Scipio Africanus "Sam" Mussabini (6 August 1867 – 12 March 1927) was an athletics coach best known for his work with Harold Abrahams. In total, he led 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
Mussabini was born in Blackheath, London of Syrian, Turkish, Italian and French ancestry. He was educated in France, and later followed his father into journalism. 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 the same years 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
He coached the 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, including Willie Applegarth. He was appointed as full-time coach by Polytechnic Harriers from 1913 until his death from diabetes in 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 800 m and 1500 m, and Harry Edward, third in the 100 m. He led Harold Abrahams to win a gold medal in the 100 m and silver in the 4 × 100 m at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, France.
Legacy and honours
Mussabini's success at the 1924 Olympics was portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire in which Mussabini is played by Ian Holm. After filming Ian Holm exchanged letters to living relatives of Mussabini concerned about accuracy.
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. 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. 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.
"Only think of two things – the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other."
- Scipio Africanus ‘Sam’ Mussabini. plaquesoflondon.co.uk
- Sam Mussabini. Southwark Council
- Jenkins, Simon P. R. (2005). Sports Science Handbook: A-H. Multi-science Publishing. p. 163. ISBN 0-906522-36-6.
- The New York Times (25 September 1981). "OLYMPIC GLORY IN 'CHARIOTS OF FIRE'". Retrieved 27 August 2010.
- "English Heritage plaque for Scipio Africanus Mussabini". Archived from the original on 5 January 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- Sam Mussabini. englandathletics.org
- "Harold Abrahams(1899–1978)". Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- "Review Chariots of Fire". Retrieved 16 July 2012.