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28 October 2014

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You are in: Manchester > History > History features > Golden boy

Golden boy

As Manchester’s Olympic hopefuls get ready for Beijing, we pay tribute to the city’s original sporting hero who still holds a Games record 100 years on.

Emil Voigt: Olympic Hero

Emil Voigt ran until he was 80.

In 1908, an unknown athlete from Manchester stunned the sporting world by winning gold at the London Olympics.

Emil Voigt, a wiry 8-stone club runner, destroyed a field that included the world's best athletes over five miles, winning by an impressive 70 yards.

And since it was the only time this non-metric distance was included in the Games, his record can never be broken.

However, his granddaughter Robin Voight has revealed that his path to Olympic glory was even more remarkable...

Olympic bid

Born in Ardwick in 1883, Voigt started his career at the age of 14, running cross country races for Slade Harriers.

Winning his first ever race over four miles, he continued to excel in sport, joining Manchester Athletic Club in Fallowfield.

Emil Voigt's gold medal

Emil Voigt's gold medal.

But it was on the point of retiring from competitive athletics at the age of 25, that Emil made a last minute decision to enter the Olympic Games in London.

Emil easily won his heat, but then disaster struck. Because of his punishing training schedule which involved running 100 miles a week, the arch of his foot collapsed. But he refused to give up.

With a plaster of Paris arch support to wear inside his shoe, Emil lined up in front of 80,000 people for the race at London’s Olympia.

And, to everyone's amazement, this wiry 8-stone Englishman (the only vegetarian at the Games) triumphed - beating 35 of the world’s best athletes to take the gold medal.

Emil finished in 25 minutes 11.2 seconds - a record that still stands today. And it can never be broken; the five-mile race was replaced by the 5,000m and 10,000m from 1912.

Described by the press as 'one of the most stylish and brilliant runners ever seen', he went on to become the British five, four and one mile champion, also winning titles in Sweden, Finland, France and Germany.

Emil's granddaughter, Robin Voight

Emil's granddaughter, Robin Voigt

After the Olympics he emigrated to Australia, where he continued his athletic career, becoming the Australian six-mile record holder, the Victorian one-mile Champion and the Australian two-mile record holder.

He finally settled in New Zealand where he trained some of the country’s best athletes and continued to run every day up a volcano, until he was 80 years of age!

  • With thanks to Emil’s granddaughter, Robin Voigt, for providing the information.

An exhibition celebrating Emil Voigt's achievement is showing at Manchester Town Hall

last updated: 19/05/2008 at 11:17
created: 16/05/2008

You are in: Manchester > History > History features > Golden boy

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