Alec Nelson and British Athletics prior to World War II: A Professional amongst Gentlemen
British athletics in the era of Chariots of Fire is explored through the rediscovered life of amateur and professional runner and leading British coach, Alec Nelson. Though necessary for competitive success, professional coaches were kept firmly in their place by the socially elite athletes and administrators of the sport. The contradictions and hypocrisy within athletics, and the class-based antagonism between amateurism and professionalism are central themes of this book.
The relationship between professional trainers and amateur athletes and clubs is examined, and the resistance to change while British Olympic performances increasingly fell behind. The sporting world and its main personalities are brought to life through exploring the clubs Nelson coached (Cambridge University, the Army, the Achilles Club and various Olympic teams), the athletes he trained (Harold Abrahams, Douglas Lowe and Bob Tisdall among them) and the controversies over the methods and role of coaches. The book also brings to light a remarkable partnership which crossed the lines of social class, between Nelson and his mentor, Philip Noel-Baker, a prominent Olympian and politician who attempted to modernise British athletics.
Ian Stone is a professor emeritus at Durham University’s Business School. His doctoral work in economic history at the University of Cambridge and his wider family connect him to the main location and character in the book, as does his participation in running events throughout his life. Ian’s academic career was as an economist at universities in the UK, New Zealand and Canada. As founder-director of research centres at Durham, he led policy studies on skills, business development and entrepreneurship for UK and overseas governments and organisations. In sport, he has clocked up 36 Great North Runs among many 10kms, half-marathons and marathons.
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