of the Canadian team in Sydney this year) concurring, the original cup was melted down and the silver contents made into a principal cup of reasonable dimensions to be held by the Federation, with smaller cups to be presented to countries which had formed British Empire Games Associations.
Lord Lonsdale, donor of the cup, is England's best known sporting personality, and it was fitting that he should send a message to the athletes assembled for the Empire Games in Sydney when more than 400 young athletes, of both sexes, met on the field of athletic endeavour.
Lord Lonsdale is President of the British Empire Games Federation and President of the Council of the English branch of the organisation. His message to the English team read:
“On the eve of the departure of the competitors to take part in the celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Australia I wish to send a message to all concerned to wish them health and happiness.
“I know they will do their utmost to uphold the true spirit of sportsmanship and whilst trying to excel in the Games, will also by word and deed promote friendship with their fellow Britons in the great Dominion of Australia.”
New Zealand has another link with the Empire Games in that Sir James Leigh-Wood, K.B.E., C.B., C.M.G., chairman of the British Empire Games Federation and commandant of the team from Great Britain, married Miss Turnbull, sister of Robert Turnbull. Sir James's son, Roger, was in New Zealand a few years ago and it may interest readers to know that Roger was one of England's best quarter-mile hurdlers and track athletes. By the time these notes appear, Sir James may have visited New Zealand.
On persuing the results at the 1911 Games I am struck with the paucity of events staged. The track side embraced five contests: 100 yds., 220 yds., 880yds., one mile, and 120 yds. hurdles. These events were won as follows (this year's winners and times in parenthesis): 100 yds., F. J. Halbaus (Canada), 102/5 sec. (C. B. Holmes, England, 97/10 sec.); 220 yds., F. J. Halbaus (Canada), 23 sec. (C. B. Holmes, England, 211/5 sec.); 880 yds., J. M. Hill (Great Britain), 1 min. 583/5 sec. (V. P. Boot, New Zealand, 1 min. 51 1/4 sec.); one mile, J. L. Tait (Canada), 4 min. 481/5 sec. (J. W. Alford, Wales,); 120 yds. hurdles, K. Powell (Great Britain), 16 sec. (J. Lavery, South Africa, 14 sec.).
Harold Hardwick, Australia's great boxer-swimmer, won the only boxing title contested in 1911—the heavyweight —and also won the 100 yds. free-style swimming event. Only two swimming races were held, a race of one mile free- page 38 style and the 100 yds. Only one wrestling event, the middle-weight, won by S. V. Bacon, of Great Britain, was decided. All told there were nine events on the programme of the Festival of Empire Games, five track events, two swimming and one each in boxing and wrestling.
But the seed had been planted, and in 1930 the British Empire Games were held at Hamilton, Canada, with a full programme of 21 track and field events, eight boxing contests, three lawn bowling contests, five rowing races, nine swimming and diving contests for the men, eight swimming and diving events for the women, and seven wrestling contests. There were no track and field events for the women at this gathering, and cycling had not yet appeared on the programme.
The Empire Games movement became established at that gathering and New Zealand did well to score wins with W. J. Savidan, in the six miles, S. A. Lay, in the javelin throw, and the coxswained fours rowing race. Both Savidan and Lay put up fine figures, Lay's throw of 207 ft. 1 1/2 inches still remaining as an Empire Games record, one of the few not broken in Sydney! Savidan's run of 30 min. 49 3/5 sec. stood as the record until Cecil Matthews ran 30 min. 14 1/2 sec. at Sydney.
Four years later the Games were held in London when cycling and women's track events were included for the first time. Rowing, however, was dropped from the programme.
With the exception of the win by Jack Lovelock, who set the Empire Games mile record of 4 min. 12 4/5 sec., New Zealand failed to gain a win. Harold Brainsby, of Auckland was third in the hop-step-and-jump, and Frank Grose, of Canterbury, filled fourth place in three cycling events. Sixteen countries were represented as follows: Australia, Bermuda, British Guiana, Canada, England, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, Scotland, South Africa, Trinidad and Wales.
