Sam Mussabini

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Scipio Africanus "Sam" Mussabini (1867–1927) was an athletics coach best known for his work with Harold Abrahams. In total, he coached athletes to eleven medals over five Olympic Games. However in an era where amateurism was prized, he was not officially recognised because he was a professional coach.

Early life and career[edit]

He was born in Blackheath, London of Syrian, Turkish, Italian and French ancestry.[1][2][3] He followed his father into journalism and in the 1890s he was also a professional sprinter for about five years. In 1894 he coached Bert Harris to the first professional cycling championship. In 1896 he was employed as a cycling coach by the bicycle tyre company Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.

Mussabini played billiards to a high standard and reported on matches as a sports journalist during the winter months. In 1897 he co-authored a technical book on billiards and began writing articles for a billiards journal. In 1902, he became its assistant editor and later the joint proprietor and editor. In 1904 he wrote a two-volume book on the technicalities of billiards. He was also one of the top billiard referees.

Olympic athlete coaching[edit]

He coached South African sprinter, Reggie Walker, to a gold medal at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. He coached further gold medal winners at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He was appointed as full-time coach by Polytechnic Harriers from 1912 until 1927.

He brought a systematic approach to coaching, rather than just being a masseur. For example, he used the techniques of Eadweard Muybridge to photograph runners' actions and techniques at the finish.

At the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, he coached Albert Hill to two gold medals in the 800m and 1500m, and Harry Edward, third in the 100m. He coached Harold Abrahams to a gold medal in the 100m and silver in the 4x100m at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, France.

Legacy and honours[edit]

Mussabini's success at the 1924 Olympics was portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire in which Mussabini is played by Ian Holm.

His proteges won further medals at the 1928 Olympic Games after his death.

In 1998, the Mussabini Medal was created, to celebrate the contribution of coaches of UK performers who have achieved outstanding success on the world stage. In 2011, Sam was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.

English Heritage installed a blue plaque at 84 Burbage Road, Herne Hill, on 11 July 2012.[4] The house was Mussabini's home from 1911 until about 1916 and backs on to the Herne Hill Stadium, where he worked as a cycling and athletics coach from the 1890s until his death and trained several medal-winning Olympic athletes, including the young Harold Abrahams.[5] The plaque was unveiled by Lord Terence Higgins, who competed in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, and Ben Cross who played Abrahams in the film Chariots of Fire.[6]


"Only think of two things - the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other."


  1. ^
  2. ^ Jenkins, Simon P. R. (2005). Sports Science Handbook: A-H. Multi-science Publishing. p. 163. ISBN 0-906522-36-6. 
  3. ^ The New York Times (1981-09-25). "OLYMPIC GLORY IN 'CHARIOTS OF FIRE'". Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  4. ^ "English Heritage plaque for Scipio Africanus Mussabini". Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Harold Abrahams(1899-1978)". Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "Review Chariots of Fire". Retrieved 16 July 2012. 

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