Kimbolton & the Olympics

The 2012 Olympics prompted the re-release of Chariots of Fire, one of the most popular films of the 1980s and winner of the 1981 Academy Award for Best Picture.   The film, which tells the story of the 1924 Paris Olympics, focuses on the achievements of British gold medallists Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.

Harold Abrahams was born in Bedford in 1899. As a Cambridge undergraduate he was an outstanding athlete, achieving success against Oxford in the 100 yards and 44o yards, and a record-breaking performance in the Long Jump.  (He did not, in reality, perform the feat portrayed in Chariots of Fire, of running the circuit of Trinity College’s Great Court in the time taken for the clock to strike twelve).  However, whilst still at university, he represented Britain in four events at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics but failed to win any medals.

The following year, Harold’s brother Lionel, a St Neots solicitor, became Clerk to the Governors at Kimbolton School.  William Ingram, the Headmaster, was seeking to enhance the School’s reputation by encouraging visits from distinguished sportsmen and was delighted when Harold Abrahams agreed to do some of his training for the Paris Olympics at Kimbolton School.

In his book, The Power in a School, Ingram records an incident which took place while Abrahams was training at Kimbolton.  One day the athlete challenged Ingram to a 100 yard race along a stretch of the Tilbrook Road, with the winner to receive a silk shirt from the loser. ‘It was a thrilling race, Abrahams won – but only by a foot or two – and he was the finest sprinter in the world’. The real magnitude of the victory lies in the fact that ‘Harold went on foot and [Ingram] was driving a good high-powered car’!

This careful preparation paid off when the time came for the 1924 Olympics.  In addition to his gold medal for the 100 yards, Abrahams won a silver medal with the British sprint relay team.  There were no medal ceremonies – he received his medals by post and even had to pay an excess postage charge!

Sadly, a serious leg injury, sustained in the following year while long jumping, brought his career as an athlete to a premature end.

In 1974, four years before his death, Harold Abrahams made his final visit to Kimbolton School to present the prizes on Speech Day.  With him he brought the telegram, sent by the School Prefects after his victory in 1924. Presenting it to the Head Prefect he said ‘ I have treasured that telegram for 50 years and now I would like to hand it over for safe keeping to the school with which I have had links for so many years’.

[Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Nora Butler, and The Villager magazine]

.The 2012 London Olympics did not have the same kind of connection to Kimbolton, but, nevertheless, there is a considerable connection.

Many of the flags and banners found in the Olympic Park and throughout London were made and provided by House of Flags, Bicton Industrial Park, Kimbolton.

The superb fireworks displays following the Olympics Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony and the Paralympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies were designed and supplied by Kimbolton Fireworks.

Kimbolton Fireworks must truly be the leader in firework displays, having earlier been selected to provide fireworks for the New Year celebrations on the Thames in London and in Edinburgh.