The New Zealand team comprised: J. Lovelock, T. G. Broadway, N. Crump, L. Smith, W. Whareaitu, H. K. Brainsby and F. Grose.
This year the New Zealand team comprised 71 representatives, made up as follows: track and field 18, rowing 17, swimming 8, boxing 7, cycling 7, wrestling 7, and bowling 7.
New Zealand's athletic mana stands high in the British Empire as the result of the excellent running by our distance runners at the Empire Games in Sydney.
Cecil Matthews, in the three-mile event, was the first British Empire athlete to break 14 min. for three miles—a feat not equalled by runners other than those from Finland. The success of Matthews since he was at the Christchurch Technical School, where he won the one - mile championship from a field of 200 starters in 4 min. 29 1/5 sec.—to set a schoolboy record for the British Empire—until his most recent great performance, may be traced to conscientious training and a determined effort to improve on an almost perfect distance-running style. Matthews runs in a relaxed manner, he never seems to be making hard work of his racing, and, even when tired, never “ties up.” It is this coordination of mind and muscle that makes the Finns so powerful in distance races.
When Perasalo and Sippala, the Finnish athletes, were in New Zealand in 1935, they expressed the opinion that summer in New Zealand approximated the summer in Finland and that the events in which Finnish athletes excelled should prove the best for New Zealanders to concentrate on. This has more than a little truth to back it up and, when a survey is made of the performances of our distance-runners, we must come to the conclusion that it is in that field of sport we may find our champions in world competition.
Matthews ran three miles in the Games at Sydney in 13 min. 59 3/5 sec. The world record for three miles stands to the credit of Lauri Lehtinen, who won the Olympic event of 5,000 metres ((3 m. 188 yds.) in 1932, and finished second in the Olympic event in 1936. The merit of Matthews's run will be better appreciated when it is pointed out that Paavo Nurmi, considered to be the greatest of all distance-runners, never broke 14 minutes for three miles. His best time—a world record—was 14 min. 8 2/5 sec., made in 1922. Nurmi had previously broken the record with 14 min. 11 1/5 sec. Prior to Nurmi running that time the world record stood to the credit of Alfred Shrubb, with 14 min. 17 3/5 sec., made in 1994.
The three-mile New Zealand record stood at 14 min. 49 sec. by W. F. Simpson, a railway employee, for 24 years until Randolph Rose, running against the diminutive Australian George Hyde at Wanganui, won the 1925 New Zealand championship event in 14 min. 45 1/5 sec. Rose subsequently lowered this time to 14 min. 29 1/5 sec. at Wellington in 1927. In 1934, Billy Savidan ran the distance in 14 min. 27 1/5 sec. at Auckland and broke the figures set by Rose.
Then came Matthews! At Christ-church, on February 11, 1936, Matthews ran the twelve laps in 14 min. 18 3/5 sec. and established his claim to be the greatest three-miler we have produced. It should be borne in mind that Rose and Savidan were competing at the same time and had some great duels together—notably at the Australasian championship and 1929–30 meeting at Wanganui—and this should have brought fast performances.
At Auckland last March, Murakosa, the Japanese Olympic athlete, who was responsible for the fast pace at the Olympic Games when a world record was made in the 5,000 metres, ran a wonderful race to break the New Zealand record with 14 min. 11 3/5 sec. Murakosa had the benefit of early pacing from Reuben Wilson, of Wellington, and then went on to run the balance of the race, by himself, to make really remarkable time.
At that time, it was thought that Murakosa's figures would stand the test of time, but the remorseless Matthews came out this season fully recovered from the effects of travelling to the page 39 Olympic Games and the ravages of too much training. He took part in the Empire Games trial meeting, on the Basin Reserve, Wellington, on December 11 and, leading from start to finish, was timed to do the journey in 14 min. 7 sec. It was a run that beggared description. Out in front all the way, unassisted for even 100 yards, Matthews reeled off lap after lap with regularity and ran home as fresh as a daisy. He had broken the record made by the Japanese Olympian by 4 3/5 sec.—and never turned a hair!
