88 years ago Harold Abrahams won the gold medal for Britain at the Paris Olympics. His story was told in the 1981 Oscar-winning movie "Chariots of Fire." The race was held on July 7th at 7 PM and every year for the next 50 years - Abrahams and one of his opponents in that race had dinner together at that exact same time. That would have been last night - if they were alive.
Instead - Lulu and I went to see the play "Chariots of Fire" to celebrate the feat.
As fate would have it - this morning when I awoke - I stumbled across an interesting story on the Internet. Of all places - the Olympic Torch was passing through Bedford - about 40 miles north of London. Bedford just happens to be the birthplace of Harold Abrahams. Abrahams was knighted long ago for the service to his country - but his birthplace was not marked by a "blue sign." In Britain - a community places a blue plaque on your home after you die - a sign of tremendous respect. Today the community was unveiling Abrahams blue plaque.
It was 11 AM - Lulu was out with her students. Would it be possible to shower and dress and catch a train to Bedford? I must try. By 11:10 - I was showered - shaved - dressed - and running to Saint Pancras Station. What luck - there was an 11:20 train to Bedford. I bought a round trip ticket for 20 pounds - and got in the train just as the doors slid shut. By 12:30 - I was in the Bedford Station asking people how to get to Rutland Road. Most of the people did not even know Abrahams was born there - let alone where he lived. Finally - one girl pressure washing her porch knew all about it. She directed me on a 15 minute walk. I started jogging - as I rounded the corner - I heard the band strike up a tune ahead. I made it.
As the band played - the crowd gathered. The musicians struck up a few tunes from the movie. The politicians starting arriving. As the mayor started to speak - the rain started to pound. No one moved as they listened to the program about their hero. People had British flags - Olympic flags - and local Bedford banners. The program was rather brief due to the pouring rain. One man put a umbrella over my head as I photographed everything I could. The official that helped produce the movie pulled the sash cord much too quickly. I barely caught the act between the rain drops.
They are re-releasing "Chariots of Fire" tomorrow - a new fancy digitized version of the movie.
Just a few hours before I was in the theatre in downtown London watching a play honoring Abrahams. The actors were running on a track surrounding our seats. Now I was right in front of his home watching them uncover his blue sign. It made me feel part of these Olympics. It is something I will be able to tell my sons and grandkids about when they join me for the games in 3 weeks. This all happened on Sunday - the Sabbath - at 1 PM. Due to the time difference in the USA - when you read this - it will not have happened yet :-)
The weather was great - before the unveiling.
The mayor started to speak at 1 PM - and it started to pour.
They had a 100 yard dash in honor of Harold Abrahams right down his street.
After the event - the family that lives in the house came out - after the crowd cleared.
The house where he was born was torn down a long time ago.
Abrahams lived on Rutland Road in Bedford - about 40 miles north of London. They hope the Olympic crowds will drop by to see the sign.