Sydney Wooderson

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Sydney Wooderson
Personal information
Born30 August 1914
Camberwell, Greater London, Great Britain
Died21 December 2006 (aged 92)
Wareham, Dorset, England
Height1.68 m (5 ft 6 in)
Weight56 kg (123 lb)
Event(s)400–5000 m
ClubBlackheath Harriers
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)440 yd – 49.3 (1938)
800 m – 1:48.4 (1938)
1500 m – 3:48.4 (1945)
Mile – 4:04.2 (1945)
5000 m – 14:08.6 (1946)[1][2]
Medal record
Representing  England
British Empire Games
Silver medal – second place 1934 London 1 mile
Representing  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 set the world mile record of 4:06.4 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 1500 metres final.[1] However, in 1937, after surgery, his performance increased and culminated in his world mile record of 4:06.4 in 1937. In 1938 he set world records in the 800 m and 880 yards with times of 1:48.4 and 1:49.2, 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, 4:04.2, just behind Arne Andersson of Sweden. In Oslo at the 1946 European Championships, he won the 5,000 m in 14:08.6, 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.[3]

He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2000 Birthday Honours for services to Blackheath Harriers and athletics.[4]

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

In 2018 the first full-length biography of Wooderson was published - 'Sydney Wooderson: A Very British Hero' (Book Guild)- written by Rob Hadgraft, author of previous works on runners Alf Shrubb, Walter George, 'Deerfoot', Jim Peters and Arthur Newton. The Wooderson title runs to 400-plus pages and was highly acclaimed in the sporting press.


  1. ^ a b Sydney Wooderson.
  2. ^ Sydney Wooderson.
  3. ^ 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 . . . "
  4. ^ United Kingdom: "No. 55879". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 19 June 2000. p. 24.

Further reading[edit]



  • 'Sydney Wooderson - A Very British Hero' (Book Guild, 2018) by Rob Hadgraft. 406 pages, illustrated. ISBN 978-1-912575-35-0.
  • 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

External links[edit]

Preceded by Men's 800 metres World Record Holder
20 August 1938 – 15 June 1939
Succeeded by
Preceded by Men's Mile World Record Holder
28 August 1937 – 1 July 1942
Succeeded by
Preceded by European Record Holder Men's 800m
20 August 1938 – 14 July 1939
Succeeded by