Full Name: Christopher William Brasher
Date of Birth: 21 August 1928
Born: Georgetown, British Guiana
Enchanting company and a man whose presence could take over a room the moment he entered, Chris Brasher was one of the true characters of British athletics. There was little doubt that he could be tough to deal with but what he achieved, whether it was on the track in his brief but spectacular career, or off of it, with most notably his creation of what is now the Flora London Marathon, Brasher succeeded with pomp and glory. When he died in 2003, the tributes were encapsulating. Sports Minister Richard said: "Chris was undoubtedly one of the most influential and well-liked British athletes of any generation". And Sir Roger Bannister, who Brasher helped pace to become the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier in 1954, said: “Chris was gallant and brave right to the end, he had won so many battles in his life. He did so much for Britain." Even into his 70s, he was skiing, seizing the riches of life at every opportunity. It was quite a life, and never more so than on the day he won Olympic gold in Melbourne.
Keeping The Pace
Brasher won gold in the 3000m steeplechase at the Olympics in 1956 amid controversy, but he arrived in Australia still best known in athletics circles for the events of more than two years previous when on May 6, 1954, he helped pace his friend Bannister to smash the Mile mark. Brasher ‘s contribution was immense, having set the standard over the first two laps at the Iffley Road track in Oxford before Chris Chataway took over, paving the way for Bannister’s glory in 3:59.4. Bannister’s praise when Brasher died was evidence enough of the feeling of teamwork which went into that landmark moment in world sport. But Brasher progressed to achieve individual success on a level where Bannister did not - at the Olympic Games. A mountaineering enthusiast throughout his life, and graduate of Cambridge University, Brasher won the 1951 World Student Games title at 5000m and was second at 1500m. He turned to the steeplechase where he was 11th at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952, but he never won an AAA title. Four years later, though, he was on top of the podium…eventually.
Drama In Melbourne
As the British team arrived in Australia, Brasher was not even the country's No 1 3000m steeplechaser of the trio who were seeking glory at the MCG. He was behind both John Disley and Eric Shirley, but in what became his final track race, he rose to extraordinary heights. Ernst Larsen, of Norway, was in front with 800m to go when Hungarian Sandor Rozsnyoi took over. With 150 left, Brasher battled past them both and using his elbows, made room to progress to a surprise triumph. There was little time to celebrate because within 15 minutes the announcement was made that Brasher had been disqualified for illegally barging the Norwegian. But then came an incredible twist. Sportsmanship of the highest degree arrived when Larsen said the bump that he had been given by Brasher did not change the course of events while the Briton also received support from Rozsnyoi. The appeal judges met and three hours later decided that the result would stand and Brasher was the gold medallist.
He has triumphed in 8:41.2 (8:41.35 on auto timing), an Olympic record, a British record and six seconds better than his previous best. Rozsnyoi ran 8:43.6 followed by Larsen in 8:44.0. Brasher then progressed onto a ‘liquid lunch’ with members of the British media and as it is recalled in The Complete Book Of The Summer Olympics: “He arrived, in his own words, 'blind drunk, totally blotto, on the Olympic podium. I have an asinine grin on my face and nearly fall flat on my face as I lean forward, breathing gin fumes all over an IOC Frenchman as he attempts to hang a medal around my neck.'”
His greatest achievement was still to come. Brasher’s varied career included spells as Sports Editor of The Observer between 1957 and 1961 and Head of General Features, BBC Television, between 1969 and 1973. He was also a leading developer of the sport of orienteering in Britain and built up profitable sportswear and shoe companies. In 1959 he married the tennis player Shirley Bloomer (ranked No 3 in the world in 1957), and when, in 1979, he ran the New York City Marathon, an idea became a phenomenon. On his return, he wrote an article in The Observer about aiming to stage such an event on the streets of London.
He said in the article: "Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed and cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen. I wonder whether London could stage such a festival? We have the course, a magnificent course.... but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?" The answer was a spectacular ’yes’. With his friend, and Melbourne teammate Disley, the dream became a reality and on March 28, 1981, the first London Marathon was staged.
Over 25 years later, the race raises £30m a year for charity and from 7,747 from the first occasion, now close on 40,000 are entered.Brasher, honoured with a CBE in 1996, became the president of London Marathon Limited.Horse racing played another big part in his life where he was a successful owner.
1951: 2nd 1500m, 1st 5000m World University Games
1952: 11th 3000mSt Olympics
1954: ht 1M Commonwealth Games
1956: 1st 3000mSt Olympics
UK Internationals: 9 (1952-6)
1500m 3:53.6 (1954), 1M 4:06.8 (1955), 3000m 8:15.4 (1955), 2M 8:45.6 (1956), 3000mSt 8:41.35 (1956).