Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Three of Histories Greatest milers - Part 1 - SYDNEY WOODERSON


Sydney Wooderson did not give interviews to journalists particularly the 'National Press' He only talked at any length about running and his training with his Blackheath clubmates and, he actually told a great friend of his from Blackheath Harriers, who I knew quite well from running in the 'City', to say 'No'  to me regarding an interview!.
      Despite that I phoned up Sydney, the modest solicitor, and he reluctantly accepted for me to come and see him.
        Sydney Wooderson, with his round 'National Health' glasses was not very tall, 5ft 6ins and 125lbs. Perhaps an unlikely build for a great runner although, in his prime, he had an impressive stride for his size..
   He was  World record holder at the 880 and mile (1:48.4/1:49.2-800/880) in 1938; 4:06.4 for the mile in 1937. He was the first Britain to run under 14 minutes for 3 miles (13:53.2 in 1946); International and National cross country champion in 1948. Quite a lot of  scope there. He did improve his mile time to 4:04.2 in 1939, coming second to Arne Anderson of Sweden (4:03.4) in Goteborg. A marvellous time all those years ago on the cinders. Sydney did beat the 1936 Olympic Champion Jack Lovelock in the AAA's mile the year Lovelock won the Olympic 1500.
   How did he compare the Champions of yesteryear with the World Class athletes in 1979
    " I think you have to judge a runner by the time that he runs and therefore it is very difficult to compare runners then to now, but I would think anybody who did well before the war would similarly have done as well after the war, and at the present time. Nurmi and Zatopek were champions: They were champions in their day, they would be champions today!
   'Who were the hardest runners he ran against then
  ' This again is rather difficult because I think if you are running at your best you can beat your rivals fairly easily, but if you are not running well then you can't. Take, for instance, Jack Lovelock He was a great competitor but I beat him; yet in the 1936 Olympics and I had something  wrong with my leg, of course he easily beat me. In the half mile I ran against Mario Lanzi and that was a very hard race when I beat him in the international meeting at the White City, but I never met Rudolf Harbig (He ran 1:46.6 in 1939!), the Great German runner. I am quite sure if I had run against him on a half mile he would have beaten me, because I think he is one of the greatest half milers that there has ever been."
   Sydney's two crowning achievements as a competitor were in the European Championships

5th of September 1938
Paris Stade Olympique de Colombes 1500 Final
1 Sydney Wooderson (GB) 3:53.6; 2 Joseph Mostert (Belgium) 3:54.5; 3 The 1934 winner, Luigi Beccali (Italy) 3:55.2

       " I definitely thought Beccali (1932 Ollympic Champion) was going to be the danger. it was a bit of a mix up really as no one wanted to take the lead and everybody was cutting in, getting spiked and all sorts of things. I think to a certain extent the others were a little afraid of me so that was why I won, as I don't think I was quite at my best at that time. I went in the home straight, If I remember rightly"

Training During the last World War
"I used to keep up my running but of course  on very bad tracks and very little competition and I could not train properly . It was only in 1945 that I really started getting back into trim. Right at the start of the war I was medically graded C3 and put in an inferior regiment but I always tried to train where ever I was stationed, whether it was over the country or in a field or on an army track"

23rd of August 1946
Oslo Bislet Idrettswplass European  5000m Final
First six of  the 10 in the Final. 1 Sydney Wooderson 14:08.6; 2 Willem Slijkhuis (Holland) 14:14.0; ;3 Evert Nyberg (Sweden) 14:23.2; 4 Viljo Heino (Finland) 14:24.4; 5 Emil Zatopek (CSR, Triple Olympic Champion of 1952) 14:25.8, 6 Gaston Reiff (Belgium-Olympic Champion in 1948) 14:45.8.

   " Obviously I went to Oslo for the sole idea of winning and I knew my chief opponent was going to be Slijkhuis
and he was. In some way it was very similar to the AAA's 3 mile I had at the White City, but he started his sprint  in the European much earlier--with 400 to go whereas before it was with 200 left. In the European I shot him in the beginning of the back straight and found it much easier to win than I had done at the White City. In the AAA's I had led most of the way until the last bend I eased slightly and he shot past me;then coming into the straight and sprinted past him and won by a few yards. At Oslo, with the great number of class competitors, it was really that they were leading most of the way and I gradually eased up from the back of the field to tenth, third, and then second behind Slijkhuis -and, as I say, on the last lap I shot past him on the back straight.

       His coach was Albert Hill Olympic 800 and 1500 Champion of 1920
"Albert Hill was a very  nice man. He is the only great athlete I have known who has carried  on to his training ability. A lot of people, myself included, would not have been a good trainer or coach -but he was and, of course, he was the club coach too."

Alastair Aitken

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