Wyndham Halswelle

by samperryphoto

After meeting half a team of bike-polo players in a bike shop/bar in Fort Greene, Brooklyn the other night, I’ve been tempted to make this blog an entirely sports-based one, but no I mustn’t diverge too much….

So the show is shaping up to be a tangential one, and to clarify what’s above…

Before I got here I came across a photograph that I found arresting and kind of funny. It’s of a British athlete who ran in the first London Olympics in 1908 named Wyndham Halswelle. He’s crossing the finishing line with his arms in the air looking both euphoric and exhausted. The race in question is curious to me as I’ve always been amused and interested in instances in history of ill-feeling and tension between nations, not particularly serious or violent ones but ones that we look back on and laugh at, issues that were seen as serious at the time that with the perspective of history and changing attitudes etc, seem somewhat trivial and kind of silly.

Wyndham Halswell ran in the 400m for Britain in what was the 4th modern Olympics but the first really big Olympics, where a stadium was built specially, and the contending athletes weren’t just mainly from Great Britain and the U.S. That said, running in the final of this 400m race were all American runners plus Wyndham. During the race, one of the American runners was seen to have barged Wyndham out of the way, these were the days before lanes on the track, they all ran in a kind of huddle. The race was called to a halt and a re-run was ordered. In protest all U.S runners boycotted the re-run leaving only Wyndham Halswelle left. Reluctantly he ran the race, in front of around 90,000 fans on his own, making a pretty good time too. So although the photograph depicts the ecstatic climax of a tough endeavour, the guy in question had simply finished a walk-over, the only walk-over in modern Olympic history. These 1908 games were rife with political and international fallings-out between nations, it got to the point were the U.S were falling out Britain every other day seemingly, Britain’s demands too invoked arguments between itself and Sweden for example.

Wyndham Halswelle also fought in WWI for the British Army, he was killed by a sniper in 1915. His now modest fame is mainly maintained by the walk-over race, but also because of his somewhat confused nationality. English born, Wyndham was of Scottish lineage. Many consider him Scottish, others English. I’ve come across many articles in Scottish newspapers and blogs etc mocking the English for not celebrating Wyndham to the extent that his life and career deserved because of an English sort of ambivalence, unlike the Scottish who know how to pay homage to its key figures properly. Such articles have centred mainly on Wyndham’s inclusion in the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame whilst in England vague plans for a similar sort of tribute that were scrapped.

Wyndham’s fame, his death and ultimately his legacy all centre on international grievances and tension separately. Apparently he wasn’t at all interested in nationalism or anything like that…


“80% of success is just showing up” – Woody Allen


Here’s the song ‘The Loneliness of the middle distance runner’ by Belle & Sebastien… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cONGUQsTQaQ