When Harold Maurice Abrahams was born on December 15, 1899, movies were short, silent and black-and-white. It would have been impossible to imagine that this newborn baby boy would one day be the subject of a full-length color film that featured an Academy Award winning score. Chariots of Fire (1981) brought to the screen the story of a young Jewish athlete whose perseverance and determination overcame anti-Semitism and class bias to bring him to Olympic gold.
After serving in the British Army during the First World War, Abrahams attended Cambridge University. The child of an athletic family, he joined the track team and excelled at sprinting and high jump. In 1920, he attended his first Olympics (Antwerp), but did poorly. At home, however, he continued to demonstrate athletic prowess. In a highly controversial move, Abrahams hired Sam Mussabini, a professional coach, to help him improve his skills. This was unheard of among British amateur athletes at the time, but Abrahams ignored the remarks of others. At the 1924 Olympics, he won gold for the 100 meter sprint and silver as part of the 400 meter relay team.
The next year, Abrahams broke his leg on the high jump, and his physical athletic career came to an end.
Trained as a lawyer, Abrahams turned to sports journalism and became a well-known sports writer and broadcaster. Abrahams’ full influence came, however, as chairman of the British Amateur Athletic Board (1968-1975). In this capacity he was able to guide young athletes to follow his success.
It is interesting to note that Abrahams' two brothers were both honored for their involvement in athletics. His brother Sir Adolphe Abrahams was considered the founder of British Sports Medicine. His other brother, Sir Sidney Abrahams competed in the long jump and served as the 26th Chief Justice of Ceylon.
Harold Abrahams passed away on January 14, 1978.
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