Olympic Games Memorabilia
John Jr. is the son of John “Johnny” Wilfrid Loaring, a renowned Canadian athlete of the 1930’s who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning a Silver Medal in the 400 metre hurdles and also competing in the 400 metres and 4 x 400m relay. Provenance is of great importance to the collector of rare items, whether these be works of art, antiques, wine, or indeed memorabilia; while John Loaring Senior did not himself start the Loaring Collection, there can be no doubts as to the source of his son’s motivation to continue the Loaring association with the Olympics.
We felt that the story of John Loaring “Senior” would make an interesting article for our blog:
John “Johnny” Wilfrid Loaring: Pre-Olympic developmental years
John Wilfrid Loaring was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on August 3rd, 1915, and moved to Windsor, Ontario in 1926. Shortly before starting high school in 1929, he was stricken with rheumatic fever and his family doctor advised that his running days were over. Loaring hoped otherwise and set-out to prove the doctor wrong, competing in numerous track events. By 1934, Loaring was dominating the 120yd hurdles and 440yd events at high school level, and even competed in the Intra-Empire Schoolboy Games in Melbourne, Australia, on November 9th, 1934, winning gold medals in the 120yd high hurdles and 4x440yd relay.In 1935-36, Loaring was Freshmen President at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.
The first time Loaring competed in the 440yd hurdles was at the 1936 Ontario Championships, and he won. The first time he competed in the metric version of this event, the 400m hurdles with slightly different hurdle spacing, was at the 1936 Canadian Championships and Olympic Trials in Montreal, Quebec. At age 20, he won both the 400m hurdles and the 400m run, breaking the Canadian records for both.
1936 Olympic Games, Berlin, Germany
Loaring’s second competitive experience in the 400m hurdles was on his 21st birthday, August 3rd, in the heats at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. The following day, Loaring ran in both the semi-final and final of the 400m hurdles. He was the youngest and most inexperienced finalist, but managed to win the silver medal, finishing only 3/10ths of a second behind the favourite and world record holder, Glenn Hardin. On August 6th and 7th, Loaring ran four 400m races: first round, second round, semi-final, and the final, in which he placed sixth.
On August 8th, Loaring anchored the 4x400m Canadian relay team. In the semi-final heat, Loaring received the baton ahead of Germany’s Rudolf Harbig, who later, in 1939, broke World Records in the 400m and 800m runs. Loaring purposely slowed near the end, letting Harbig win in front of his countrymen, and knowing that a Canadian second would qualify for the final. However, in the final, Canada’s third relay runner was fouled by an American runner, and Loaring received the baton seven meters behind Harbig. Loaring nearly caught Harbig, with Germany and Canada receiving the same time, but Loaring behind by less than a metre — Canada placing fourth.
International press reported that officials huddled about the obvious foul, but ultimately decided not to disqualify the USA team, because the Canadian team hadn’t protested. Such was the gentlemanly “roll-with-the-punches” sportsmanship and politics of that earlier time.
The popular German weekly, Fussball, selected Loaring as: “The toughest competitor of 1936…” The noted Olympic authors, Ross and Norris McWhirter, commented: “Loaring’s competitive record at the 1936 Olympics…must just about represent the most severe test to which any Olympic athlete has ever been subjected.” Loaring is still the only athlete to compete in all three Olympic male finals involving the 400m distance in any combination of Olympic Games, and he did so as he turned age 21. Like other young athletes, the onset of World War II deprived him of two Olympic Games during his prime years – one can only surmise what performances he could have delivered as an experienced athlete.
Immediately after the Olympic events, Loaring competed in a British Empire vs USA meet in London, England, on August 15th, 1936. In a four-by-two-lap steeplechase relay, Loaring ran the anchor leg in a World Best Time, winning gold for the British Empire Team. He overcame a 12yd lead of USA’s anchorman, who had held the 3,000m steeplechase World Record until one week prior. This was Loaring’s one and only steeplechase experience.
In the 1937 Pan-American Games in Dallas, Texas, Loaring’s favourite 400m hurdles event wasn’t on the program. However, he won a fourth-place medal in the 400m run. Three days later, Loaring competed in an Oxford-Cambridge versus Canada Dual Meet in Hamilton, Ontario. After winning the 220yd hurdles, Loaring upset Britain’s Olympic silver and gold medalist while winning the 440yd run.
1938 British Empire Games (now called Commonwealth Games), Sydney, Australia
Loaring won three gold medals in the 440yd hurdles and two relays, as well as fifth place in the 440yd run. He is the only Canadian Athletics competitor to win three gold medals in a Commonwealth Games. Loaring tended to run to win rather than to set records, especially when running many races – in the 440yd hurdles final, he was very far ahead and noticeably slowed toward the end, still winning by 15 yards. Despite slowing, he missed the World Record by only 3/10ths of a second, with 1938′s World Best 440yd/400m hurdles time. In 1938, Loaring was awarded the J. W. Davies Trophy, as the year’s top Canadian in Track, Field, Marathon, and Harrier competition.
In his last university year, Loaring completed his final exams early, so that he could be in the first group of Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Radar Officers to be loaned to the British, leaving Canada in April of 1940. In September of 1940, his destroyer was dispatched to pick up civilian survivors of a torpedoed liner. After explaining his life-saving skills to the ship’s doctor, he was assigned five tiny lifeless bodies. Three were revived under Loaring’s direction, and he was commended by the Ontario Branch of The Royal Life Saving Society.
In 1941, he served as radar officer on HMS Fiji, which ran out of ammunition during the Battle for Crete, and was sunk by a German bomber on May 22. 523 of the 764 naval personnel survived, clinging to wreckage until picked up a few hours later; Loaring was put ashore in Africa to recover from oil poisoning.
In 1942, while serving as the Senior Technical Instructor for Radar Officers in Portsmouth, England, Loaring competed in various track meets. For one of these, the local press hyped a 440yd hurdles World Record attempt, but Loaring also competed in the 440yd run, giving a British Olympian a chance to avenge defeat by Loaring weeks earlier. Loaring finished second in the 440yd run, but only 45 minutes later, he won the 440yd hurdles, while missing the World Record by only 9/10ths of a second. This was amid wartime training restrictions, and 15 months after he had been put ashore in Africa after the Battle for Crete.
In 1943, Loaring was transferred to Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, to head Canada’s Radar Training School until the end of the War. In 1946-47, as a Lieutenant-Commander, he was Commanding Officer of H.M.C.S. Hunter, Windsor.
Sports Service, Awards, and Legacy
Loaring served in a broad variety of roles in Athletics, Road Running, Swimming, and Water Polo, as well as other sports through his general positions with the Canadian Olympic Association, the British Empire & Commonwealth Games Association, the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada, etc. He was an Athletics Official at the 1966 British Empire & Commonwealth Games at Kingston, Jamaica. Many sports events were named in his honour, and he was inducted into national and regional halls of fame.
John Wilfrid Loaring died of cancer at age 54, on November 20th, 1969. His athletic abilities were however passed down through his son John Jr., a noted athlete himself in the 60’s as well as a leading collector of Olympic memorabilia. Of his grandchildren, Charlotte was a successful Canadian swimmer, and James a triathlete on the World circuit. The family now run physiotherapy and fitness centres in Ontario, and organize the biennial Loaring Triathlon fundraiser for the Elena Loaring Memorial Fund for Breast Cancer Research (see www.loaring.com for further details).