Thomas Hammond (athlete)

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Thomas Edgar Hammond (18 June 1878 – 18 December 1945) was a British track and field athlete who competed in the 1908 Summer Olympics.

In 1908 he was eliminated in the first round of the 10 mile walk event.

Thomas Edgar Hammond's professional career was as a stockbroker at the London Stock Exchange. He was and founder member of the Brotherhood of Centurions (racewalking) Centurion (racewalking) (Centurion no.10) and is remembered primarily for his prowess as a long distance race walker.

Family and early life[edit]

Service in the Army
A Legacy of Race Walking achievements

He first came to prominence in the 52 mile Stock Exchange London to Brighton walk on 1 May 1903 when he finished third (9 hr 35 min 7 sec) to E. F. Broad(9 hr 30 min 1 sec) and G. D. Nicholas(9 hr 33 min 52 sec) and well outside Jack Butler’s record time of 8 hr 43 min 16 sec of 14 March 1903. He had improved dramatically by 9 April 1904, when he won the Blackheath & Ranelagh Harriers inter-club London to Brighton in a record time of 8 hr 26 min 57 sec, an average speed of 6 miles an hour. In June 1904, Tommy Hammond joined the Surrey Walking Club (he subsequently went on to become one of the club mainstays, filling at various times the positions of Secretary and President) and over the next couple of years, he competed in various long walks as well as throwing himself further into the administration of the sport, becoming a member of the Southern counties Road Walking Association Committee.

On the walking front, he had some fierce battles with the other famous walkers of the period. Soon after the Brighton win, a track 50 mile walk event was staged and Hammond was beaten into second place by F. B. Thompson in a new record. Then in a subsequent 50 mile track race in June 1905, Jack Butler regained his 50 mile record with an amazing 7 hr 52 min 27 sec. On 22 September 1906, Butler beat Hammond by over 10 min in the London to Brighton race, finishing in a record time of 8 hr 23 min 57 sec.

Finally, on Good Friday 1907, Hammond gave people a further taste of his quality as a genuine ‘World’s Best". On this occasion, he walked from London to Oxford, a distance of 54¾ miles in 8 hr 51 min 14 sec. A correspondent of the time noted: I affirm that this was as fine a piece of walking as it has ever been my privilege to witness. There was no hurry about it. There were no patent "bad times". The style was delightful to watch, precisely because it did not require an expert eye to appreciate it. It was walking, in the plain undiluted meaning of the term, without any artifice whatever. A more striking combination of ease and efficiency one could hardly imagine. The record breaker was quite fresh at the finish.

Three months later, on 21–22 June 1907, Hammond was back on the roads and once again left the field in his wake by winning the London to Brighton and Return walk. His time for the 104 mile distance was an amazing 18 hr 13 min 37 sec and broke H. W. Horton’s course record by over 2 hours. He covered the 62 ½ miles (over 100 km) to Brighton in 10 hr 30 min 36 sec and passed the 100 mile mark in 17 hr 25 min 22 sec. Second place at the end of the race was over 2 hours behind him. Pundits of the day thought that this record would be unbeatable. The course for that event was described as follows The race was walked from The "Swan and Sugarloaf", Croydon, to the Clock Tower, Westminste Bridge, 10 miles 3 furlongs; then right face and back to Brighton, 51 ½ miles more, making a total of 61 miles 7 furlongs. Then, wheeling around once more, back to the "Swan and Loaf", thus completing the double journey of 103 miles.

