Jock Semple

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John Duncan "Jock" Semple (October 26, 1903 – March 10, 1988) was a Scottish-American runner, physical therapist, trainer, and sports official. In 1967, he attained worldwide notoriety as a race official for the Boston Marathon, when he attempted to tear off the number of Kathrine Switzer, who was officially entered despite a ban on female competitors.[1] He subsequently oversaw implementation of qualifying times in 1970 and the formal admission of female runners in 1972.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Semple was born in Glasgow, Scotland and emigrated to the United States in 1921 to work as a cabinetmaker in Philadelphia. He moved to Boston after running in his first Boston Marathon and began to work in sport-related fields. He was a masseur and physical therapist for the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics, and a trainer for Olympic athletes.

Semple became known to a lay audience while working as a Boston Marathon race co-director. He had been in the long-time habit of physically attacking those he perceived to be "non serious" runners competing in the race, whether officially entered or running the course unofficially. In a 1968 interview with Sports Illustrated, he called them "These screwballs! These weirdies! These MIT boys! These Tufts characters! These Harvard guys!" According to fellow race official Will Cloney: "He hurls not only his body at them, but also a rather choice array of epithets... Jock's method of attack is apt to vary." In 1957, Semple had narrowly escaped arrest for assault after attempting to tackle a runner in swim fins and a snorkeling mask.[1] In the 1967 Boston Marathon, one woman, Bobbi Gibb, ran and finished unofficially, as she had the previous year, because women were not allowed to participate. When another, Kathrine Switzer, entered the race officially, through an "oversight" in the entry screening process,[3] Semple tried to stop her as she ran.[4][5] Switzer wrote in her memoir "A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, 'Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!'"[6] Switzer's boyfriend managed to shove Semple aside. Photographs of Semple attempting to rip Switzer's number off were widespread in the media.[1]

Later in life, Semple reversed his position on women competing in the marathon. According to Marja Bakker (a later organizer of the race), "Once the rule was adjusted and women were allowed in the race, Jock was one of their staunchest supporters. He was very progressive."[7] Semple later publicly reconciled with Switzer.[8]

In 1981, he published an autobiography, Just Call Me Jock.[9] He was inducted into the RRCA American Long Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1985.[10]

Semple died of cancer of the liver and pancreas.[11] The Jock Semple Award given by the Boston Athletic Association is named in his honor.


  1. ^ a b c Myron Cope (April 22, 1968). "Angry Overseer Of The Marathon". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  2. ^ Associated Press (March 10, 1988). Jock Semple, Marathon Official. New York Times
  3. ^ Semple, Jock; Kelley, John J.; Murphy, Tom (1981). Just Call Me Jock: The Story of Jock Semple, Boston's Mr. Marathon. Waterford Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-0942052015.
  4. ^ Concannon, Joe (April 5, 1987). 1967: Semple Meets Switzer. Versions vary but everyone remembers that infamous marathon. 'Boston Globe
  5. ^ Semple, Jock; Kelley, John J.; Murphy, Tom (1981). Just Call Me Jock: The Story of Jock Semple, Boston's Mr. Marathon. Waterford Publishing. pp. 7, 114–118. ISBN 978-0942052015.
  6. ^ CNN, Emanuella Grinberg. "1st woman to officially run Boston Marathon to do it again 50 years later". CNN. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  7. ^ "'Jock' Semple dead at 84". New London, Connecticut: The Day. March 10, 1988. p. F8. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  8. ^ Bettman Archives image Accessed 17 April 2017
  9. ^ Semple, Jock; Kelley, John J.; Murphy, Tom (1981). Just Call Me Jock: The Story of Jock Semple, Boston's Mr. Marathon. Waterford Publishing. ISBN 978-0942052015.
  10. ^ "Distance Running History: RRCA Hall of Fame Inductees 1980 - 1989". Road Runners Club of America. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  11. ^ AP (1988-03-10). "Jock Semple, Marathon Official". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-17.

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