Edward Payson Weston: 'The first sporting superstar'
The UK's love affair with sports stars was clear to see during the London Olympics, when more than eight million spectators turned out to watch the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah over 17 days of competition.
Tickets to watch Bolt were particularly sought after.
But he's not the first athlete from overseas, with a flair for showmanship and self-promotion, to win the hearts of the British public.
It was a now obscure American, called Edward Payson Weston.
The sport? Professional walking.
In 1879, Weston was mobbed by so many British fans that he fell just short of completing a 2,000 miles in 1,000 hours walk around England.
Victorians and sport
As well as a love for pedestrianism, the Victorians wrote the rules of football and rugby
Along the way he delivered lectures about the health benefits of walking and was given a police escort whenever he went into major towns and cities in his trademark hat and boots.
It's reported that 60,000 people went to watch him on the outskirts of Bolton.
"He was such an incredible personality and he wowed the crowds with the way he dressed and the way he talked. He was intelligent, good looking - he was a hit with the ladies," says Paul Marshall, whose book A Man in a Hurry has brought details of Weston's feats to a modern audience.
"In my opinion, Weston was the original sporting superstar."
Weston's career stretched 61 years, from 1861 to 1922. He was a star on both sides of the Atlantic, at a time when pedestrianism was a sport which hundreds of thousands of people turned out to watch.
Tales of his achievements filled column inches and he was the focus of betting for huge sums of money.
US paper, the Portsmouth Daily Herald, reported that 500,000 people were ready to greet him in New York in 1910 at the end of a 3,100 mile walk from California that he completed in 77 days. It was a remarkable feat of endurance, especially considering that he was 71-years-old at the time.
Competitions were often held in halls, where the walkers would circle the track for hours at a time, in front of crowds of tens of thousands.
Weston's endurance capability and remarkable powers of recovery led doctors to study what he ate and how much he slept, even taking samples of his urine and faeces.
Rise and fall of pedestrianism
Pedestrianism had been popular in the UK and the US since the 1840s, but reached its peak in 1879, when it was reported that the world was gripped by "pedestrian mania".
Thousands turned out at the Islington Agricultural Hall in London and Madison Square Gardens in New York to watch races.
Weston and the Irishman Daniel O'Leary were fierce rivals and competed for huge sums of prize money.
The sport's popularity declined in the 1880s, as newspapers ran stories about bookies nobbling athletes to influence the outcome of races, and some competitors tried to gain an advantage by trotting for part of the race.
It was superseded by race walking, which first featured as an Olympic event in the 1908 London Games.
And it was during those studies that one of the most controversial parts of Weston's career came to light. Doctors noticed a brown stain on his lips after a race and discovered it was down to his chewing of a coca leaf, the source of cocaine.
The incident is one of the first known examples of drugs being used to enhance sports performance.
The British medical establishment was excited to learn of coca's properties, with the British Medical Journal writing: "Possibly we may be indebted to Mr Weston for the introduction of a new stimulant and a new narcotic: two forms of novelty in excitement which our modern civilisation is likely highly to esteem."
Weston said that he only used the coca leaf once during his career, which began after he lost a wager with a friend.
He had bet that Abraham Lincoln would lose the 1860 presidential election, but Lincoln won and, as a forfeit, Weston walked 478 miles from Boston to Washington in 10 days.
It was then he realised that not only did he have great powers of endurance and recovery, but that he could also earn money by getting sponsorship from companies to give out leaflets and business cards.
He lost and won large sums of money throughout his colourful career and even dodged death when - aged 86 - he was shot at, probably because he had separated from his wife and was living with another woman, which was unusual at that time, Marshall says.
As well as lecturing on the benefits of walking, he also became an ambassador for the Church of England's temperance movement.
In 1882 he was offered $10,000 (£6,246), while on a 5,000-mile walk around Britain, to preach a message of "tea versus beer".
It's hard to know how far Weston's influence extended, but a modern Olympian, British walker Dominic King - who competed in the 50km walk at the London Games - hadn't heard of him and says he has no interest in trying to match his feats.
"I have no intention of walking silly distances," King says. Although he will attempt to walk 100 miles in one day soon: "That would be enough for me."
Weston's regime certainly benefited him in the long term. When he died in 1929, he was 90 years old. At that time, the life expectancy for a male in the US was just short of 56.
During the last two years of his life, though, he was in a wheelchair, after being hit by a modern invention that he considered to be something of an enemy - the car.
"He hated cars, he absolutely loathed them," Marshall says.
"He saw them as the devil in a way, because what they did was they would take away the effort of walking."