A proud tradition in the Olympic 1500m

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

Jack Lovelock's 1936 Olympic Gold Medal in the 1500m, laid down the legacy for Nick Willis in his attempt to earn further glory in the glamour event on the track at the Tokyo Olympics.

New Zealand has a proud tradition in the Olympic 1500m, having won six medals since Lovelock won the country's second gold medal at the Berlin Olympics.

The well documented double gold success of Peter Snell, at the first Olympics held in Tokyo in 1964, was capped-off by fellow kiwi John Davies' bronze medal in the 1500m.

John Walker took the New Zealand 1500m gold medal tally to three at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, surprising his opponents when he started his sprint some 300m from the finish.

Nick Willis, who will be participating in his fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo, has unfinished business with a silver and bronze medallions at the 2008 and 2016 Olympics.

The Jack Lovelock story, while shrouded in the mists of time, is a fascinating tale of a kiwi that beat the best in the world.

Born John Edward Lovelock in 1910 near Reefton, he went to Otago University to study medicine, before winning a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford in England.

He became to prominence in world middle-distance running in 1933, when he set a new world mile record, of what seems today a pedestrian time of 4.07.6.

A Commonwealth Games Gold Medal followed in 1934, before he gained selection for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

The 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany are best remembered for Adolph Hitler's failed attempt to use them to promote his countries Aryan racial superiority.

The 1936 Olympic 1500m final promised to be one of the great races of all time, going on to live up to its advance billing.

Amongst the starters were six of the top seven finishers from the 1932 Olympic final, including defending champion Luigi Beccali and new world mile record-holder American Glenn Cunningham.

When the race began, there was a lot of jockeying for position.

Cunningham took the early lead, while Lovelock dropped back to sit just off the pace in fourth position.

Three hundred metres from the finish, Lovelock moved onto the shoulder of the new leader with Cunningham in close attendance.

Lovelock then paused and so did Cunningham, thinking the move was a false alarm.

However, a split second later, Lovelock kick-started his challenge opening up a six yard gap on the chasing American.

Cunningham chased in vain, with the Lovelock crossing the line in a New World and Olympic record, with Cunningham also breaking the world record.

While the athletic feats of Jack Lovelock are little known to many New Zealand sports followers, he is entitled to be ranked up with Peter Snell and John Walker, in the top bracket of all-time middle distance runners


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