Nowadays British Olympic champions at 1500m go on to careers in politics and general ubiquity. Arnold Nugent Strode Jackson, who won the gold at that distance in Stockholm – 100 years before successor Sebastian Coe organised the 2012 Games – took a different path after his running triumph.
There was, though, a parallel between Jackson’s 1912 entry and Coe’s first gold in Moscow 68 years later. The Stockholm Games were the last where some athletes could enter privately even if not selected by their national team, and Jackson put his name forward, despite not making the Great Britain list. In 1980 Coe officially competed under the Olympic flag in 1980, since the UK was boycotting the event.
‘The Jacker’ – nephew of the founder of the Amateur Athletic Association – was 21, and still an Oxford undergraduate, when he decided to cut short a fishing holiday in Norway to travel to Stockholm. Preparing with a strenuous regime of golf and the odd massage, Jackson won his heat to qualify for a final where half of the 14 contenders were Americans, including Abel Kiviat, who three times that year had set the world record.
Kiviat duly led the final a lap from home, with fellow Americans Norman Taber and John Paul Jones (not that one nor that one) behind him. As Jackson – paced by Cambridge man Philip Noel-Baker* – closed on them, the US trio ran three abreast to block any overtaking manoeuvres, forcing the Brasenose man out wide. No matter, Jackson was still able to work his way alongside them and in the sprint pipped Kiviat by 0.1 second. Kiviat himself took the silver ahead of Taber in the first-ever Olympic photo finish.
It was dubbed ‘the greatest race ever run’, and not until 2008 did someone younger than Jackson win the Olympic 1500m title, Kiviat later rued: ‘That race was the biggest disappointment of my life. I never saw Jackson. It was my own fault. What was I waiting for?’
Jackson himself was more content: ‘A perfect day and capital fellow competitors helped the Olympic record to go and I am very grateful and proud to have run with Mr Kiviat, Taber, and Jones and all the others.’ However he added: ’On the whole, I think I prefer golf, hockey, boxing and hiking to athletics.’
Sadly, it was soon time to put those childish things aside and in 1914 Jackson was commissioned into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Starting as a 2nd Lieutenant, he ended the war the youngest-ever Brigadier-General, seeing action at the Somme and being awarded the Distinguished Service Order with three bars (one of only seven officers to be so decorated). In the process, he suffered a number of wounds that left him permanently lame, ending his athletics career.
A qualified barrister, the now slightly renamed and hyphenated Arnold Nugent Strode Strode-Jackson was part of the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference, and then moved to America where he helped found the Kentucky Derby as well as writing a book about the artist Matthew Harris Jouett. Becoming a US citizen in 1945, Strode-Jackson returned to Oxford in 1963 after the death of his American wife and passed away himself nine years later.
His extraordinary life inspired a play Strode-Jackson and in 2012 the diploma that went with his gold medal was sold for £1,500 at Bonhams. And Jackers remained sprightly to the end despite his injuries, according to California-based grandson Haviland ‘Twig’ Strode-Jackson:
He always wore a Sherlock Holmes hat with a bill in the front and back and a wool cape when he would go walking when he was older. He sent me a picture of himself and he was next to a picket fence and on the back of the picture, instead of saying something like, ‘Twig, how are you,’ or something like that it said: ‘You should look so good at 84.’
Also in this series:
1896 – Launceston Elliot, moustachioed strongman
1900 – CBK Beachcroft, cricketer and music hall star
1908 – City of London Police, coppers made of stone
1920 – John Wodehouse, polo winner and proto-Bertie Wooster