BOA Commemorate First GB Olympic Champion Launceston Elliot

19 March 2012 / 10:24

British Olympic Association (BOA) Chairman Lord Colin Moynihan led an international delegation of Olympic and government representatives in commemorating Britain’s first Olympic Champion, Launceston Elliot, at a special ceremony at Fawkner Cemetery in Melbourne, Australia on Sunday 18 March.

A commemorative headstone was unveiled at the previously unmarked grave of the Olympic gold medallist from the inaugural Athens 1896 Olympic Games in the presence of his granddaughter Ann Elliot Smith and great grandson Ian Smith.

Lord Moynihan was joined by Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Australian Minister for Sport Senator Kate Lundy and British High Commissioner Paul Madden to  acknowledge Elliot’s achievements and his unique place in British Olympic history. Also in attendance was Australian Olympic Committee Secretary General Craig Phillips.

Elliot secured Great Britain’s first Olympic gold medal in the ‘One hand lift’ event. He also claimed a silver medal in the ‘Two hand lift’.  Elliot moved to Australia in the 1920’s where he became a farmer until he died on 8 August 1930.

BOA Chairman Colin Moynihan said: “As our first Olympic Champion from the inaugural modern Olympic Games, Launceston Elliot will always hold a very special place in British Olympic history and it is appropriate that we are recognising this remarkable Olympian's unique achievement.

“We were honoured to be joined by Launceston’s granddaughter and great grandson, and we greatly appreciate the support and friendship of our counterparts in the Australian Olympic Committee and the wider Olympic Family.”

The citation from the ceremony reads:

Launceston Elliot was one of a small band of British athletes who made their individual ways to compete in the first Olympic Games of the modern era, in Athens in 1896.  He had been a competitive weightlifter for five years.

In Athens, Launceston displayed his all-round sporting talent by competing in four sports: athletics, rope climbing, wrestling and weightlifting.  He was eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the 100 metres sprint and the heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling.  He finished fifth in the rope climbing,

In the weightlifting competitions on 7 April 1896, Launceston won the silver medal in the two-handed lift.  He lifted the same weight, 111.5 kilograms, as the winner Viggo Jensen of Denmark but was placed second by the judges who deemed that the Dane had a better “style”.  Launceston had moved his foot during his lift whereas Jensen hadn’t.

In the one-handed lift, contested immediately after the two-handed lift, Launceston lifted 71 kilograms with each arm in turn and Jensen could only summon the strength to lift 57 kilograms.  The win was conclusive and the 21-year-old Launceston Elliot became Great Britain’s first gold medallist of the Modern Olympic Games.

Great Britain has won only seven medals in Olympic weightlifting, including one gold, and Launceston Elliot has won two of them including the sole gold medal.

Britain’s only other gold medallist at Athens was the Irishman John Boland, who won the singles and doubles tennis four days later.

Launceston competed at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris where he finished equal 11th in the discus throw.  Weightlifting was not the programme in Paris.

In the succeeding years he took part in amateur and professional weightlifting events, bodybuilding/physique competitions, wrestling, Scottish sports, strongman contests and as a showman.  He was an inaugural inductee to the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

He settled in Australia in the 1920s and became a farmer at Whittlesea, involving himself in the community and taking a great interest in the Australian weightlifting scene right up until he passed away on 8 August 1930

Notes to editors:

Pictured left to right: Ian Smith (great grandson), Ann Elliot Smith (granddaughter), Colin Moynihan (BOA Chairman), Senator Kate Lundy (Australian Minister for Sport), Hugh Robertson (Minister for Sport and the Olympics), Paul Madden (British High Commissioner), Craig Phillips (Secretary General, AOC). 

For further enquiries and images from the ceremony please contact BOA Communications Officer Phil Wilkinson: / 0207 842 5721.