Étienne Gailly

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Olympic medal record
Men’s athletics
Representing  Belgium
Bronze medal – third place 1948 London Marathon

Étienne Gailly (26 November 1922, Beringen – 3 November 1971, Genval) was a Belgian soldier and Olympic athlete who competed mainly in the Marathon.[1]


Étienne Gailly was a Belgian who served as a paratrooper during World War II.[2] Towards the end of the War, as he participated in the liberation of his home country in late 1944, Gailly was profoundly moved by the devastation to his home. He vowed that he would win an Olympic gold medal or drop trying.

He was a club runner, wearing the colors of London's Belgrave Harriers. After the war he continued running. His results after the war were moderately good but not threatening to the world leaders. In 1948 he was not rated as a serious contender for the Olympic marathon, held in London.

But, although he did not win the marathon, he became a hero.

In his first full marathon run, in very hot conditions Gailly took the race out hard. Inexperienced at this distance, and underestimating the dehydrating effect of the severe and unusual heat and humidity, he opened up a lead of over half a minute at the course midpoint. On two occasions he beat back challenges, first from Korean Choi and then the Argentinian Cabrera. For some time it looked as if a big surprise was in the making. It seemed Gailly's determination may win him the race, although by this point his lead was dwindling and his pace was slowing.[3]

However, nearing the stadium and the finish, he suddenly and completely ran out of gas. As he faded, thanks to the heat and his own ambitious pacemaking in extremely tough conditions, Gailly was reeled in by Delfero Cabrera (ARG) and Tom Richards (GBR). Entering the stadium in the lead but stumbling with exhaustion, the crowd roaring encouragement, he was passed by Cabrera during the final lap. He fell and was then passed by Richards. The crowd gasped with horror and willed him to get up. The home straight was an almost unending nightmare for Gailly, moving like a zombie, but despite falling again, he dragged himself half-standing over the line. He finished third to a standing ovation.[4]

Gailly was unable to attend the victory ceremony because his efforts put him in hospital.

Gailly contested the 1950 European Championship marathon but his subsequent career was cut short by an injury sustained during service in the Korean War.[5] During the Battle of Haktang-ni, Gailly stepped on a trip-flare sustaining a minor wound.[6]


Both Etienne Gailly and his brother Pierre served during the Korean War as part of the Belgian United Nations Command. Pierre Gailly was killed in action, Etienne seriously wounded.


  1. ^ Un siècle d'histoires en Brabant wallon - Page 92 Yves Vander Cruysen - 2007 "Le 7 août 1948, le marathonien Étienne Gailly pénètre en tête dans le stade de Wembley. Il a dominé la course de bout en bout. Après la médaille d'or de Gaston Reiff, les Belges rêvent à un nouvel exploit. Puis c'est le drame. Victime d'un ..."
  2. ^ Les dessous de la régence, 1944-1950 - Page 304 Pierre Stéphany - 2003 "Gaston Reiff est mort en 1992, ayant battu 26 records de Belgique et détenu quatorze titres nationaux. Quant à notre déception, elle eut pour auteur malheureux le Limbourgeois Étienne Gailly, 26 ans, lieutenant parachutiste et déjà.. ."
  3. ^ http://belgraveharriers.com/articles/etienne_gailly.htm
  4. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A5848554
  5. ^ http://marathoninfo.free.fr/jo/londres1948.htm
  6. ^ A. Crahay, Bérets Bruns en Corée 1950-1953 (Vécu Par Des Belges) p.126