Horatio Fitch

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Olympic medal record
Men's athletics
Competitor for the  United States
Silver medal – second place 1924 Paris 400 metres

Horatio May Fitch (16 December 1900 - May 1985) was an American athlete who competed mainly in the 400 metres.

He competed for the United States in the 1924 Summer Olympics held in Paris in the 400 metres where he won the silver medal, an event memorialized by the 1982 hit movie Chariots of Fire. The race winner was Eric Liddell, who had passed up the 100 metre dash, his speciality, because it was being held on Sunday.

“I had no idea he would win it,” Fitch, then 83, said in a 1984 interview. “I knew he was a good sprinter, but I didn’t know until afterward that he was a quartermiler also. Coard Taylor (the other American in the race) had been the favorite until the semifinal, when I ran 47.8 and broke the world record. That surprised me as much as anyone, especially since I eased up the last 30 yards to save myself for the finals. People began to look at me as the favorite and I thought I had a pretty good chance to win. Our coach told me not to worry about Liddell because he was a sprinter and he’d pass out 50 yards from the finish.”

Fitch attended the University of Illinois and was cut from the track team in his freshman year. “I had to work and didn’t have time to study,” he explained. “I did make the team the next year, though. I’m probably the only athlete you’ve ever heard of named Horatio.”

After graduating with a degree in engineering, Fitch went to work for a company building Chicago’s new Union Station. He found time, however, to compete for the Chicago Athletic Association. After winning the 1923 AAU 440-yard national championship with a time of 50.0 seconds, he was invited to participate in the Olympic tryouts at Harvard the month before the Paris Games. He finished behind Taylor, a Princeton graduate, who set a new world record of 48.1 in the semifinals and was one of nine quartermilers the U.S. took to Paris. “They selected four for the relay and four for the open and took an extra man as a back-up,” Fitch recalled. “I guess they wanted to give as many people as possible a chance to compete. They didn’t have the fastest men come back in the relay like they do today."

Fitch further recalled that it took eight days to make the trip to Paris. On the ship, Amerika, the team trained by running around the deck. “We were jogging around all the time,” he said. “The relay runners were running up and down passing the baton and yelling out that sprinters were coming.”

Between 1924 and 1982, Fitch was asked to speak about his Olympic experience on only two occasions, once in 1928 and again sometime in the mid-30s. While he secretly cherished his silver medal and had fond memories of his Olympic experience, he got on with his life and seldom mentioned to anyone what he had done on that July afternoon in Paris. However, after the movie was released, he became something of a local celebrity, being invited to speak at community and church functions and being asked for interviews. “I enjoy talking about it,” Fitch continued. “Heck, I don’t have that much else to do these days. He couldn’t help wonder if the movie would have been made had he defeated Liddell and taken away the happy ending.