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17 October 2014

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Athletics

Launceston Elliott

Launceston Elliott

© David Chapman

It is one of the interesting facts of Scottish sport, and a sign of the age and class to which he belonged, that our nation's first Olympic medal winner was not, in fact, a native of the country, but was born on the other side of the world.

Launceston Elliot came from a well-established Borders family, a descendant of the Earl of Minto. His great-grandfather was governor of Madras, his grandfather governor of St Helena and Launceston's father, Gilbert, served as a magistrate in Imperial India, where Launceston was born, on 9 June 1874.

Gilbert retired from the civil service in 1887, bringing his family to England where he began farming in Essex. Launceston was 13 at this point and was already attracting attention for his build. Shortly after this, Launceston began to train under the tutelage of the great German weightlifter Eugen Sandow, regarded as the founder of modern-day bodybuilding.

Four years later, aged only 16, Launceston competed in the inaugural British weightlifting championships, held in the International Hall of the Café Monico in West London. According to reports, the young man's performances did him no harm, and a further three years on he was to be crowned British champion.

In 1896, Launceston decided to enter himself for the first Olympics, held in Athens that summer, and so joined an intrepid, small band of British athletes sailing for Greece from Marseille on board the SS Congo. Also among this group was fellow weightlifter Lawrence Levy, who, as well as competing in the Games, was also reporting on them for a newspaper in Birmingham.

It was to be a remarkable time for Launceston, in which he set many firsts. The Games began for him on 6 April 1896, when he finished fourth in the 100m heats. Although he was eliminated, this was the first event of the games, and so Launceston became Britain's first Olympic athlete.

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