Mike Martineau profiles the late, great Sydney Wooderson, who would have been 100 on August 30

One hundred years ago on August 30, 1914, one of Britain’s greatest ever athletes was born.

Sydney Wooderson’s achievements during his athletics career were massive and, but for World War II, it is very likely he would have won Olympic gold in the 1940 and 1944 Games, which of course never took place.

If it weren’t for the war, Wooderson might even have been the first to break four minutes for the mile. Nonetheless, he was an Olympian, representing GB at the Berlin Games in 1936. Unfortunately, he had injured himself while out walking just before the Games and so did himself no justice, not even finishing in his heat. He won gold at the Paris Europeans in 1938 at 1500m and also in 1946 at 5000m in Oslo.

He won silver in the mile at the London Empire Games in 1934 but missed the Sydney Empire Games in 1938 as he was taking his law exams. He set world records in 1937, 1938 and 1939 at the mile (4:06.4), half-mile (1:48.4), 800m (1:48.4) and in 1945 he improved his mile time to 4:04.2.

He won the National at Sheffield in 1948, leading Blackheath to their first team medals in the event. It took that great club until 1986 to match that achievement. He turned to coaching after hanging his spikes up after the 1949 National.

His 80th birthday was celebrated in great style at the Blackheath clubhouse, now renamed the Sydney Wooderson Centre. This renaming took place after a memorial service in his honour that was held in 2007.

He had to wait until he was over 85 for his MBE, the result of a lengthy campaign by his friends. He died in 2006, aged 92.

His gravestone in Wareham, Dorset, is typically modest, makes no mention of his MBE or his prowess and status as one of the greatest athletes of all time. His legacy is well preserved and every year very close to the anniversary of his 800m world record a race is held over the distance as part of the BMC meeting at Cambridge Harriers headquarters.

His memory lives on. He was the greatest ever “heathen” and as the song goes “his soul goes marching on”!

» This is an extract from a feature in the August 28 edition of Athletics Weekly which is available here or digitally here

» Mike Martineau is a past president of Sydney’s Wooderson’s former club, Blackheath Harriers