Abrahams, Harold : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Abrahams, Harold

Harold Maurice Abrahams

track and field

Country Represented:
Great Britain

Years Competed:
1920, 1924

Medals Received:
gold, silver

Olympic Info:
One of the most famous Olympians of all-time, due to his profile in the movie Chariots of Fire, Abrahams competed at both the 1920 and 1924 Games for Great Britain. At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Abrahams failed to advance past the preliminary heats in the sprints or long jump, and was a member of the sixth place 4x100-meter team. His disappointment at the 1920 Games caused Harold to concentrate on the sprints for the 1924 Games. Although he remained quite silent on the matter, Abrahams was aware of the subtle discrimination against him because of his religion. Winning races allowed to prove his detractors wrong. Harold made an unorthodox move for its time; six months before the 1924 Games, Abrahams hired a personal coach, thus becoming the first British amateur to pay for personal training. Although this tactic was not against the rules, it was frowned upon in amateur athletic circles. With his new coach, Sam Mussabini, Abrahams emphasized the 100-meter, with the 200-meter as secondary. Through vigorous training, Harold perfected his start, stride, and form.

As the 1924 Paris Olympics approached, Harold was dismayed to learn that he was assigned to run the 100-meter, 200-meter, relay, and long jump at the Games. In response, Harold sent an anonymous letter to the Daily Express, and signed it "A Famous International Athlete." He wrote" "The authorities surely do not imagine that he can perform at long jumping at two o'clock and run 200-meters at 2:30 on the same afternoon." The letter had the desired effect and Abrahams was excused from the long jump. At the 1924 Olympics, he won a silver medal in the 4x100-meter (41.2), and finished in sixth place in the finals in the 200-meter. It was in the 100-meter, however, that he will forever be remembered. After his key British rival Eric Liddell withdrew from the competition because the final was held on Sunday (Liddell was a devout Christian), Abrahams' main competitors were Americans Jackson Scholz and Charles Paddock (the 1920 gold medalist and world record holder). Abrahams surprised the field by winning the gold medal in the 100-meter (10.6); in the process, he became the first European to win an Olympic sprint title.

Career Highlights:
Born into an athletic family, Abrahams followed his older brother Sidney "Solly" Abrahams (an Olympian in 1912) into track and field. At the age of eight, he began racing and at the age of 12, he won his first 100-yard race in 14.0 seconds. A Cambridge student, Abrahams dominated his competitors from Oxford in the early 1920s, winning eight victories in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and long jump from 1920-1923. He was also the president of the University's Athletic Club at Cambridge.

In an era when amateurism was heralded above all else in track and field, Abrahams was ahead of his time in his dedication and professionalism. With the support of brother Sidney and his coach Sam Mussabini, Abrahams worked hard to improve his times entering the 1924 Olympics. One month before the 1924 Games, he set the English record in the long jump (24'2 1/2"), a record which stood for the next 32 years. The same day he ran the 100-meter in 9.6 seconds, but the time was not submitted as a record because the track was on a slight downhill.

After suffering an injury while long jumping in 1925, Harold retired from athletic competition, but remained active in amateur athletics. He became a lawyer, broadcaster, sports adminstrator (serving as chairman of the British Amateur Athletic Board from 1968-1975), and authored a number of books, including The Olympic Games, 1896-1952. Abrahams' Olympic achievements were the basis of the much-celebrated motion picture Chariots of Fire. He is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1948, reflecting on Abrahams' athleticism, Philip Noel-Baker, Britain's 1912 Olympic captain and a Nobel Prize winner, wrote, "I have always believed that Harold Abrahams was the only European sprinter who could have run with Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, and the other great sprinters from the U.S. He was in their class, not only because of natural gifts -- his magnificent physique, his splendei racing temperament, his flair for the big occasion; but because he understood athletics, and had given more brainpower and more will power to the subject than any other runner of his day."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Dec. 15, 1899 - d. Jan. 14, 1978

Bedford, England

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Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)

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