On Wednesday, London’s newest blue plaque will be unveiled, honouring a suitably sporty subject, given we’re in the run up to London 2012 .
Scipio Africanus Mussabini (or Sam as he was known) was a pioneering figure in both professional and amateur sport in Britain. Anyone who’s watched Chariots of Fire will probably remember Ian Holm’s portrayal of the proud coach willing Harold Abrahams on to victory in the 1924 Paris Games. Theatre fans can catch the ever-brilliant Nicholas Woodeson as Sam at the Gielgud Theatre in the stage version of the story at the moment.
The new blue plaque will be unveiled on Wednesday at 11.30am at Sam’s former home in Herne Hill (84 Burbage Road, where he lived from 1911 until about 1916). The house forms part of the Dulwich Estate and backs onto the Herne Hill stadium where Sam worked as a cycling and athletics coach from the 1890s until his death.
Sam worked at a time when the world of British Athletics was very different to today. In a time when amateurism was celebrated, his innovative training methods looked at every aspect of an athlete’s diet, training, fitness and stamina. He used a camera to record and study athlete’s techniques, and insisted his charges carry stopwatches in order to learn to run at an even pace. He also worked to ensure more female athletes received high-quality coaching. His techniques reaped rewards: between 1908 and 1928, his runners won 11 Olympic medals, including five gold.
Our favourite Mussabini quote? “Only think of two things — the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other.”
Looking for more blue plaques celebrating Olympians? London has four:
- Running: Harold Abrahams at 2 Hodford Road, Golders Green
- Rowing: Jack Beresford at 19 Grove Park Gardens, Chiswick
- Tennis: Kitty Godfree at 55 York Avenue, East Sheen
- Tennis: Dorothea Lambert Chambers at 7 North Common Road, Ealing
For more info on London’s blue plaque scheme, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques