Norman Pritchard: The Forgotten Olympian

Posted on January 8, 2011 in Sports

By Akshay Modi:

These days, we are celebrating the extreme promise shown by our athletes in various sports, Abhinav Bindra’s individual gold medal in the Olympics, first ever by an Indian, and successful performances in various other competitions. But do we remember the man who started it all, the first ever Olympic medal winner from India, Norman Pritchard?

Norman Gilbert Pritchard was born on the 23rd of June, 1877, in Alipore, Calcutta (India under British Raj), to George Petersen Pritchard and Helen Maynard Pritchard. His schooling is unknown but he completed his graduation from St. Xavier’s College Calcutta. He lived in the fashionable Robinson Road and worked for the Bird & Co., a well known trading company.

Norman’s first love was soccer. He is known for scoring the first hat-trick in an open football tournament in India, achieving the feat for his college against Sovabazar in July 1897. Pritchard also won the Bengal province 100 yards sprint title for seven consecutive years from 1894 to 1900 and set a meet record in 1898-’99. He also set 10.0 seconds 100m record for Bengal. He later served as the Secretary of the Indian Football Association from 1900 to 1902.

In 1900, Pritchard went for a pleasure tour to England. In June, he became a member of the elite London Athletic Club. The next day he won the Club’s challenge for 440 yards hurdle. Later, he also won the 100 yards and 200 yards hurdles. Owing to these successes, he was selected to represent his club, the Bengal Presidency AC, at the British AAA Championships. The winner of this championship was to be given the opportunity to participate at the 1900 Olympics. Pritchard was runner-up in this event, and was selected to represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

He participated in five Olympics events (60 m, 100 m and 200 m sprints, and 110 m and 200 m hurdles). He performed exceptionally well, finishing runners-up in both the 200 m sprint and hurdles, only behind Walter Tewksbury and Alvin Kraenzlein, both from USA, respectively. Though he was supposed to represent Great Britain, the International Olympic Committee registered his nationality as Indian. He was awarded an honourary silver medal by the AAA and a penknife by the French Olympic Association.

He returned to India, but moved permanently to England in 1905. Later, he moved on to America, to try his hand in acting in Hollywood. He took the screen name Norman Trevor and acted alongside Hollywood legends, such as Ronald Colman in famous films like Beau Geste (1926), Dancing Mothers (1926) and Tonight at Twelve (1929). He died of a brain malady, breathing his last on the 31st of October, 1929.

The Olympics recognize him as a representative of British India, and his medals are accredited to India. Remembering Norman!