These Olympic journalists were either Olympians or were given Olympic awards

As the build-up to Paris 2024 continues, SJA secretary Philip Barker takes a look at those members of the sports media who competed at an Olympic Games or who were recognised for their work with honours…

By Philip Barker

Seb Coe with distinguished Olympic journalists Neil Wilson, the late Alan Hubbard and John Goodbody at London 2012

In three weeks from now, the Olympic Games will be officially underway with a spectacular pageant along the River Seine.

It was in Paris 130 years ago that a specially convened Congress at the Sorbonne University resolved to revive the Olympic Games for the Modern Era.

The French nobleman Pierre de Coubertin was behind the event. Helping with the media arrangements for the Congress was Frantz Reichel, a French journalist.

100 years ago this month, he was elected as the first President of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) on its foundation shortly before the 1924 Games opened in Paris, the last time they were held in the city.

Although Coubertin himself was a prolific writer who had been presented with an AIPS card, only once has an International Olympic Committee (IOC) President truly been entitled to write the word “Journalist“ on his passport.

Michael Morris, the Lord Killanin, was an Irish Peer. An old Etonian who went to Cambridge, he worked for the Daily Express and the Daily Mail in the late 1930s. He covered the Sino-Japanese War, a conflict which prompted the Japanese to hand back the 1940 Olympic Games which had been awarded for Tokyo.

Killanin also edited “Four Days”, an account of the Munich crisis in 1938.

The 1940 Olympics and those of 1944, awarded to London, never happened because of the war.

Killanin became an IOC member in 1952 and President in 1972. He co-authored a major history of the Olympics with John Rodda of The Guardian. It was published in time for the 1976 Montreal Games.

Rodda was a distinguished Olympic reporter. In 1968, he reported on a massacre of students by Mexican security forces a few days before the Olympics were set to begin.

In 1979, Rodda was awarded the Olympic Order.

Until the mid-1980s, the Games were strictly amateur so in earlier years, some notable figures also had distinguished careers as journalists.

South Africa’s 400m gold medallist at the 1920 Olympics was Bevil Rudd, who studied at Oxford and later joined the Daily Telegraph sports department.

Harold Abrahams of Cambridge University, 100m gold medallist at the 1924 Paris Games, had his sporting career prematurely ended by an injury and turned to journalism as a source of income.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he worked for BBC Radio though as Mark Ryan discovered whilst researching his book “Chariots Return”, BBC officials had their doubts.

“We all regard the German action against the Jews as quite irrational and intolerable but should we take the line that, however irrational we regard another country’s attitude to be, it would be discourteous to send a Jewish commentator to a country where Jews are taboo?” BBC Programme Controller Cecil Graves asked colleagues.

Ultimately, Abrahams did go and memorably described the climax of the men’s 1500m, won by his friend, New Zealand’s Jack Lovelock.

In 1948, Doug Wilson competed for Britain in the 1500m. He later became athletics correspondent for the News of the World and also edited “The Olympian”, a magazine for those who had taken part in an Olympics.

Anita Lonsbrough, 200m breaststroke champion at the 1960 Rome Games, became swimming correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. She also worked as a summariser alongside legendary commentator Peter Jones for BBC Radio.

After the Second World War, World Sports Magazine had become essential reading for many. In the 1950s, its editorial staff included Sylvia Cheeseman who won 4x100m bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

At the same Games, her husband John Disley also won bronze in the steeplechase.

He was destined to work closely with our future Chairman and President Chris Brasher, who won steeplechase gold in 1956. Together, they established the London Marathon.

Journalist Ivan Sharpe was a member of the last British team to win Olympic football gold in 1912 in Stockholm.

“The weather was so hot, it was impossible to sit on the pitch for more than a few seconds, buckets of water were placed along the touchlines,” Sharpe recalled.

In 1933, Sharpe interviewed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini when England visited Rome.

England were not members of FIFA for much of the interwar period but a British team still competed in Berlin. They were knocked out in the second round by Poland.

The squad included Arsenal amateur Bernard Joy, later a distinguished football reporter with the Evening Standard.

Reuters’ sports reporter at that time was Vernon Morgan who ran in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

He later became a member of the IOC Press Commission. On his retirement in 1969 after 40 years, he received the Olympic Diploma of Merit.

“For 40 years, he served sport well, with dignity and integrity. Sport as a whole knew that it could rely on accurate and sympathetic reporting,” Killanin said.

Geoffrey Miller, European Sports Editor for the Associated Press, was another honoured by the Olympic Movement.

Miller collapsed and died in his hotel room during the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo 40 years ago.

In 1998, an Olympic award was actually presented at an SJA dinner. Princess Anne, (now known as The Princess Royal) IOC member and President of the British Olympic Association, presented the Olympic Order to Morley Myers, who worked for the United Press International Agency. Myers had served on the IOC Press Commission since 1981.

Former SJA Chairman David Miller played for Corinthians Casuals and might well have travelled to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, except that the selectors reduced the squad size.

He travelled to the Tokyo Olympics aboard the Trans Siberian Railway. Miller’s career included time at the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and The Times. He also worked with Sebastian Coe on two autobiographical books, wrote biographies of IOC Presidents Juan Antonio Samaranch and Thomas Bach and a detailed history of the Olympics and the IOC.

Last November, Miller received the Coubertin Medal.

“David Miller’s contribution is absolutely unique and his work to highlight the history of the Games is absolutely fantastic,” former IOC Vice President Sir Craig Reedie said.

Matthew Syed of The Times represented Great Britain at table tennis in 1992 and 2000. He did not win a medal but did receive bronze at the IOC’s Golden Rings Ceremony for his television documentary on China and table tennis.

60 years ago, flickering pictures from the Tokyo Olympics seemed like a marvel.

The star commentator was David Coleman, who provided the television soundtrack for BBC viewers of the Olympics for over 40 years.

In 2001, Coleman became the first British broadcaster to receive the Olympic Order.

“I first became aware of the Olympic Games listening to a radio set in 1936 and I’ve been fascinated by Olympic history ever since,” he said.

“I’ve now become part of it.”

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