Surely he could not be expected to do better than that on a grass track? But the best of Matthews was yet to come—in fact after his run at Sydney it is problematical if we have yet seen the best of him!—and he competed in the Empire Games trial against the strongest distance runner England has ever produced, P. D. Ward, the man who is invited to compete at Oslo next season in a special attempt on the world figures for 5,000 metres; the man who succeeded in finishing a close second to Gunnar Hockert (Olympic champion) in a special race at Oslo last season.
Once again Matthews was unassisted by pacing and had to make his pace. Lap after lap he kept the lead, with Ward on his heels. Lap after lap he set a blistering pace. There are some who would have it that Ward did not play the game by not taking his share of the pace, but those who know Matthews best know that he is never happier than when out in front calling the tune. Ward merely followed accepted track tactics—he should not be condemned for letting Matthews adopt what many thought would be suicidal tactics.
When Matthews decided to “give all he had” he left Ward standing and ran home a comfortable winner in the British Empire record time of 13 min. 59 3/5 sec. The best performance by a New Zealander (it was by a railway employee, W. F. Simpson), stood at 14 min. 49 sec. as late as 1925—although made in 1901, and to-day it stands at 13 min. 59 3/5 sec.—made by a son of a railway employee. The Service should be proud! Cecil Matthews has all his best years of racing ahead of him—the Olympic Games of 1940 should see him nearing his peak—but already he has made the following international and national records:
Three miles: British Empire record, 13 min. 59 3/5 sec.; Australian record, 13 min. 59 3/5 sec.; New Zealand record, 14 min. 7 sec.
3,000 metres: Australian record, 8 min. 42 7/10 sec.
Two miles: New Zealand record, 9 min. 17 3/5 sec. (not accepted due to delay in securing certificates).
Four miles: Australian record, 19 min. 37 sec.
Six miles: Australian and British Empire Games record, 30 min. 14 1/2 sec.
Matthews, making his first competitive appearance in a race of six miles, won the British Empire title in an impressive manner. His time was 30 min. 14 £1/2 sec. When Billy Savidan won the title in 1930 he set the record of 30 min. 49 3/5 sec., but in fairness to him it should be mentioned that he stopped with a lap to go—under the impression that he had won the race—and had to make another start. Under the circumstances it is reasonable to suggest that Savidan could have materially reduced his time had he not made that error. Matthews did not start in the one-mile event, in which he would have had a chance of winning the final.
Another outstanding athlete at the Games was V. P. (“Pat”) Boot, who won the 880 yards in 1 min. 51 1/4 sec., time only bettered by three athletes in the world last season. Boot will probably receive an invitation to compete at the Princeton track meet in America next July. In the past, Lovelock and Shore (South Africa) have been invited to compete against the leading Americans in special races, and in view of Boot's remarkable running on the grass track at Sydney it is felt that he will be singled out for this honour.
Boot has been New Zealand's outstanding half-miler for two years, and is improving with age. Trained by a capable man in R. A. Drury, he is not allowed to overdo his racing, and there is no reason to suggest that he has reached his best.
Boot's run of 1 min. 51 1/4 sec. for 880 yards would have been a world record in 1932! To trace the history of the world record for the distance is to delve into the pages of an almost forgotten past.
To the younger generation, the name of J. E. (“Ted”) Meredith does not convey much, but he was a champion middle - distance runner, whose record of 1 min. 52 1/5 sec., made in 1916, stood until broken by the great German athlete, Dr. Peltzer, in 1926.
Frank Scurry Hewitt ran a half-mile on the Riccarton Road, Christchurch, in 1871, in the record time of 1 min. 53 1/2 sec., but his figures were never recognised.
