By Robin Voigt, his granddaughter
Voigt (JOH No. 3/2008 and 1/2014) was inducted into England Athletics Hall of Fame on 17th October 2015 in Birmingham. It was a well-deserved acknowledgement of a unique athlete and his brilliant career in the early 1900s. It was also recognition of the valuable contribution of those who paved the way in the early days of British sport. He was nominated by his granddaughter and her submission was supported by members of the ISOH and other sports historians.
Voigt was the first and only British runner to win a long-distance individual gold medal at the Olympics prior to Mo Farah in 2012. He triumphed in the five-mile race in the 1908 London Games and held that distinction for 104 years until Farah in the modern era won double gold.
Manchester-born and aged 25, Voigt was the unexpected winner at the British Trials held six weeks before the Games. Until then he had been running in half-mile and one-mile races in Northern England and had never competed in a five-mile race. A class apart he won the gold in the final of the Olympic five miles in a time of 25:11.2.
He was also chosen to represent Great Britain in the three mile team event as their main man, having clocked a substantially faster time than the other members of the British team when he won the three miles at Crewe just before the Games on 20th June 1908.
Unluckily the three-mile team event and five-mile individual race were scheduled on the same day with only 90 minutes between each race. He reluctantly withdrew from the team event to concentrate on the five miles. As the British team went on to easily win the gold in the three miles, most likely he would have won double Olympic gold.
He won his heat in the five miles but during the race tore the muscles under his foot and his arch collapsed. He didn’t disclose his injury to anyone and arranged for a plaster of Paris arch support to be built into his shoe. Although in pain he sprinted clear in the final to win the race by 70 yards.
Voigt won three British titles in his career. Just before the Olympics on 4th July he competed in the AAA Championships for the first time and won the prestigious four-mile title in London in the championship record time of 19:47.4. He beat Alfred Shrubb’s 1904 winning time of 19:56.8 for the same race by 9.4 seconds. Four weeks later he improved upon his time significantly when he won the four-mile handicap in 19:40.0 at Glasgow on 1st August 1908.
He won the British four-mile title again in 1909 and in 1910 his third national title, the AAA one mile on 2nd July at Stamford Bridge in 4:26.2. Eleven days later he clocked the fastest one-mile time anywhere in the world when he won a one-mile handicap in Manchester on 13rd July in 4:19.8.
In 1909 he was invited to tour Scandinavia. His appearance at meets in Sweden and Finland drew huge, wildly enthusiastic crowds, his races described as electrifying. He took part in six grueling events in nine days. He won the 10,000 m Mariebergs race in Stockholm and the 5000 m in Tampere and was placed in the other four.
On his return to England Voigt set up the Amateur Athletes’ Union in 1910 in opposition to the AAA, England’s ruling sports body, to represent athletes in running, cycling and walking. The AAA was not happy and when he took part in a non-sanctioned AAA event in Hull in March 1911 he was banned from competing in AAA events, robbing him of any more British titles in the prime of his career. Two months later he emigrated to Australia, joined the Malvern Harriers Club and won further races in Melbourne. In 1914 aware of the unrest in Europe he decided to return home to England to be with family. The First World War put an end to his athletic career.
After the war he returned to Australia with his wife and children and became one of the foremost pioneers of early radio. In 1925 he founded radio station 2KY in Sydney, arguably the first commercial station in Australia, in opposition to the two government-run stations.
In 1936 he left Australia to live in London and work with the BBC developing ideas for international broadcasting. He also appeared on early television as a wrestling and boxing commentator. He moved to New Zealand in 1947, continuing to run daily well into his 80s. He died in Auckland in 1973 at the age of 90.