So, what happened to Thomas Jack during the 1908 Olympic marathon? Instead of the tabloid style innuendo suggested by the British Library the true story is more prosaic, and noble. My grandmother, a lady of such moral rectitude that she could make Savonarola appear a louche libertine, recounted the events of that day.
Today the Olympics are a huge event, professional athletes supported by battalions of experts compete against each other using the best equipment sports science can devise. In 1908 it was different. Athletes were strictly amateur, trained after work and supplied their own off the shelf equipment. Before the 1908 games, in preparation to represent his country, Thomas Jack kitted himself out with new equipment, which proved his undoing.
When the gun fired outside the gates of Windsor Castle he started fast, his time for the first four miles was faster than when he had broken the Scottish four mile record. Although it was fast it was according to plan, he wanted to establish a significant lead and break the weaker runners before settling down to the long grind of the marathon. He was twenty seven years old, experienced in international athletics and knew what he was doing. He was confident.
After the first four miles the pain began. The new running shoes began to chafe. These were not the scientifically designed running shoes we know today. These were little more than plimsolls made of thin leather. His had not been properly broken in. As he ran the pain increased. He continued running.
He continued running until, at mile seven, it was physically impossible for him to continue. Later, on being asked how he could have carried on running whilst in such obvious pain he simply looked at his interrogator and replied, “I was representing my country.”
As the marathon was run through the streets of 1908 London it would be surprising if there were not a pub somewhere near where he stopped. It is even possible that he was carried into a pub to have his feet treated, although this is unlikely as his brother William was following the race by bicycle and was able to give him any assistance needed.
The conclusive proof that the innuendo that he stopped running to have a drink in a pub is false lies in events which occurred four years later. 1912 was the year in which he declined an invitation to run in the Stockholm Olympics, an invitation which would never have been extended if Mr Wilcock is correct. More significantly it was the year in which he was elected President of the Scottish AAA. It was unprecedented for an athlete still engaged in competition to be elected President and it has not happened since. Would that honour have been accorded the man portrayed in the British Library?
Wilcock may tell a good story, but what actually happened is a far better one.