For the benefit of readers who are able to recall the champions of 50 years ago—and there are many who have not forgotten Lon Myers, the great American all-distance runner—I will start my review of the half-mile record from 1885, the year in which Myers ran 1 min. 55 2/5 sec. to set the world record. To show the class of Myers, I will point out that in one week he won the 100 yds., 220 yds., 440 yds., and 880 yds. American championships, and the 100 yds., 220 yds., 440 yds. and 880 yds. Canadian championships! Although Myers held the world record for 880 yards it is reasonable to suggest he would have done even better time had he concentrated on that distance instead of racing all distances.
Following on Myers came F. J. K. Cross, an Englishman, who broke the world record with a run of 1 min. 54 3/5 sec. in 1888.
At that time the other English stars were Bredin, Horan and Pollock Hill. Bredin, three times winner of the English half-mile title in 1 min. 55 1/5 sec., 1 min. 56 4/5 sec., and 1 min. 55 4/5 sec. was the most consistent half-miler of the period.page 40
In 1895 C. H. Kilpatrick, in the first international meeting between English and American athletes, broke the world record with 1 min. 53 2/5 sec. in a race contested by F. S. Horan and C. H. Lewin (England), and C. H. Kilpatrick and H. Lyons (America). Kilpatrick was trained by the most famous of all trainers, Mike Murphy, from whose athletes came the origin of the crouch start and the spiked shoe—the most revolutionary changes in track sport.
Murphy exuded confidence and assured Kilpatrick that he was the best man in the world, and if any of the English athletes should be near him at the entrance to the straight, Kilpatrick was “to think of his mother,” and race full out!
For twenty years, Kilpatrick's record stood. Then a little-known Italian, Emilio Lunghi, running the distance in 1 min. 52 4/5 sec., captured the honour.
In 1912 the world had a vintage crop of half-milers, and the 800 metres (875 yds.) at the Olympic Games saw the following finalists: Meredith, Sheppard, Davenport and Caldwell (U.S.A.), and Hans Braun (Germany).
Meredith won by a yard from Sheppard in 1 min. 51 9/10 sec., and the fifth man ran 1 min. 52 3/10 sec. Braun, who was deemed unlucky to have to race against a full American team, was killed during the Great War.
Meredith set the world record figures of 1 min. 52 1/5 sec. in 1916, and even to-day is considered to have been one of the most brilliant middle-distance athletes of all time. His record of 47 2/5 sec. stood for 16 years until beaten by Ben Eastman. Meredith's competition was limited by the War intervening, and he had to confine his activities to racing in America.
The intervention of the Great War prevented much interest being taken in athletics, except in America, where Earl Eby was the outstanding half-miler. Eby, by the way, was defeated by New Zealander Jack Mason at the Inter-Allied Games in Paris immediately after the War ended.
A. G. Hill was the outstanding half-miler in 1920, and then came Douglas Lowe, of England, who won the Olympic 800 metres in 1924 and 1928, His best performance at the Games was 1 min. 51 4/5 sec. in 1928, when he defeated a classy field comprising Lloyd Hahn (America's best), Sera Martin (world record holder for 800 metres), Englehardt, Edwards (Olympic finalist in 1928, 1932 and 1936, and Empire Games champion in 1934) and Bylehn.
In 1926 Lowe and Peltzer met in a thrilling duel in the English half-mile championship at Stamford Bridge. Peltzer won by a narrow margin in 1 min. 51 3/5 sec., displacing the record made by Ted Meredith in 1916.
Peltzer's record stood until beaten by Ben Eastman, “the Blonde Cyclone,” who also held the world record for 400 metres, 440 yds., and 800 metres.
Eastman ran 1 min. 50 3/5 sec. in 1932 and later brought it down to 1 min. 49 4/5 sec. That is the official record, although the American Elroy Robinson has a run of 1 min. 49 3/5 sec. waiting official recognition.
