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Lovelock, John Edward [Jack]locked

  • Roger Robinson

John Edward Lovelock (1910–1949)

by unknown photographer, 1935 [after his victory in the Mile of the Century at the Princeton invitational meeting, New York, 15 June 1935]

Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa (F-51288-1/2)

Lovelock, John Edward [Jack] (1910–1949), athlete and physician, was born on 5 January 1910 at Crushington, near Reefton, New Zealand, the son of John Edward Jones Lovelock (1869–1923), a goldmine battery superintendent, and his wife, Ivy Evelyn, née Harper (1883–1959). He had a sister and younger brother. His father, never in good health, died in 1923 while manager of the Mount Cook Motor Company at Fairlie in South Canterbury. Having attended Temuka primary school and Fairlie district high school, Lovelock in 1924 became a boarder at Timaru Boys' High School, where the oak he won as a seedling at the Berlin Olympics now flourishes. He became head prefect, a university scholar, and an outstanding boxer and runner. From the University of Otago medical school (1929–30) he gained a Rhodes scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, in October 1931.

At this time Lovelock began to keep diaries (still unpublished) which articulate the medical, intellectual, and psychological aspects of top-class racing and training. He improved dramatically as a runner in 1932, setting a British and empire mile record (4 min. 12.0 sec.), breaking the 37-year-old world record for the three-quarter mile (3 min. 2.2 sec.), and representing New Zealand at the Los Angeles Olympics. After finishing seventh, as Luigi Beccali of Italy and his Oxford team-mate Jerry Cornes took the top places, he promised in his diary 'to square my account with Beccali and Co.'.

A perfectly judged training programme produced, on 15 July 1933, 'the greatest mile of all time' (Morning Post, 16 July 1933), when Lovelock defeated the powerful American Bill Bonthron at Princeton University, breaking the world record by almost 2 seconds (4 min. 7.6 sec.). At the World University Games in Turin he was photographed with black-shirted Fascist students and placed second to Beccali in a fast 1500 metres. Following knee surgery, and a successful season as president of Oxford University Athletic Club, he moved to St Mary's Hospital medical school in Paddington. During 1934, which was a busy year for Lovelock, he also won the mile at the English championships and the British empire games in London, in a style described by the Daily Telegraph as 'melodious prose … with perfect serenity' (DNZB). Meanwhile the world records for 1500 metres and 1 mile had fallen to the Americans Bonthron and Glenn Cunningham. With Beccali, Cornes, and the rising Gene Venzke (USA) and Sydney Wooderson (England), this remarkable vintage attracted unprecedented attention from radio and film newsreels and the golden age of print journalism. In June 1935 Lovelock won a race at Princeton promoted as the Mile of the Century, which aroused what his diary calls 'terrific enthusiasm' from 'the great American public'.

Lovelock's finest moment was the 1500 metres final at the Berlin Olympic games on 6 August 1936. His diary calls it 'an artistic creation'. While Beccali shadowed Cunningham, Lovelock's unexpected acceleration 300 metres from the finish gave him a decisive victory by 4 metres in 3 min. 37.8 sec., a world record by a second, with Cunningham also under the previous best and Beccali third. The race's legendary quality comes not only from its being, as he put it, 'perfectly executed', but from the highly charged context of Nazi Germany's imperial arrogance and the new myth-making power of the media. It is now almost inseparable from the BBC radio commentary by Harold Abrahams, with its boyishly biased ecstasy and famous cry of 'Come on, Jack!'

After an unhappy official tour of New Zealand (30 October to 8 December 1936) Lovelock returned to England, graduated MB ChB, and practised in London, specializing in rheumatic diseases. He also worked as a freelance in sports journalism and broadcasting. His self-published booklet Athletics (1937) ends with the elegiac advice that 'athletic fame is fleeting'. In the Second World War he served as major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, rehabilitating the wounded. A fall from a horse in 1940 left him with severely damaged vision. On 26 March 1945 in London he married Cynthia Wells James (b. 1915), an American from Brooklyn employed in the office of strategic services and secretary of the American Hospital in England. They had two daughters, Janet and Mary. In 1947 they moved to Flatbush in Brooklyn and Lovelock worked as assistant director of physical medicine and director of rehabilitation at the New York Hospital for Special Surgery. In 1948 he received a Winfield Baird fellowship for research in rehabilitation. On 28 December 1949, suffering from influenza, having phoned his wife to say he was dizzy and too ill to stay at work, Lovelock fell beneath a subway train at Church Avenue Station, Brooklyn, and was killed. His strong pebbled spectacles were found in his pocket. He was cremated at Fresh Pond crematorium, Maspeth, New York, on 30 December.

Numerous accounts, which besides sports writings include two biographies, a novel, and stage and television plays, have sought to define the fey, elusive personality behind Lovelock's public achievements. He continues to exert the charisma that aroused 'terrific enthusiasm' in America, perplexed Hitler, and reduced the urbane voice of the BBC to a schoolboy babble.


  • N. Harris, The legend of Lovelock (1964)
  • C. Tobin, Lovelock: New Zealand's Olympic gold miler (1984)
  • R. Robinson, ‘Lovelock, John Edward (Jack)’, DNZB, vol. 4
  • J. Lovelock, Athletics (1937)
  • J. McNeish, Lovelock (1986)
  • New York Times (29 Dec 1949)
  • Brooklyn Eagle (30 Dec 1949)
  • N. Harris, Lap of honour: the great moments of New Zealand athletics (1963)
  • N. Harris and R. Clarke, The lonely breed (1967)
  • D. Hart-Davis, Hitler's games: the 1936 Olympics (1986)
  • R. Quercetani and C. Nelson, The 1500 metres and mile, 2nd edn (1994)
  • P. Heidenstrom, Athletes of the century: 100 years of New Zealand track and field (1992)
  • ‘Lovelock, Jack’, Oxford companion to New Zealand literature, ed. R. Robinson and others (1998), 312
  • S. Fordyce, ‘Lovelock's labour lost’, New Zealand Runner, 60 (1989), 31–4
  • S. Fordyce, ‘Lovelock's labour lost’, New Zealand Runner, 61 (1989), 37–9
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • private information (2004)


  • NL NZ, Turnbull L., MS-Group-0012 WTU
  • Timaru Boys' High School War Memorial Library, Wellington, New Zealand


  • BFINA, documentary footage


  • photograph, 1935, NL NZ, Turnbull L. [see illus.]
  • Associated Press, photographs
  • Sport and General, photographs
  • World Wide Photos, photographs
  • photograph, Hult. Arch.
  • portraits, Timaru Boys' High School, New Zealand