The Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro this week, so we thought it a good occasion to recall a Londoner intimately associated with the Olympics, though not as an athlete but as a coach.

MussabiniBorn in Blackheath, Scipio Africanus – ‘Sam’ – Mussabini was a pioneering athletics coach who, in early 20th century, coached 11 athletes to win medals, including five gold, over five different Olympic Games.

Mussabini, the son of a Syrian-Italian father and French mother, was educated in France and worked, like his father, in journalism, writing for sports magazines and specialising in billiards (which he also played to a high standard).

From the 1890s, he started working, first as a cycling coach and later as an athletics coach in south London, based at Herne Hill Stadium.

His first major success as the latter came when young South African sprinter, Reggie Walker, won gold in the 100 metres at the 1908 London Olympics. In 1913, he was appointed coach of the Polytechnic Harriers at the Herne Hill athletics track.

He would go on to train the likes of Albert Hill – he won gold in the 800 and 1,500 metres at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp – and his most famous student Harold Abrahams who won gold in the 100 metres and silver in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the 1924 Paris Olympics – a role which is depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire (the coach is played by Ian Holm).

Mussabini is famous for the comprehensive and systematic approach he took to training his athletes, an approach which covered the athletes’ lifestyle and diet as well as a rigorous training regime, and which saw him use techniques such as using a cine-camera t0 film his athletes in action and then analysing the footage. He is also noted for having ensured female athletes, like world record sprinter Vera Palmer-Searle, received high quality coaching.

As a paid coach in an age when most were amateurs, he was ostracised by the establishment and apparently only started to receive the recognition he deserved well after his death, particularly following his depiction in Chariots of Fire.

Mussabini, who suffered from diabetes, died in March, 1927, at the age of 60. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. There is an English Heritage blue plaque on the house he lived in at 84 Burbage Road (it backs onto the Herne Hill Stadium) between 1911 and 1916.

Mussabini was inducted into the English Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011 while the Mussabini Medal was awarded every year between 1998 and 2007 by Sports Coach UK to honour outstanding coaches.

PICTURE: Spudgun67/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

The derivation of the name of this west London suburb remains something of a mystery with several competing theories vying for attention.

One theory suggests that the area – centred on Shepherd’s Bush Green and largely rural up until at least the middle of the 19th century – was named for the shepherds that once tended their flocks there (perhaps even building a special shelter in a hawthorn bush somewhere on the green, hence the ‘bush’).

A second theory – deemed by Cyril M Harris, author of What’s In A Name? – as “more likely” – suggests it was named after the now long lost Mr Shepherd or Mr Sheppard (or similar spelling).

While the green gets a mention as far back as the early 1600s, the area – noted for its high concentration of Australians and New Zealanders – wasn’t developed in earnest until the late 19th century. It suffered heavy damage in World War II and, later, from road construction.

Shepherd’sBush was historically a base for many BBC offices including the now long closed Lime Grove Studios (The Hour, anyone?), originally the Gaumont Film Company. Other notable buildings in the area include The Bush Theatre, located in the former public library and the Queens Park Rangers Football Club’s home ground in Loftus Road. Just to the north of Shepherd’s Bush is White City where the 1908 Summer Olympics were held (for more on this, see our previous entry here).

• It’s all about the Olympics in London this week and many of the events – like the Opening Ceremony and Torch Relay (see last week’s post) – are well covered elsewhere, but we thought we’d mention a couple of things in relation to the Games: 

The first is the ‘All the Bells’ project which will see bells across London being rung at 8:12am on Friday to “ring in” the first day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, is the brainchild of Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed and will involve thousands of bells across the nation. Speaking of bells, the City of London has announced that some of the City’s churches will be ringing continuously during the three Olympic marathon events – the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic events. As many as 57 of the country’s most experienced bell ringers, co-ordinated by the Ancient Society of College Youths (a ringing society created in London in 1637) will be working for three to four hours continuously at churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary le Bow, St Lawrence Jewry, St Magnus the Martyr, St Vedast and St Katharine Cree. During the women’s marathon, an all-female band will be attempting a peal at St Paul’s, the first all-woman attempt on the bells. (Apologies, this article had originally had the time for the bell ringing at 8.12pm – it is in the morning, not the evening!)

A new exhibition exploring London’s Olympic history has opened at the British Library. Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games features a range of memorabilia including a swimming costume and the finishing tape broken by – later disqualified – marathon runner Dorando Pietri  from the 1908 London Games (see our earlier post for more on him) as well as posters and artworks, stamps, letters and postcards. The exhibition also features audio interviews with Olympians including William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. Presented by the British Library and International Olympic Committee, the exhibition runs until 9th September at the library in St Pancras. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Rare 1948 postcard by an unknown artist (c) Private collection/IOC

• A new free wifi network has been launched in London’s West End. Westminster City Council and telco O2 launched the network this week. It will initially cover Oxford and Regent Streets, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square with further areas in Westminster and Covent Garden the next to be included in the network. A once-only registration process is required to join.

• Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, The Arch, has been returned to its original home in Kensington Gardens. The six metre high work was presented to the nation by Moore in 1980 and was positioned on the north bank of the Long Water until 1996 when the structure became unstable and was placed in storage. In late 2010, the Royal Parks began a project with The Henry Moore Foundation to see if the work could be returned to the gardens. Work began to restore the piece – which consists of seven stones weighing 37 tonnes – to its original location earlier this year. For more on Kensington Gardens, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens.

• On Now: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. This Royal Academy of Arts exhibition at Burlington House features 70 works from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and includes works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Renoir as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Corot, Théodore Rousseau and J-F. Millet, and ‘academic’ paintings by Gérôme, Alma-Tadema and Bouguereau. Runs until 23rd September. Admission charge applies. See www.royalacademy.org.uk for more.

The London Olympics are almost upon us and having completed our series on the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee, we’re launching a new special looking at historic sporting events which took place in London and where they were carried out.

To kick it off, however, we thought we’d take a look at Olympics past. London has previously hosted the Games twice – 1908 and 1948. So this week we’re taking a look at the 1908 Games.

The 1908 Summer Olympics – officially recognised as the fourth “modern” Games – were initially to be held in Rome. But the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906 devastated the city of Naples and so the funds which were to be used for the Games had to be diverted to help the stricken community.

A number of candidates, including Milan and Berlin, were apparently considered before it was decided to hold the Games in White City in London’s west alongside the Franco-British Exhibition already being held in the area (the white marble clad buildings constructed for the exhibition buildings are what gave the area its name).

A new stadium – the White City Stadium – was constructed in just 10 months for the Games and was designed to accommodate 66,000 people. As well as the running track around the perimeter with which we are familiar today, there was also a cycle track located outside the running track while the infield hosted swimming and diving pools and a pitch where football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse could be played. Wrestling and gymnastics was also conducted in the middle of the stadium.

While many of the 110 events in 22 different sports – including athletics, archery, lacrosse, rugby union, swimming, water polo and  tug of war (the only time run at an Olympics, it was won by a City of London police team) – and were held at the stadium, a number were held elsewhere.

These included tennis (at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon – see yesterday’s post), rowing (at Henley), fencing (at the neighbouring British-Franco Exhibition) and jeu de paume or ‘real tennis’ (at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington).

The Games, which ran for six months from April to October, were noted for being the first in which Winter events were included (four figure skating events were held at the Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge), for being the first at which the Olympic creed – “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well” – was publicly proclaimed.

They were also the Olympics at which length of the marathon was set at 26 miles, 385 yards (the distance from a window outside the nursery at Windsor Castle, where the event was started to give the Royal Family a good view, to the stadium) and were the first Games in which spectators marching into the arena behind their country’s flag during the opening ceremony.

The marathon, incidentally, was particularly controversial with Italian Dorando Pietri finishing first after being assisted across the finish line by officials when he collapsed (he was disqualified but awarded a special cup for his efforts by Queen Alexandra). There was also controversy when the US team refused to dip their flag before King Edward VII in the opening ceremony. Judging disputes also led to the creation of standard rules and the introduction of neutral judges in subsequent Games.

White City Stadium initially fell into disuse but was subsequently used for greyhound racing and athletics. The site is now occupied by the BBC. There is a ‘Roll of Honour’, unveiled on the site in 2005, which commemorates the 1908 Games.

Oh, and the most medals were won by Great Britain who won 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze while the US came next with 23 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.

You can check out the Olympic website for more including images – www.olympic.org/london-1908-summer-olympics.

Wimbledon kicked off this week, so it’s only fitting that we mention the recent unveiling of a plaque commemorating the first ever Wimbledon Championships, held in 1877.

The plaque was unveiled last Monday on the former site of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club just off Worple Road in Wimbledon. As well as the first championships, it also commemorates use of the site for the 1908 Olympics tennis event.

The location of the former club, which it occupied until 1922, is now used as playing field by Wimbledon High School. The club is now based in Church Road opposite Wimbledon Park.

For more on the history of Wimbledon, see our entry from last year’s event here. For more on this year’s event, see www.wimbledon.com.

PICTURES: Top – The Championships being played at the former location in Worple Road (© Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum); and, at the plaque’s unveiling featuring the chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Philip Brook, Wimbledon High School headmistress, Heather Hanbury, and the Mayor of Merton, Cr David Williams  (© AELTC/Thomas Lovelock).