Wyndham Halswelle (1882 - 1915)

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Death: Died in Neuve-Chapelle, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Managed by: June Barnes
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About Wyndham Halswelle

Wyndham Halswelle (30 May 1882 – 31 March 1915) was a British athlete. He won the controversial 400 m race at the 1908 Summer Olympics, becoming the only athlete to win an Olympic title by a walkover.

Wyndham Halswelle had a notable athletic career at Charterhouse School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, before being commissioned into the Highland Light Infantry in 1901. While his regiment was in South Africa in 1902 for the Second Boer War, Halswelle's ability was recognised by Jimmy Curran, a coach and former professional athlete. It was he who persuaded Halswelle to take up athletics seriously when his regiment returned to Edinburgh in 1904.

In 1904 he was army champion for 880 yards, and in 1905 he won the Scottish and AAA 440 yard (402 m) titles.

In the Athens Intercalated Olympics, he achieved a silver medal in the 400 metres and a bronze in the 800 metres. On his return, in a single afternoon in 1906 at the Scottish championships in Powderhall, he won the 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards races (91, 201, 402, 805 m), a feat that has not been matched since.

His season was cut short by a leg injury in 1907, but he came back the following year to set a world record of 31.2 s for 300 yards (274 m) and a British record over 440 yards of 48.4 s that lasted over a quarter of a century until it was eventually broken by Godfrey Rampling.

In 1908 he set a Scottish 300 yards record that lasted until 1961 when it was beaten by Menzies Campbell, then a Glasgow University student.

In 1908 Summer Olympics, Halswelle reached the final of the 400 m with the fastest qualifying time (an Olympic record 48.4 s). Halswelle was baulked by William Robbins in the first 50 m. Then, coming off the final bend, Robbins led John Carpenter by a yard, with Halswelle waiting to pass him in the last straight, as he had done to other athletes in the earlier rounds. Carpenter ran wide, forcing Halswelle to within eighteen inches of the outside of the track, using his right elbow to prevent Halswelle overtaking. On seeing the interference, umpire Roscoe Badger shouted "Foul!", the tape was broken, and the race declared void. Pictures of the race indicate that Carpenter (intentionally or not) blocked Halswelle. While blocking was allowed under U.S. rules at the time, the Olympic race was conducted under stricter, British rules that did not allow this.

The race was ordered to be rerun in lanes two days later without Carpenter; however, the other two U.S. runners refused to race, so, though reluctant, Halswelle ran the race by himself to win the gold in a time of 50.2 s. It is the only occasion in Olympic history where the final was a walkover. As a result of the controversy, from the next Olympics in 1912 onwards all 400 metre races were run in lanes, and the International Amateur Athletic Federation was founded to establish uniform worldwide rules for athletics.

He retired from athletics after a farewell appearance at the 1908 Glasgow Rangers Sports.

Captain Halswelle was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in France during World War I.

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Wyndham Halswelle's Timeline

1882
May 30, 1882
1915
March 31, 1915
Age 32
Neuve-Chapelle, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France