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

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• The largest official Olympic Rings were unveiled at Richmond Park National Nature Reserve in London’s south-west this week, having been mown into the grass by the Royal Parks’ shire horses. The rings, which lie on Heathrow’s flight path and are 300 metres wide and more than 135 metres tall, will welcome athletes as they fly in to compete in the Games which kick off later this month. It took six shire horses to create the giant rings – which represent five continents – but they’ll be maintained by just two – Jim and Murdoch. Horses have worked in Richmond Park since as far back 1637 when King Charles I had the park enclosed as a royal hunting ground. Eleven Olympic events will be held on Royal Parks during the Games including road race cycling in Richmond Park. For more on Richmond Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park. PICTURE: LOCOG.

• Almost 50 vehicles, ranging from handcarts to horse drawn carriages, steam powered vehicles to a new London bus, took part in the Worshipful Company of Carmen’s traditional ‘Cart Marking’ procession through the City of London yesterday. The ‘trade’ of carmen dates back to the 13th century when City authorities passed a bye-law controlling carters. At the ceremony, the carmen bring a variety of vehicles which are branded by placing a red hot iron on a wooden plate, with the year letter and the car number, in the continuation of an ancient tradition. The Worshipful Company of Carmen is said to be the oldest transportation organisation in the world. For more on the livery company, see www.thecarmen.co.uk.

• The late athletics coach Scipio Africanus “Sam” Mussabini (1867-1927) was honored this week with the unveiling of an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Herne Hill in London’s south. Mussabini, whose role in helping 100 metre sprinter Harold Abrahams win gold at the 1924 Olympics was depicted in the film Chariots of Fire (he was played by Ian Holm),  lived at the house at 84 Burbage Road from 1911 to about 1916. It backs onto the Herne Hill Stadium where he worked as a cycling and athletics coach from the 1890s, a period during which he trained several medal-winning Olympic athletes. All up, Mussabini’s runners won a total of 11 Olympic medals including five golds, between 1908 and 1928. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

On Now: Double Take: Versions and Copies of Tudor Portraits. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features five pairs of nearly identical Tudor portraits and explores how and why they were made. Among the portraits from the gallery’s collection on display are those of King Henry VIII, his wife Anne Boleyn, Archbishop William Warham, the merchant Thomas Gresham and Lord Treasurer Thomas Sackville – all of which are paired with paintings on loan from other collections. Admission is free. Runs until 9th September. For more information on the Making Art in Tudor Britain research project – of which this is a part – see www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/making-art-in-tudor-britain.