Untold lives blog

11 September 2012

India and the Olympic Games Part 2


With the 2012 Paralympics just finished and memories of the enormously successful London Olympics no doubt still fresh, we return to the story of Calcutta-born Norman Pritchard, who was mentioned in an earlier Untold Lives post.
 
Norman Gilbert Pritchard was born on 23 June 1875 the first child of George and Margaret Pritchard, his father then being employed as an accountant in the Public Works Department. (It might be inferred from this that whatever sporting genes he inherited came from his mother's side of the family.)  Unusually, he has not one but two baptismal certificates, for 15 August 1875 (IOR/N/1/153/87) and 28 January 1883 (IOR/N/1/186/244).
 
Pritchard was an amazingly talented sportsman. In his late teens he won the first of seven consecutive Bengal Province 100 yard sprint titles, as well as honing his skills on the football field where he scored at least one hat-trick. At the second Olympiad in Paris in 1900 he won not one but two silver medals, in the 200 metres and the 200 metre hurdles, and came a creditable fifth in the final of the 110 metre hurdles; in an age when leading athletes rarely take part in more than two events in any one Games, one can speculate that he would have performed even better had he not chosen to enter the 60 metre and 100 metre sprints too.

 

1908 Olympics 1908 Olympic Games Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News

 Images Online © The British Library Board

 

Back in Calcutta he served for two years as the secretary of the Indian Football Association while still participating in athletics competitions – The Times of India of 10 October 1899 reports his travelling to Bombay to set a national record in the 120 yard hurdles, and on 28 February 1901 the same paper touched upon his unsuccessful attempt to beat his own quarter mile record, at a meet where Lady Curzon had been announced as presenting the prizes but failed to appear. He is listed in Thacker's Indian Directory as an assistant working for the firm Bird & Co. while living at 3 Lansdowne Road in Calcutta, but he must have become bored with this humdrum existence after his days of Olympic glory.  He seems to have left India for the last time in 1905, eventually finding his way to the United States. Here his career took an altogether different turn, for not only did he appear in a number of plays on Broadway, he later moved further west to feature in several silent films under the name Norman Trevor. He died in California in 1929.
 
There remains to this day a degree of confusion as to whether he was competing for India or for Great Britain, but what is certain is that he was the first Indian-born athlete to win an Olympic medal.
  
Hedley Sutton
Asian and African Studies Reference Team Leader

 

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