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Jack Lovelock - Athlete and Doctor

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:03pm

Jack Lovelock, it remains a legendary name in New Zealand's sporting history. Until recently all I really new of him was that he was famous for winning Gold Medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The footage of that race is now almost folklore stuff and is unforgettable for the highly parochial commentator losing his composure as he calls the finish of the race.

photo courtesy where you can also buy the book.

I recently learned a lot more about the Lovelock having read Dr Graeme Woodfield's biography on New Zealand's original Olympic track gold medalist.

The book is an in depth look at Lovelock's life from his early years growing up in Timaru, and at Otago Medical School, through to his time at Oxford University in Britain where he was a Rhodes Scholar and his early years as a trainee doctor St Mary's Hospital.

A talented sportsman in his younger days he finally settled on running, which he had always shown a special aptitude for. His move to Britain in 1931 led to numerous opportunities to further his running over the ensuing period. Races against Cambridge university and the top United States universities were common.

Lovelock attended the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics as a young 22 year old. Short on big meet experience, and prone to nervousness on big occasions, he faded to 7th in the 1500 meters. Shortly afterwards however he went to set a world mile record of 4:07.6 while representing the British universities at a meet against a Princeton/ Cornell team. That remained his personal best for the mile.

Further success followed at the 1934 Empire games in London where he won the mile and in 1935 he won a race dubbed 'The mile of the Century' where he beat home some of the best middle distance runners of his day in a time of 4:11.2 in what was a very tactical race.

By the time the 1936 Olympics arrived Lovelock was the hot favorite to win the 1500meters gold and this time he showed his class with a superbly timed run in the last 300 meters to win by 10 meters in another world record time of 3:47.8.

Lovelock retired from competitive running after the Olympics to concentrate on his medical career. He was now well regarded doctor with an interest in physiotherapy.

During the war years he enlisted in the British Army where he put his medical skills to fine use overseeing the treatment and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. After the war Lovelock continued his distinguished career in medicine, eventually taking up a role in a New York hospital in 1948 where he settled with his American wife and two daughters.

The book also deals in depth with the mystery surrounding Lovelock's untimely death in 1949 when he tragically fell in front of a train at a New York subway station. Some have claimed that this was a suicide bought on by a depression. Woodfield attributes a fair bit of the blame for this unfortunate accident to a series of head injuries and concussions Lovelock suffered in the early 40's after which his eye sight and balance suffered as did his personality which is also said to have altered somewhat.

Though Lovelock went on to fulfil a distinguished army and medical career, he was evidently plagued by eye problems for the rest of his life which undoubtedly effected him. On the day of his death he was suffering from flu and had left work to return home. It is said that he had taken some new drug and that the effect of this combined with his bad eye sight and tendency for dizzy spells is thought to be the chief reason for his fall into the path of a train.

Jack Lovelock, long may we remember him as a fine athlete and a fine New Zealander.

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