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‘Play it Again Sam’. Mussabini and Wisdom: a biographical conundrum

Day, Dave (2012) ‘Play it Again Sam’. Mussabini and Wisdom: a biographical conundrum. [Conference or Workshop Item] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Fuelled partly by his portrayal by Ian Holm in the film Chariots of Fire the name of Scipio Augustus (Sam) Mussabini has become synonymous in the contemporary imagination with athletics coaching in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. His memory has been sustained through the annual award of the Mussabini medal to the Coach of the Year by SportsCoachUK and the limited number of retrospectives of his life are, not surprisingly, generally consistent on many biographical details. This paper explores one aspect of these narratives, the suggestion that Mussabini trained South African Reggie Walker, the 1908 Olympic sprint champion, by examining the life course of Spencer (Sam) Wisdom who was actually credited with being his coach in Walker’s autobiography. Described as a plumber in 1881, Wisdom trained leading sprinter Henry Hutchens and accompanied both Hutchens and his backer Arthur Markham on his Australian tour in 1886, before making ‘athletic trainer’ his preferred career designation until his death in 1912. In discussing the role of both ‘Sams’ it is hoped, firstly, that this aspect of the Mussabini legend might be clarified further, even if it is not fully resolved, and, secondly, that biographers are reminded of the potential difficulties in recording the lives of previously marginalised groups such as coaches.

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