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The First Great International Track Meet
John A. Lucas
October 23, 1972
In the autumn of 1895 a British track team took on the Americans in New York, only to discover that once again England had come a long, long way to get beat by revolutionary methods
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October 23, 1972

The First Great International Track Meet

In the autumn of 1895 a British track team took on the Americans in New York, only to discover that once again England had come a long, long way to get beat by revolutionary methods

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International athletic competition of any real note or importance was virtually unknown in late 1894 when the New York Athletic Club issued a challenge to its powerful counterpart in London. But the idea caught on fast and the proposed track and field event came to be viewed by many as a matter of national pride and physical strength.

On both sides of the ocean the selection of team members was of greatest concern. John C. Gulick, secretary of the NYAC, received a friendly letter from Mr. S. K. Holman, secretary of the London Club, stating that the noted Scottish sprinter, C. A. Bradley, had recently joined his organization. "I wish to point out now," said Holman. "so as to forestall argument on the subject, that Mr. Bradley has recently joined, and has done so. I believe, expressly for this competition." No argument came from New York City; instead the NYAC began a thorough canvassing of the nation's track and field talent with membership invitations for the very best. With the international event now established as no casual affair, NYAC Team Captain Hugh Baxter gathered an impressive group of athletes together at the club's private grounds on Travers Island. Nothing was denied the team in the way of food, lodging and expert coaching.

The last pesky legal matter was cleared up on Aug. 15 when William B. Curtis, president of the Amateur Athletic Union, replied to a July 29 letter from NYAC President James Whitely. In essence, the document acknowledged that in this instance hard-line policy regarding club membership might weaken America's chances of winning the all-important match. A dispensation allowed the NYAC to pick any American athlete for membership, which was fortunate, in view of the fact that the enterprising New Yorkers had already selected a magnificent national team to meet the British on Sept. 21, 1895 in New York.

The British team consisted, as did the American, of a combination of club and college athletes. The winner of the annual Oxford-Cambridge track meet was to cross the water to take on Yale, and both school groups were then to become part of their national teams.

Leslie's Weekly pointed out that the match was in reality one with "all England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales versus all America."

Outing, Harper's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly and New York's newspapers filled their columns with talk of the meet, predicting record crowds, world record performances and a close match.

On Sept. 4 a thousand people welcomed the British ship Aurania upon its arrival in New York. After a reception and dinner at the Murray Hill Hotel, the British athletes, "a lithe, well-bronzed set of men," split up, the college men from Cambridge proceeding to New Haven as guests of Yale, and the club athletes remaining in New York as guests of the NYAC, with arrangements to practice at the Berkeley Oval.

For a full week both groups expressed complete satisfaction with their accommodations, track facilities and the management of their training regimen. Then a circumstance over which their hosts had no control began to trouble the visitors: a relentless 90� heat became bothersome. Several Britishers took to complaining of chronic fatigue, and, in addition, two athletes reported pulled muscles. None of this prevented British Manager Montague Shearman from predicting that his team was going to win all the flat races.

By midday on Saturday, Sept. 21 the temperature on New York City's Manhattan Field was a sizzling 98�. Over 10,000 broiling, partisan, patriotic but jovial spectators were on hand, with both sexes helping to jam the stadium. "The new woman," suggested the New York Herald, "is nothing if not athletic, and the thousands of girls talked as learnedly on the situation as their escorts." Among the many distinguished spectators were James Whitely, president of the NYAC, former president August Belmont, Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor, correspondent Richard Harding Davis, artist Charles Dana Gibson, amateur sports leader James E. Sullivan and the city's police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt. Out in the center of the green oval field a brass band was blowing holes through the fiery atmosphere.

It was two o'clock when the English athletes arrived, looking very brown and rugged as they strolled down the cinder path toward the clubhouse. They were dressed in splendid colors, one sporting a maroon sack coat, another a pair of lavender trousers, still another a pea-green smoking jacket. The few not in competition smoked pipes and distributed advice. There seemed no lack of confidence about them—they laughed and chatted and joked among themselves as though international contests were an everyday occurrence.

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