Biography

Jack Lovelock Born 1910 

Jack Lovelock was one of the greatest figures in the history of athletics, one of only a handful of runners to have set world records for both the 1500m and mile, and to have also won an Olympic 1500m gold medal. 

Lovelock ensured his athletics immortality when, in front of Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, he ran a brilliant tactical race to win the 1500m in world record time. It was, he recorded in his meticulously-kept diary, "the most perfectly-executed race of my life". 

In the final, he took the lead with 300 metres remaining – almost unheard of in those days – and established a sizeable lead over American ironman Glenn Cunningham that he never relinquished, eventually winning in 3min 47.8s. 

The race has gained in fame because of the frenetic and almost comically bias (“C’mon Jack, c’mon Jack…My God, he’s done it!”) BBC radio commentary of his friend Harold Abrahams. The radio commentary has been combined with Leni Riefenstahl’s wonderful filmed footage to provide a lasting memory of the final. 

Through the mid-1930s, Lovelock ran a succession of great races, taking on and beating the other leading milers of his time, such as Americans Cunningham, Archie San Romani and Bill Bonthron, Englishmen Jerry Cornes and Sydney Wooderson and Italian Luigi Beccali, the 1932 Olympic 1500m gold medallist. 

As well as his Olympic success, he won the gold medal in the 1934 London Empire Games one mile race. He was the New Zealand team captain at those Games. 

He remained a rather aloof figure. He was an intensely private person, who masked his emotions and confided in few people. 

Lovelock was born on the West Coast in 1910 and grew up in South Canterbury, attending Timaru Boys’ High School. He played a variety of sports with marked success. Besides athletics, he shone most as a boxer, especially when he later attended Oxford University. 

He attended Otago University until he gained a Rhodes Scholarship and left New Zealand in 1931 to study medicine at Oxford University. The move was the making of him as an athlete and five years of increasingly impressive running culminated in his famous gold medal at Berlin. 

He made a Government-sponsored return visit to New Zealand after the 1936 Olympics, and was fêted wherever he went as he toured the country, visiting schools, making speeches and doing demonstration runs. 

Then it was back to England to further his medical career. He also wrote regularly for several newspapers and did some broadcasting work for the BBC. 

In 1940, he was thrown from a horse during a hunt and lay unconscious for an hour before he was discovered. He sustained a broken arm and leg and suffered severe damage to one eye. Though he recovered, he suffered double-vision, blinding headaches and occasional dizziness for the rest of his life. 

During World War II, Lovelock joined the British Army and was stationed in Northern Ireland, working in the field of physical medicine. He rose to the rank of major. 

He and his American wife, Cynthia James, moved to New York, where Lovelock was assistant director of physical medicine at the Manhattan Hospital for Special Surgery. 

On December 28, 1949, eight days before his 40th birthday, he began having dizzy spells and telephoned his wife that he would be coming home early. He was standing on the southbound platform of the Church Street subway station in Brooklyn when he suddenly pitched forward on to the tracks and was struck by an oncoming train, dying instantly. 

Was it an accident, or was it suicide? It was the final mystery in a life of much accomplishment. 

Lovelock has been a continuing source of fascination, as much for his enigmatic personality as for his brilliant running, and he has been the subject of at least four biographies. 

He was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

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