ABRAHAMS, Harold (1899-1978)
Plaque erected in 2007 by English Heritage at Hodford Lodge, 2 Hodford Road, Golders Green, London, NW11 8NP, London Borough of Barnet
HAROLD ABRAHAMS 1899-1978 Olympic athlete lived here
Olympic gold medallist Harold Abrahams – the determined athlete portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire – lived at 2 Hodford Road in Barnet from 1923 until 1936. It was during this time that Abrahams enjoyed his greatest success, winning his famous gold medal at the 1924 Olympics and captaining the British Athletic Team at the 1928 Olympics.
Born to a Polish–Jewish father and brought up in Bedford, Abrahams moved to London around 1914 and, after a brief spell at St Paul’s, he attended Repton School. He went on to win Repton’s long jump championships in 1918 and continued his success at Cambridge, where he read law. Abrahams was immediately selected for the 1920 Olympic Games at Antwerp and went on to record eight victories in the annual Oxford versus Cambridge competitions of 1920–23. It was after this that Harold began concentrating on sprints under the watchful eye of his personal coach, Sam Mussabini.
By this point Abrahams was at the top of his form. He set four British records at the long jump from 24 feet 7 inches (7.19 metres) in 1923 to 24 feet 2½ inches (7.38 metres) in 1924, which remained the record for 30 years. At the Amateur Athletic Association championship of 1924, Abrahams won the 100 yards in 9.9 seconds.
It was at the 1924 Paris Olympics Games that Abrahams sealed his reputation as a sporting great. He won a silver medal in the 4x100-metre relay and finished sixth in the finals of the 200-metre race but is best-remembered for the 100 metres. In the second round, he equalled the Olympic record with 10.6 seconds, and in the semi-final achieved the same time, triumphing over American world record holder Charles Paddock. In the final, Abrahams came through first, again with the time of 10.6 seconds. Incredibly, Abrahams thus set three Olympic record-equalling performances in the space of 26 hours, and became the first European to win an Olympic sprint title. Afterwards, he observed how extraordinary it was that 10.6 seconds changed his life so dramatically.
Chariots of Fire, which made Abrahams a household name, portrays Harold as an outsider at the 1924 Olympics, ostracised on account of his religion. Abrahams was never a practising Jew and it is said that the film’s portrayal of anti-semitism was overplayed, although he undoubtedly did encounter obstacles during the early years of his career. Norris McWhirter, a colleague and friend of Abrahams, wrote that he ‘managed by sheer force of personality and with very few allies to raise athletics from a minor to a major national sport’. Today, he is remembered as one of the most famous Olympians of all time.
In May 1925 Abrahams broke his leg while attempting to improve on his English long jump record. The injury prematurely ended his athletic career, and he turned back to law, practising as a barrister of the Inner Temple until the 1940s. While living at 2 Hodford Road – a semi-detached house typical of the inter-war period – he wrote a number of books and also became an athletics correspondent for the Sunday Times (1925–67) and a radio broadcaster for the BBC (1924–74). He died at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, on 14 January 1978.