Emil Voigt: the unwitting pioneer

Emil Voigt lived to the ripe old age of 90 and was a proponent of a vegetarian diet, self massage and hard training.  He was running right up until the age of 80, according to his granddaughter, Robin.  Not only this, Mr. Voigt started his running career in Cross Country and as you may have gathered from previous posts, this is where I believe great runners are made!

A great runner Emil turned out to be!  Attending Manchester Harriers races regularly from a young age, Emil began to make a name for himself in the local and national scene, winning races up to 4 miles.  However, at the age of 25, Mr. Voigt was on the verge of giving up on his promising career in athletics altogether!  Fortunately for those attending the 1908 Olympics in London he decided to have one last throw of the dice – what better place to do it than at a home Olympics?!

Not long before the Opening Ceremony, Emil opted to run the Five Mile race.  Little did he know that he would soon become Olympic Champion and Olympic Record holder over the distance (25:11:02) – a feat that can never be taken from him as it was the first and last time the distance was to be run at the Olympics. His achievement was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he had never competitively ran the distance before!  Oh, and just to be sure, he also won his Heat four days before the final gaining a collapsed arch…and then won the Final ONE minute quicker than his heat AND 70 yards in front of his nearest rival!  What an athlete!

Another title Mr. Voigt held until Saturday August 4th 2012 was that of being the very first and only British man to win a long distance Olympic Gold medal…as we all know, Mo Farah eclipsed this with his victory in the 10,000m (and then the 5000m on August 11th).

Emil Voigt’s victory in the 1908 Olympiad spurred him to carry on with his athletic career and he subsequently became the British Champion over Five, Four and One mile.  Adding to these awards he also won athletics titles around Europe. Emil also helped the Finns develop their own training program based around his own punishing standards (often he ran three times a day in training!) and putting forward his own nutritional ideas for their use.  This training program clearly paid off during the 1920s as Paavo Nurmi became the greatest middle and long distance runner of his generation!

And there we have it, Emil Voigt, the little known hero who helped to shape distance running as we know it.

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