Beer and Brine: The Making of Walter George, Athletics' First Superstar
A sickly child who grew up in the Wiltshire backwaters, he splashed through
huge puddles at Lillie Bridge to win the very first race at the very first
AAA championships in 1879 and went on to achieve international fame and
glory as the world's finest distance runner. But this was no ordinary
Walter set world record times at every distance between one and 12 miles
and even won the so-called `championship of the world' when he sailed to
New York in 1882 to take on America's best. A century before the age of the
celebrity, Walter and his glamorous posh girlfriend had to get married in a
secret breakfast-time ceremony to avoid all their fans and well-wishers!
Walter won a record 14 national athletics championships on track and
cross-country and his running exploits around the UK and abroad in the
sport's early days made him athletics' first international superstar.
Indeed, he was arguably the most famous sportsman of the Victorian era. A
controversial figure, he confessed his love of `a beer, a cigar and a
spree'. His training involved unconventional activities such as brine
baths, and a unique zen-like exercise programme which he developed in
secret to combat the boredom of his day job.
Walter loved to bet, and gambled himself into heavy debt and got into all
sorts of scrapes involving race-fixing and other scandals. Despite his fame
and glory he would ultimately die in near-poverty in South London in 1943.
In 2006 athletics' biggest problems involve drug issues, but in Walter's
day it was betting and underhand payments. Walter was no angel in this
respect, despite his lofty status as world champion. He was a colourful
character and a forerunner of lovable sporting rogues such as Ian Botham,
Alex Higgins and George Best.
Now, for the first time, Walter's remarkable life story is told in this new
book published to coincide with the 120th anniversary of Walter's finest
run - his stunning world record mile of 4 minutes 12.75 seconds at the
Lillie Bridge stadium in West London. It opened up the chase for the sacred
four-minute mile and was not beaten for nearly 30 years - a unique
achievement in the history of athletics.
Hadgraft's painstaking research reveals George was more than a one-race wonder, with a love of ladies, alcohol and gambling.... -- Daily Telegraph, August 31, 2006With the Walter George saga, author Rob Hadgraft has unearthed a cracker. -- Worcester Evening News, August 21, 2006show more
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