Scottish Olympic moments: Wyndham Halswelle, 1908

IN THE history of great Scottish Olympic stories not many compare to the triumph, tragedy and sheer athletic talent of the story of Wyndham Halswelle and the only walkover in Olympic Games history.

Wyndham Halswelle was at his physical peak in time for the 1908 Games. Born in London to Scottish parents, Halswelle had taken bronze and silver medals at the Athens Intercalated Olympics Games in 1906.

His time had come. This was his chance to take the Olympic title.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And that he did, but in strange and rather inauspicious circumstances. Halswelle competed in the 400 metres at the 1908 Games. He reached the final, and that’s where this Scottish Olympic story takes an odd turn.

In his heat Halswelle powered to a new Olympic record of 48.4 seconds, and in the final he faced three American runners: William Robbins, John Carpenter and John Taylor. The American trio were judged to have impeded the Scot, using tactical running to try and block Halswelle out of the race.

One judge spotted the incident and yelled out “foul!”

The Scottish finishing judge removed the tape before the leading American, John Carpenter, could cross it. Carpenter was subsequently disqualified, and the race was to be re-run. The other two American athletes refused to take part in the re-running of the race in protest.

So, in the Olympic final Halswelle lined up for his big moment, but due to the shenanigans in the previous race he was the only runner on the starting line.

Halswelle took part in the re-run, ran at full pace and took the gold in what is the only walkover in Olympic Games history. He had now won Olympic gold, silver and bronze in individual events.

Halswelle was a decorated war hero as well as a world class athlete, having served in the Boer war as part of the Highland Light Infantry.

His sporting career was a short one, taking a back seat during the war years due to his military commitments, making his Olympic success all the more incredible.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The incident during his crowning achievement is said to have turned Halswelle off athletics and with a glittering career surely ahead of him he retired from running later in 1908 to continue his career in the military.

Captain Wyndham Halswelle was killed by a sniper on 31 March 1915 at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in France, during World War I.