Charles Bennett Olympic MIle – 22 July 2012
Kennedy reports on how Shapwick remembered it’s Olympic hero in style.
endured some appalling weather in the past few months, it was a delight
to drive into Shapwick under a clear blue sky on race morning. It’s an
attractive place at any time, but seeing the village decked in colourful
flags and bunting it really looked a picture. The British summer had
villagers’ race – first race of the day at Shapwick
the Olympics coming to London in 2012, it was time once more to
celebrate the achievements of the first British Olympic track & field
gold medallist – Charles Bennett, ‘The Shapwick Express’. I say once
more, because Charles Bennett was remembered in 2000, in the 100th
anniversary year of winning his gold medal.
first I knew of the Charles Bennett Olympic Mile (CBOM) 2012 was back in
October last year when Bournemouth and Wimborne athletic clubs were
asked if they would attend a meeting to discuss the proposed event. Dave
Parsons and Ian Graham of BAC attended, and Jeff Hinsley and I were
there from WAC. Jeff brought the expertise that he has gained as race
director of the Wimborne 10. These days the Wimborne 10 is a well-oiled
machine, honed by 15 years of experience and continuity. The difficulty
for the CBOM 2012 was the 12-year gap since the last staging of the
event. In 2000 Brian James of BAC ran a very successful operation –
sadly, Brian is no longer with us, so although there were some in the
village and at BAC who had some knowledge of what happened, it was
almost like starting from scratch. The first meeting was held around a
dining room table with four of us from the running community and around
half a dozen villagers led by Sally and Martin Brown.
James’ event was remembered fondly by those in the village, so his
template was used to shape the 2012 event. One of the first jobs to do
was to accurately measure and mark the course, and this was done by
WACer Stewart Little. Jeff was the only one of us who had recent
experience of the rules and regulations of staging a road race, seeking
permission for road closures, etc., etc. So he found himself pretty
busy. Dave, Ian G and I offered advice and opinion. We were very
fortunate in securing many of the county’s top race officials for the
event (Ken Ballam, Nigel Harding, Richard Nunn, Dave Potter and John
Rhoden). It was the people of the village, however, who would be
providing the marshals, making it more than a race … an event.
the next six months the BAC/WAC contingent attended a series of meetings
in the village where all sorts of hurdles had to be overcome. In the
final two months leading up to the race, our biggest enemy became the
British weather. The plan was to use fields near the village to park
cars in. The steady, and not so steady, rainfall from April onwards put
the event in jeopardy as a combination of ‘set aside’ rules and
waterlogged fields meant that the parking of visitors’ and competitors’
cars would become a serious issue. I’m not sure if a road race has ever
been staged in Ambridge, but if ‘The Archers’ scriptwriters wanted to
include one as a storyline, all they need do in way of research is talk
to the good people of Shapwick! In the final week the weather, and our
luck, changed and there was a field that became usable for car parking.
July we enjoyed a glorious summer’s day, with a very gentle breeze that
was to offer some relief to the runners. The Charles Bennett Memorial
Field was the venue for race registration. With so many people from the
village involved, the marquees with teas and coffees, homemade cakes,
etc., gave the occasion the feeling of a village fete.
who know Shapwick will know that focal point of the village is the
Anchor pub, and there were big crowds around there all day. Opposite the
Anchor was sited the PA caravan which Jim Bailey, with the roving
microphone used as his base. Jim was on top form, his enthusiasm and
humour shone through, and he played a big part in generating a wonderful
event opened with the Olympic torch procession. This was led by Lance
Bombardier Ben Parkinson in his wheelchair, with his torch. Ben is the
patron of the ‘Pilgrim Bandits’, he lost both legs in an explosion in
Afghanistan and he received national attention, having spent six years
learning to walk again, when he carried the Olympic torch in Doncaster
to a rapturous reception. Lined up behind Ben, was Jack Ridley who lives
in the village, he was sporting Finchley Harriers colours (Charles
Bennett’s club) and he represented the ‘Spirit of Charles Bennett’.
