Edwin Flack was a trailblazer - the first Australian to compete at the Olympic Games, and first to win. When he left Melbourne in 1895 to study accountancy in London, he was the Australian mile champion. In 1896 he resolved to attend the Athens Games, the first of the modern Olympics; he took leave from his job, travelled across Europe by boat and train, and became the only Australian participant. By the end of the Games he possessed heroic status, and was followed in the streets by crowds who dubbed him The Lion of Athens.
Australia had no national Olympic committee then, and Flack was entered as a member of the London Athletic Club - but he chose to run in the colours of his Australian club, the Old Melburnian Athletic Club. He won both the 800 and 1500 metres championships, breaking a pattern of US domination in track and field. On the day after his 800m final, he competed gallantly in the marathon, over a distance he had never run before. He led before collapsing at the 34km mark. Flack epitomised the Australian have-a-go spirit; although no more than a social tennis player, he entered both the Olympic singles and doubles. He didn’t win a match, but a kindly draw enabled him (with English partner George Robertson) to be accorded bronze-medal status in the men’s doubles.
It was Flack’s private decision to go to Athens in 1896 that began Australia’s rare, unbroken link with the modern summer Olympics.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian