Kennedy Kane McArthur

Dervock-born long distance runner who won Olympic gold for his adopted South Africa

He was over six foot tall, smoked a pipe and ate chips for breakfast – not your typical Olympic gold medallist. Described as the ‘golden boy’ of the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, the County Antrim marathon runner Kennedy Kane McArthur overcame weight, height and, evidently, respiratory problems to win gold for his adopted country of South Africa - and help write a unique chapter in the history of track and field athletics.

The African continent has since produced its fair share of Olympic marathon winners (three of the five last gold medallists have come from Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa), but none like the bulky, blonde-haired McArthur, born of solid Ulster Scots stock.

In the summer of 1912, McArthur came through a tortuous 42,195 metre marathon run to snatch victory from close friend and South African team-mate Christian Gitsham and the American Gaston Strobino.

It was McArthur's first Olympic medal and, tragically, it would be his last. One year later, an accident involving a skateboard, a rope and a moving vehicle literally stopped McArthur's fledgling career in its tracks. He never ran professionally again.

McArthur developed a love for running whilst working as a postman in Dervock - where he delivered his round on foot and at some speed - before emigrating to South Africa in 1901, at the age of 20.

McArthur came to professional sport at a late age whilst working as a security guard. According to Keith Beattie, manager of Ballymoney Museum, which houses a small exhibition on McArthur, 'he was just after a good run and a good feed'.

Following his victory, McArthur returned to live in Dervock with his South African wife. The Northern Irish climate did not agree with his better half, however, and the McArthurs settled in South Africa, where McArthur died in June 1960.

Now the people of Dervock are campaigning to commemorate the centenary of McArthur’s victory as part of the 2012 London Games.

‘It’s vitally important that people like McArthur are remembered in these times,’ observes Beattie. ‘There’s so much going to be [happening] in 2012 across the water, and stories like that, if we don’t promote them, nobody else is going to... It's a huge, heroic story.'

‘The Dervock & District Community Association (DDCA) started up a celebration marathon over 25 years ago. That evolved over time to become a half marathon,' adds David McKeown, DDCA vice-chair, 'and now we have what is known as the McArthur Half Marathon as an annual event in mid-July as the finale of our civic week.

'We see our annual half marathon being run in July 2012 before the Olympics. Because the marathon is at the end of the modern Olympics, we hope that we would be able to turn our celebration into a training run for the marathon runners and the long distance runners of the competing countries.

'We plan to invite all of them to at least put it in their diary... If it takes off it will be an event for Northern Ireland PLC. We will need the support of the tourist board and the local councils. We will need a huge amount of infrastructure to help with the logisitics of running it. But the half marathon course is there, it runs on the same roads as McArthur would have trained on, and I think we can develop it into a very newsworthy feature.'

In the meantime, visitors to Dervock can learn more about McArthur at Ballymoney Museum and the DDCA museum (by appointment), which houses photographs of McArthur's historic victory and charts his life from Dervock to Potchesfstroom, where McArthur saw out his days.

DDCA chairman Frankie Cunningham can be contacted on dervock.ni@btconnect.com.

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