Flanking Jack, where stalwarts of their respective clubs carrying
Olympic torches, Dave Parsons of Bournemouth AC with a 1948 torch and
Peter Impett of Wimborne AC with a 2012 one. Bringing up the rear were
three of Wimborne AC’s four torchbearers – Morag Day, Barbara Frampton
and me with more 2012 torches. This group made their way from the start
line to the Charles Bennett Field where we were met by grandson Chris
Bennett. With some well chosen words he officially declared the event
open … ‘Let the games commence’.
first race of the day was the village race, where young and old
competed, and what a start to the day’s racing that proved to be. The
‘Spirit of Charles Bennett’ Jack Ridley nicked it on the line in a
thrilling finish. Jim Bailey worked himself, and the crowd, into a
frenzy over that one. A great start.
Ridley (6) in Finchley Harriers colours – winner of the village race
where the under-17s races. These were intended for the young club
runners from the area. Unfortunately with the cramming of track & field
meetings into June and July to avoid overlap with the Olympics we lost
many of our hoped-for young athletes to fixture clashes with local
athletics leagues. In the girls’ race WAC’s Sharon Hutchings put on a
tremendous show as she cruised away from the rest of the field. WAC
didn’t have anyone in the under-17s boys’ race as Ryan Walbridge (our
fastest 1500m runner) was held back for the Elite race later in the day.
next race was the women’s race. It’s very rare for roadrunners to be
offered the chance to run a mile. It’ll be shorter and faster than they
are used to and can definitely put you outside your comfort zone. How
many would accept the challenge, unfortunately not too many women did.
WAC made a significant contribution to the field though. With Wendy
Kennedy the first red vest in, Morag and Barbara (our torchbearers) were
out there too as was Julie Gosling (who’d done a two hour run earlier in
the day). Wendy’s third place gave her a first ever podium finish.
Fortunately, the men’s race had much healthier numbers on the start
line. It was great to see so many Wimborne vests there. Although I’m not
quick, I do have a fair amount of experience of running something like
this distance, as I often go out on the track to do a 1500m to grab a
point or two in track league races for the team. Despite that I still
got to the Charles Bennett Field, blowing hard and thinking I’d gone off
weren’t too many entries in the Paralympic race. The speed that Daniel
Cook in the racing wheelchair shot past the Anchor was phenomenal, it
six races done – Ian Graham of BAC, along with various dignatories, had
been kept very busy, he was doing a great job of awarding race medals
and prizes after each event.
2.30 it was time for the invitation-only Elite race – what a spectacle
this proved to be. I can’t remember witnessing a more exciting race on a
Dorset road. The field was made up of around a dozen local elite
runners. They stormed past the Anchor in a pack (almost as if tied
together) at an impressive rate of knots to the accompaniment of huge
cheers from the crowd. When they got to the turn into Piccadilly Lane
there were no prisoners taken. It was only once they had made that turn
that the field started to stretch out a little. The race winner was
Richard Horton in Poole AC colours claiming the £150 first prize.
Richard is the reigning European Junior Duathlon Champion, a title he
won in the Netherlands in April. The podium was completed by Ian Habgood
of BAC (2nd) and Georgio Moravcik of Lytchett Manor Striders
(3rd). There were three WACers in the Elite race – Callum Kennedy, Ryan
Walbridge and Steve Wyatt. Ryan and Callum had a really good tussle to
claim bragging rights, with Ryan getting the job done in the final 100
metres. Steve kept this pair in his sites right until the end.
Elite race with Richard Horton leading the way
quarter of an hour later came the final race of the day – the public
race. Around 70 runners of all ages and abilities ran in this one – it
was the perfect way to conclude the day. I saw Dave Parsons go past with
the 1948 torch aloft, so I grabbed my torch and joined him. We completed
the course side by side crossing the line with torches and hands held
matter what the results say, the real winners were the people of the
village of Shapwick for staging such a memorable day, quite unlike any
other race I have taken part in. It was the way the whole community
embraced the occasion, and its inclusiveness that set it apart from any
other event I have been involved in.
legacy of the race for me is the gaining of some new friends from within
the village, and the closer ties and friendship forged with Dave and Ian
of Bournemouth AC who previously had just been no more than faces I
would recognise in the many road races we take part in.
Shapwick village with a huge smile across my face (as no doubt many
others did), but not before rehydrating with a pint of Timothy Taylor in
day, thank you Shapwick.
results can be found at
more background on the Charles Bennett story, click
covered the race too, click
here for a link to its story.