There was heated discussion as to whether a long distance walk should feature at the 1908 London Olympics but the discussion was lost and only two track walks featured – a 3500m and a 10 mile walk. Hammond was duly selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 10 mile track walk and thus had the honour of being one of the inaugural Olympic walkers. Unfortunately, being engaged in long distance training at that time, he did not prove fast enough to get into the final although the papers commented that he walked in beautiful style. He came 6th in Heat 1 in a time of 1:23:44.0 but only the first 4 from each of the two heats advanced to the final. Long distance walking had a high profile in those days and it was not surprising that in the post Olympic euphoria, a 24 Hour Track Walk race was set up by Middlesex Walking Club. This was reminiscent of the great ultra races of the previous century and it provided a perfect opportunity for Hammond to set even more records. The date was 11–12 September 1908 and the venue was the newly completed White City Stadium, Shepherd’s Bush. Forty-two of the leading long distance walking exponents toed the starting line. The fiercest competition for Hammond was expected to come from Butler who still held the best track 50 mile walk time and the record for the London to Brighton walk. Expectations were realized when Butler went to an early lead which he maintained for the first 10 miles before others caught and passed him. In a huge upset he was forced to retire at the 24 mile mark just as Hammond was starting to come into his own. Walking splendidly, Tommy Hammond took the overall lead just before the 5 hour mark and was never headed from then on. He covered the first 50 miles in 8 hr 36 min 31 sec and his 12 hour distance was an astounding 68 miles 325 yds. Powering on with no signs of slowing, he created a new 100 miles track record of 18 hr 4 min and 10 ½ sec and eventually finished with an incredible 131 miles 580 yards in 24 hours. This remains a distance that few walkers have been able to beat in the 100 years since. The local newspaper described the finish as follows: As it got to minutes instead of hours, the very large crowd, who were now thronging the stands, were aroused to the highest pitch of excitement. They cheered Hammond to the echo but this does not mean that they forgot to encourage other heroes, of whom perhaps Gillespie and Sampson were next in favour. Hammond now, though striding out grandly, was doubtless anticipating the end of the contest as keenly as any of those present. A continuous roar heralded the announcement that the last 5 minutes had been entered into. Even the weariest of the competitors seemed to be infused with some of the enthusiasm of the onlookers and when, at last, amid indescribable enthusiasm, Mr J. Daffern fired the pistol announcing the termination of the great "twenty four", there were none of the pitiable breakdowns so much in evidence at the finish of the "marathon" race. Hammond intended to go on and complete the 132nd mile but even the Stadium authorities could not prevent the crowd breaking into the enclosure and they surged across the grass in a manner which precluded the possibility of any further walking.

The crowd of 20,000 very badly wanted to carry Hammond around the track after he had finished. Hammond, in typically modest manner, had other ideas. With the band playing "See the Conquering Hero Comes", he walked across to the dressing room arm in arm with Horton – past and present London to Brighton record holders. It just seemed the appropriate thing to do.

The next year saw Hammond dominate another London to Brighton walk. The date was 1 May 1909 and the occasion was the Surrey Walking Club’s "Dithy Club" race from Westminster Bridge to the Royal Aquarium in Brighton. Hammond had been keen to have one final go at Butler’s record and this proved the occasion. His time of 8 hr 18 min 18 sec for the 52 miles broke the record by over 5 minutes. Brighton residents in their thousands lined the final miles to witness the performance. But if Hammond thought that he could go out on a high, he was soon to have a rude awakening. On 4 September 1909, only five months after his walk, H. Ross, in his first 50 mile race, won the Polytechnic Harriers London to Brighton race in an even better time of 8 hr 11 min 14 sec. Hammond had lost his record! It was a time in which every athlete wanted to be a long distance walker and the cream of athletics vied for the honour and notoriety associated with winning such classic events. In this climate of one-upmanship, events tumbled on one after another. Two weeks after the Polytechnic Harriers event, Blackheath Harriers hosted yet another 24 hour walking race, at the White City Stadium. By now the incessant racing was taking its toll and the retirees included Hammond, Butler and Ross. Tom Payne of South Shields, a member of the Lancashire Walking Club, won with a distance of 127 miles but the general disappointment was paramount – the favourites were nowhere to be seen and the records did not tumble.

This effectively marked the end of Hammond’s walking career. From now on, he turned more to the administration of the sport and, in 1911, he was one of the group who set up the Centurions. This group took on the role of recognizing the feat of those walkers who walked 100 miles within 24 hours. He was retrospectively awarded Centurion membership number 10 for his 1907 record breaking walk from London to Brighton and Return. He became the inaugural secretary/treasurer for the organisation and was club captain for an incredible 36 years from 1911 to 1946.

And what of his wonderful 1907 'London to Brighton and Return' performance? Finally in June 1926, with a much improved road surface and with a crack field assembled, people finally thought that a new record might be on the cards and so it proved. 14 men completed the distance and the winner, W. F. "Billy" Baker recorded a time of 18 hr 5 min 52 secs to break Hammond's record by just under 8 minutes. In typically generous fashion, Hammond wrote to the new record holder to congratulate him.

When Tommy Hammond died the Centurions decided to honour his memory by purchasing a three handled silver cup which would be called "The Hammond Cup’. This was to be awarded to the winner of the annual Centurions 100 mile walk. The cup was mislaid in the 1980s and, when rediscovered, it was missing it’s base and had not been engraved since 1965. It continues to be presented each year, a lasting memorial to Tom Hammond.

He can still be regarded as one of the greatest long distance walkers ever and as the "World’s Best" during that exciting era. Hammond’s finest walk remains his 24 hour track distance of 131 miles 580 yards, done in 1908. It was not bettered until 1950 when Frenchman Henri Caron managed 132 miles 1320 yards and it was not until 1960 that Hew Nielson, with a distance of 133 miles 21 yards, beat his British record. His track performance remains even to this day the second fastest ever by a British walker.

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