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Charles Bennett Olympic MIle – 22 July 2012

Ian Kennedy reports on how Shapwick remembered it’s Olympic hero in style.

Having 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 finally arrived!

The villagers’ race – first race of the day at Shapwick

With 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.

The 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.

Brian 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.

Over 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.

Come 22 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.

Those 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 atmosphere.

The 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’.

The 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.

Jack Ridley (6) in Finchley Harriers colours – winner of the village race

Next up 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.

The 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 too fast.

There 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 looked scarey!

With 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.

Come 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.

The Elite race with Richard Horton leading the way

A 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 high.

No 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.

The 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.

I left 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 the Anchor.

A good day, thank you Shapwick.


Race results can be found at www.shapwick.com

For more background on the Charles Bennett story, click here

The Echo covered the race too, click here for a link to its story.


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