Sydney Wooderson

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Sydney Wooderson
Sydney wooderson.jpg
Sydney Wooderson
Medal record
Men's Athletics
Competitor for  England
British Empire Games
Silver medal – second place 1934 London 1 mile
Competitor for  Great Britain
European Championships
Gold medal – first place 1938 Paris 1500 metres
Gold medal – first place 1946 Oslo 5000 metres

Sydney Charles Wooderson MBE (30 August 1914 – 21 December 2006), dubbed "The Mighty Atom", was an English athlete whose peak career was in the 1930s and 1940s. He was one of Britain’s greatest middle-distance runners and had an amazing sprint finish. His slightly built and bespectacled appearance disguised immense reserves of strength and an overwhelming turn of speed.

He set the world mile record of 4min 6.4sec at London’s Motspur Park on 28 August 1937. This record stood for nearly five years.


Born in Camberwell, London, he was 5 ft 6 in and weighed less than 9 stone (126 lbs). He attended Sutton Valence School, Kent. At 18 he became the first British schoolboy to break 4min 30sec for the mile. He won the British mile title for the five years up to the outbreak of the war in 1939.

In 1934 he won the silver medal in the one mile event at the British Empire Games.

At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he suffered an ankle injury and failed to qualify for the final of the Men's 1500 metres. However, in 1937, after surgery, his performance increased and culminated in his world mile record of 4min 6.4sec in 1937. In 1938 he set world records in the 800 m and 880 yards with times of 1min 48.4sec and 1min 49.2sec respectively.

Off the track Wooderson was a City of London solicitor and missed the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney because he was taking his law finals.

His poor eyesight ruled him out of active service during the Second World War. He joined the Royal Pioneer Corps and was a firefighter during the Blitz and then later, in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a radar operator. In 1944, he spent several months in hospital suffering from rheumatic fever and was warned by doctors he might never run again.

Immediately after the war, however, in 1945, he ran his fastest mile, 4min 4.2sec, just behind Arne Andersson of Sweden. In Oslo at the 1946 European Championships, he won the 5,000m in 14min 8.6sec, the second-fastest time to that point.

His versatility was demonstrated when he won the National cross-country title in 1948.

He was the natural choice to carry the Olympic torch into Wembley Stadium for the 1948 Summer Olympics. However he was turned away at the last minute because members of the organising committee wanted a more handsome final runner. They chose the relatively unknown John Mark instead.[1]

He was awarded an MBE in the 2000 Birthday Honours List for services to Blackheath Harriers and athletics.

Wooderson lived in retirement in Dorset in the South of England. He remained a life member of Blackheath Harriers and was twice its president.

Wooderson died on Thursday 21 December 2006 in a nursing home at Wareham, Dorset. His ashes are interred in the churchyard of Lady St. Mary's Church, Wareham.




  • Times article When did Sydney Wooderson break the world mile record? Questions & Answers, 27 November 2005
  • Biography at the Blackheath Harriers webpage
  • Thurlow, David, "Sydney Wooderson – Forgotten Champion", (55 pages) available from Brian A Saxton, 56 Bourne Way, Hayes, Kent, BR2 7EY
  1. ^ The Times Obituary 22 December 2006 "Though the modest little hero insisted he did not feel snubbed, the late Commander Bill Collins, who organised the 1948 Olympic torch relay, is on record that "such was the then organising committee’s obsession with a handsome final runner to light the Olympic flame that even the then Queen remarked to me ‘Of course we couldn’t have had poor little Sydney . . . "
Preceded by
United States Elroy Robinson
Men's 800 metres World Record Holder
20 August 1938 – 15 June 1939
Succeeded by
Germany Rudolf Harbig
Preceded by
United States Glenn Cunningham
Men's Mile World Record Holder
28 August 1937 – 1 July 1942
Succeeded by
Sweden Gunder Hägg
Preceded by
United Kingdom Tommy Hampson
European Record Holder Men's 800m
20 August 1938 – 14 July 1939
Succeeded by
Germany Rudolf Harbig