Tommy Hampson, England's winner of the 800 metres in 1932 with the world record time of 1 min. 49 4/5 sec. —–since equalled by Eastman—has been the only outstanding half-miler produced by England in the last six years, and he retired in 1932.
The world's best half-milers to-day are Elroy Robinson, America (1 min. 49 3/5 sec.), Johnny Woodruff, America, Olympic champion (1 min. 50 3/10 sec.), V. P. Boot, New Zealand (1 min. 51 1/4 sec.) and V. Palmason, America (1 min. 51 1/2 sec.).
Boot's run was made on a grass track with a short finishing straight, but even so, it ranks with the three best runs recorded in 1937!
At various times I have advanced the opinion that Boot is not a great miler—an opinion I still held after he had qualified for the one-mile Empire Games final. It was this expression of opinion that raised much criticism prior to the selection of the New Zealand team for the Olympic Games in 1936, when I stated that Boot's chances over the half-mile distance were limitless, but that he did not have sufficient “racing brains” or track tactics to do well in a mile race. Beaten by a small margin into third place in the Empire Games mile by Alford (Wales) and Backhouse (Australia), Boot ran better than I anticipated and with more racing against classy opposition over that distance he might do even better. Class competition makes champions, and a series of races against men of the calibre of Alford, Backhouse, Graham and Pullar might see the young Canterbury half-miler reach high company. But, for all that, I feel confident that he will never rank as high among milers as he does among half-milers.
Alford, winner of the one mile, broke Lovelock's Empire Games record with a run of 4 min. 11 £1/5 sec., Lovelock's record being 4 min. 12 £3/5 sec.
Arnold Anderson, New Zealand's best hurdler over 440 yards, finished out of a place in the hurdling race won by John Loaring, the Canadian who filled second place in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1936 Olympic Games. Loaring set new figures for the Empire Games with 52 £9/10 sec., and Anderson, with 54 £3/5 sec., chopped £2/5th of a second off his New Zealand record performance. He could not have been expected to have done better than that!
Only one world record was made at the Empire Games, Lavery (South Africa) winning the high hurdles from Larry O'Connor (Canada) in 14 sec. The world record is 14 £1/10 sec. by Forrest Towns (U.S.A.), who has a run of 13 £9/10 sec. awaiting official recognition.
Apart from the successes on the track, New Zealand did remarkably well in a section not given undue prominence in the sporting press—in bowling. F. Livingstone, who had won the singles title at the Australian Bowling Carnival—part of the sesqui-centennial celebrations—filled second place in the British Empire Games singles, Macey and Denison won the pairs and Whittaker, Robertson, Jury and Bremner won the rinks. To secure two wins and a second in three events is most creditable.
New Zealand's best performances at the Empire Games were:
C. H. Matthews, won 3 miles and 6 miles in both races, setting British Empire records.
V. P. Boot, won 880 yards, setting Empire Games record, and third in one mile.
T. Allen, won heat of 880 yards in Australian record time.
S. A. Lay, second in javelin throw.
J. Leckie, third in hammer throw.
Miss Rona Tong, third in 90 yds. hurdles.
J. Brown, second in 100 kilometres road cycle race.
G. Giles, third in 1,000 metres match cycle race.
R. B. Smith, third in single sculls.
Rigby, Boswell, Hope and Clayton, second in four-oar.
F. Livingstone, runner-up in bowling singles.
Macey and Denison, winners pairs bowling championships.
Whittaker, Robertson, Jury and Bremner, winners rinks bowling championships.
D. Heeney, runner-up welterweight boxing championships.
J. Dryden, runner-up heavyweight wrestling championships.
V. Thomas, runner-up lightweight wrestling championship.
P. F. Sharpley, won invitation 220 yds. hurdles in 24 £7/10 sec.—Australian record.
Miss M. Leydon, third in 440 yds. free-style swim — broke Empire Games record.
Miss B. Forbes, tied for second in high jump with 5 ft. 2 in. but placed third on count back.