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ٷ sports historian in podcast celebrating Team GB elites from 1924 Paris Olympics


A sports historian from ٷ Leicester (ٷ) with an expertise in the Olympic Games has taken part in a podcast celebrating some of Team GB’s greatest athletes.

Professor Martin Polley, the director of ٷ’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture, appears in the latest English Heritage podcast with senior Blue Plaque Historian Howard Spencer.

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As thousands of the world’s elite athletes prepare to compete in the Olympics in Paris from 26 July, the historians go back 100 years to discover the stories of the heroes of the 1924 Paris games who have subsequently been commemorated with English Heritage blue plaques around London.

Professor Polley, whose published works include The British Olympics: Britain’s Olympic Heritage 1612 to 2012, said: “It was a fantastic conversation and it was an honour to have been invited to take part in this prestigious podcast.

“It was really enjoyable to share stories about these sporting heroes to a wide audience and talk about Olympic history, bouncing ideas off the presenter and Howard.”

The ‘Heroes of the 1924 Paris Olympics’ podcast – – focuses on five competitors whose names have become synonymous with victory. There is also one surprise addition.

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 The five athletes are:

  • Boxer Harry Mallin, who was a Metropolitan Police officer and won gold in 1924
  • Tennis player Kittie Godfree, who not only featured in the medals in Paris but also claimed prizes in Antwerp four years earlier. Nobody matched her record of five tennis medals until the Williams sisters this century
  • Rower Jack Beresford, who won medals at five consecutive Olympic Games from 1920 in Antwerp to Berlin in 1936
  • Sprinter Harold Abrahams, immortalised by actor Ben Cross in the film Chariots of Fire, who won 100m gold
  • His coach Sam Mussabini, played by Ian Holm in the same film, who was a pioneering coach for the 1924 version of Team GB
  • And the surprise entry into this pantheon is world-famous novelist Robert Graves – author of works such as I, Claudius – who entered the artistic competition in Paris 1924. This was a category which welcomed competitors to demonstrate their skills in painting, architecture, sculpture, music and literature and ran at every Olympics from 1912 to 1948. Graves submitted a poem but did not get placed for a medal.

Professor Polley said the consistent appeal of the Olympics is its longevity and history.

“If you think about it the modern Olympics were a very original concept in 1896”, he said.

“The founders formed a multi-sport event, open to international competitors, which moved to a different city every four years.

“I love the fact that this, in some ways, quite odd idea grew to what it is today. I also like the fact that the Olympics has constantly regenerated itself with new sports and new populations, such as the refugee team, and shown incredible adaptability.”

Earlier this year, Professor Polley was appointed to a panel to help decide who should be honoured with a prestigious Blue Plaque across England.

For more than 150 years, London’s world-famous blue plaques have helped to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the capital and the people who have passed through it. 

But it was decided late last year, by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, that there should now be a national scheme to celebrate people through history who made an important contribution to human welfare and happiness across England.

Professor Polley has a special role with Historic England looking at famous sportsmen and women. He said at the time: “I look forward to working with my colleagues on more nominations for the unsung, the overlooked, and other people whose life stories can tell us so much about British history in the round.  

“While I will have a special role in relation to sportsmen and women who are nominated, it’s great to be working on all areas of history.” 

 

Posted on Monday 8 July 2024

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