The Road to Rio
This August, while the world zooms in on the sporting event of the year, we’re showcasing the races and competitions that have graced London’s parks, tracks, playing fields and school grounds over the years. Take the plunge and browse through these archival gems that bridge the distance between “serious” athletics and light-hearted recreational pastimes. If tug of war was an Olympic event up until 1920, who’s to say that the egg-and-spoon race talents and apple bobbing prodigies weren’t headed for worldwide fame? Their stardom is fortunately preserved on film alongside their more respected male and female sporting counterparts.
A delightful film from Bromley Local Studies and Archives shows children and adults participating and enjoying a sports day. It features girls and women racing in dresses, pillow fights and slow-motion jumps. Don’t miss the young participant in a keep-fit routine who is so enthralled by the camera he struggles to keep up.
Belvedere House School 2
1930s Mill Hill presented in newsreel footage of group callisthenics, school rugger and hockey matches as well as Belmont Swimming Bath on a rainy day. Watch out for two budding ship commanders using paddles as pugil sticks in a water duel that culminates in a naval catastrophe, of sorts.
1930s Mill Hill
The opening ceremony of any Olympic Games is always spectacular and so is this interesting film of the opening events of the 4th International Games for the Deaf hosted in London in 1935. Bright and merry crowds wave and sign at St Paul’s Cathedral, for a special service to commence the games. This is followed by the obligatory parade around the track at White City, the first purpose-built Olympic Stadium in the UK.
4th International Games for the Deaf, London Part 1
A film documenting the 1950s Dagenham Cables Company Sports Day and Gala with a wealth of carnival competitions and community sports disciplines. Witness dogs jumping through hoops, ladies’ gymnastics and possibly the first self-driving car caught on camera.
10. Punch and Judy
A new running track in Broomfield Park, Southgate, hosts the borough championships, with footage of numerous track and field events including the high jump, long jump and various sprints, hurdles and steeplechases. Film is notable for the presence of a couple of black athletes, one of whom is pipped at the line in a well-filmed 880 yard race. The crowd is vast, flags line the track and BBC cameras are there to record the action.
Southgate's New Running Track
Enjoy this fast-paced cycle race in Kent as competitors speed and weave through cars, vans and past excited spectators. Everything is above board at the beginning of the race, with a ‘Machine Examiner’ checking out the bicycles tyre pressure. The race begins with a patriotic flurry when a man waving a Union flag commences the race.
Wrestling is a popular Olympic sport but in 1926 the interest in the activity was on the wane. In order to raise interest amongst the public the organisers of the Middlesex County Championship elected to hold the competition for that year at Finsbury Park. What follows is an action-packed wrestling match between two men in front of a fascinated crowd. Amongst the crowd is Yukio Tani, a retired Japanese wrestler and teacher known as the “pocket Hercules.”
Topical Budget: Catch-As-Catch-Can, Finsbury Park (1926)
Luckily, for Olympic swimmers, pools are a lot cleaner than the River Thames! Enjoy this short Topical Budget feature of brave women lining up for a long-distance swimming race in the Thames from Kew to Putney. Several dozen women are seen waving enthusiastically before diving gallantly into the filthy river. The race was won by eighteen year old Phyllis Scott, who looks exhausted!
Topical Budget: Women’s Thames Swim, Kew to Putney (1921)