Canada’s Earl “Tommy” Thomson was the heavy favorite in the 110m hurdles at Antwerp 1920 and easily won the final in Olympic and World record time, a mark that stood for 11 years. He was the first high hurdles Olympic champion who was not representing the United States. At the victory ceremony, the Belgian officials realized they didn’t have a Canadian flag, so they raised the British flag instead.
Born in Birch Hills, Saskatchewan (near Prince Albert), Thomson was eight years old when his family relocated to Southern California for his mother’s health, but he retained his Canadian citizenship. In 1914, he survived a near-fatal rifle accident when a loaded shotgun discharged into his chest. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School where he won his first hurdles race in 1915. Prior to becoming the captain of the Dartmouth College track team from where he graduated in 1922, Thomson spent a year at the University of Southern California. In 1916, Thomson joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served in World War I. He was known for developing the new hurdling technique of running over, rather than jumping, the hurdles and leaning into them with both arms forward.
Following his retirement from the track, Thomson was involved in the design of a new safer hurdle in an attempt to reduce falls and injuries. He spent most of his life as a track coach, first at his alma mater Dartmouth College, then West Virginia, and finally he spent 37 years as the head coach of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Thomson married Anne Cookman in 1922. He died from cancer in 1971 at the age of 76 in Oceanside, California.
Thomson was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1949, was an inaugural inductee into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, and joined the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1974 and Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
|1920 Antwerp||Athletics||Hurdles 110m - Men||Gold|