1956 Olympic Champion
Founder, London Marathon
August 21, 1928 - February 28, 2003
As rabbits set the pace for greyhounds, in 1954 Chris Brasher set the pace for Roger Bannister in what would become the first sub-four minute mile ever run. This feat alone might have satisfied most men, but Brasher had feet that weren't about to stop here.
Born in Georgetown, British Guiana, where his father worked to establish telegraph service, Brasher was sent to school in England, eventually attending St. John's College in Cambridge. It was here that his prowess for middle distance running began to shine; he finished first in the 5000 metres race at the World Student Games in 1951. He earned a spot on the British team for the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952, but finished a disappointing eleventh place. But he and two other medal-less athletes made another bit of history two years later at Iffley Road, Oxford. It was a mile race at an Amateur Athletic Association meet, where a plan had been hatched to break the four-minute mile. Brasher would lead the way for the first half-mile, Chris Chataway, a 5000 metre specialist, would take over from there, and on the final 3/4 mile, Roger Bannister would do the necessary sprint to the finish and the record would be broken. Needless to say, the plan worked. A new record (3 minutes, 59.4 seconds) was established, and Brasher and Chataway would have their own little, mostly unrecognized, niche in the history books.
And then came the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, where Brasher barely made the team as the third and last choice to run the 3000 metre steeplechase. But Brasher's greatest attribute, determination, reigned once again as he rallied past all challengers with 300 metres left to apparently win the Gold Medal. But, Brasher was disqualified while an inquiry examined an accusation that he had interfered with another runner on the way to the finish. After three agonizing hours, Brasher's win was declared good and Britain had it's first Olympic champ in twenty years. After an all night celebration, Brasher received his Gold Medal, "blind drunk, totally blotto, with an asinine grin on my face."
For the next twenty years, Brasher became a writer, an environmentalist and an innovator. He wrote for The Observer about sports and his passion for the outdoors. After working as The Observer's sports editor, Brasher moved on to the tele and the BBC where again he excelled. Always searching, Brasher "discovered " the world of orientation, at the time a scandinavian sport where teams, using maps as navgational guides, raced through forests. He and life long friend and partner John Disley were determined to bring the sport to Britain, and well he did, today known as the father of British orienting.
In 1979, excited once again, Chris Brasher went to New York to run the New York City Marathon, not something a lot of folks his age did in those days, but then...He was twice as excited when he returned to Britain, writing in The Observer,
Last Sunday, in one of the most violent, trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men, women and children from 40 countries of the world, assisted by black, white and yellow people...laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen? I wonder whether London could could stage such a festival?
Well, the answer, thanks to the undying determination of Chris Brasher, was a resounding yes, and the London Marathon was born. For a little under a year, Brasher sought out the London "powers-that-be" and convinced those that needed convincing, that they could indeed replicate New York's success; infact, they could do it better. And so, on March 29, 1981, 7,747 runners ran the first London Marathon from Greenwich Park to Buckingham Palace; Brasher himself, 52 at the time, finished it in a little under three hours. The Marathon hasn't looked back since and neither did Brasher.
Brasher's love for the outdoors took him to the Himalayas and the Alps. It also took him to new heights in Brasher, the footwear company he founded. While walking the Roof of Wales in 1973, Brasher suffered major blisters treking the 180 mile trail and was once again determined. Hence, The Brasher Boot Company (est. 1983) and the cushioned Brasher boot, based on, what else, the most comfortable running shoe on the market. Besides innovative products, Brasher's desire was to protect and maintain the wild and hilly places that we love to walk in. This dedication resulted in his involvement in the founding of the John Muir Trust, part of Brasher's commitment to preserving the environment. Fortunately, he helped establish many trusts which carry on in has name, for the indefatigable Chris Brasher passed away this February at his home in the Village of Chaddleworth, Berkshire. He was 74.