The Plumbland man who was ready for the long jump and kept winning
Last updated at 20:04, Thursday, 07 June 2012
Another English athlete is on his way out to Australia!
That’s what readers of The Argus – a Melbourne newspaper – were told in December 1886. That English athlete was Jonathan Nichol, a jumper and a Cumberland collier.
I picked up this snippet when I was browsing the internet.
What sort of athletic record would a local need to get a mention in an Australian city newspaper?
He was a highly successful “running high leaper” in his time.
The Argos gave a brief account of his sporting triumphs. Nichol had, reportedly, made his first appearance in 1881, since when he had competed in 41 sporting events up to 1885.
He was competing, according to the Argos, “against the best men in the English Lake District.” So how did he get on? How about 38 firsts, two seconds and a third? An impressive record! He was, according to the paper, on his way to Sydney. I wonder what cash was on offer for winners. It must have been fairly generous and it was this which had attracted all those English athletes to visit Australia.
Athletics was then, for most competitors, more about money than glory. But then, I suppose, it’s just the same today.
I chanced upon a letter sent to the West Cumberland Times in December 1898 by James Benson, Crosby Street, Maryport. It appeared in the paper under the heading “A champion running high leaper.” He gives an account of Nichol’s “jumping performances” and a few sketchy details of the athlete’s sporting life. Nichol came from Plumbland and it was there, I assume, that he worked down the pit. I don’t know anything else about his life outside athletics. Do you? If so, I would be grateful for any info you could supply me with.
It’s fascinating to note where Nichol competed. Grasmere, Keswick, Pooley Bridge, Silloth, Workington, Penrith, Aspatria, Bothel, Blennerhasset, Langrigg, Oughterside, Fletchertown, Plumbland, Oulton, Morpeth, Prospect, Red Dial, Bolton-Low-Houses, Crosby, Dearham and Gilcrux.
He certainly didn’t have a soft life when he started competing. Benson gives some account of how he, and two others, accompanied Nichol when he first competed at Grasmere in 1883.
The four of them rose at 4am and set off for Cockermouth Railway Station – seven miles away – on foot. They then took a train to Keswick, where they then completed the journey to Grasmere by wagonette. They only got there just in time, as Benson put it: “When we arrived, they were taking entries, so he had to make ready right away. Yet he got over 5ft 3in. and divided the first prize with two others.”
What an achievement. Benson summed it up thus “I think it was a grand performance after walking seven miles and then riding about another 24 without being able to get his legs straightened out.”
Competing at Workington, he won with an impressive height of 5ft 9in. This was an exception, most of his jumps averaged 5ft 4in.
When he went to Australia in 1886, he’d been ill. He’d been “on the sick list” for a few weeks – and it was during this period that he was beaten into second place at Pooley Bridge by Keswick’s Joseph Sewell who recorded a jump of 5ft 4in.
Because he was unwell, he didn’t compete in Australia – no doubt choosing to rest before his trip to America. The rest cure worked. He entered three competitions – and won three times – clearing 5ft 7in on St George’s Gala Day. At an earlier St Andrew’s gala day meeting, he’d demonstrated his versatility by winning the “pole jump” event.
He eventually returned home to Plumbland and, reportedly, decided to retire from competition. But it didn’t last. He was soon back at his running high leap once more – again winning everything he entered.
In his sporting career he’d only missed out on first place on three occasions, coming second at Silloth to Mr Drummond, Cockermouth; coming second at Pooley Bridge to Joseph Sewell and coming third behind David Bowe and Joseph Temple at Keswick.
I’ve never quite understood why they dropped the standing long jump from the Olympics, ordinary athletics meetings. It was certainly competed for locally back in 1892, as was the standing high leap. William Barron won that event, clearing 3ft 11in – and winning first prize of five shillings. Nichol wasn’t competing that day, so Keswick’s R Tyson won the running high leap, winning himself seven shillings and sixpence.
I don’t know what jumping technique they were using at the time. Any ideas?
First published at 19:19, Thursday, 07 June 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk