Borderer behind track gold medalists at three successive Olympics

James Curran. Olympic coach
James Curran. Olympic coach
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Amazingly, a Scottish Borders coach, James Curran, who had emigrated from Galashiels only two years earlier to coach at Mercersburg Academy, Pennsylvania, trained the Olympic 800 metres champion in the 1912 games at Stokholm, Teddy Meredith of the US

Meredith broke the world record for 800 metres in the Stockholm Olympic final. .

Curran went on to become a legendary coach in the US, training several Olympians over 50 years. Curran is one of the top track and field coaches in US athletics history.

He was a Gala man who made his mark in the field of athletics excellence, both in competition and coaching.

Jimmy Curran, as he was known, was one of Gala Harriers’ earliest successful runners. As a young man, when he completed a period of Army service, Jimmy ran for the Gala club.

After this, he joined the Scottish professional circuit and just before leaving Scotland in 1910, he won the Powderhall 300 metres sprint.

More than that, he introduced a young man called Wyndham Halswelle to athletics, while both were on active service in South Africa during the Boer War.

He encouraged him to join Edinburgh Athletics Club after they returned from the war. Wyndham went on to win Scotland’s first ever track and field Olympic gold medal in the 400 metres in the 1908 London Olympics.

Curran was then to become a major force in the world of athletics coaching. For the first 30 years of his life, Curran lived in the Galashiels area, before emigrating to the United States to take up a coaching post there in 1910. Sports historian Henry Gray picks up the story:

“The arrival in Mercersburg of Coach Curran opened a new era in the school’s Olympic tradition. He was soon to become an exceptional track and field coach, with Olympic medallists and world record holders benefiting from his teaching.”

In the archives of Mercersburg Academy, there are references to Jimmy Curran coaching Allen Woodring. As a member of the US track team, Allen won the 200 metres sprint gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

“In many ways you could say that Jimmy Curran, although he probably did not realise it at the time, played a major role in the early careers of three Olympic champions - Wyndham Halswelle in 1908, Teddy Meredith in 1912 and Allen Woodring in 1920,” says Gray.

In 2008, Curran won a place in the Scottish Borders Sporting Hall of Fame.

At the time of writing, the European Coaches Association is considering awarding Curran a place in its hall of fame in recognition of a lifetime of achievement in track and field coaching.

Curran is possibly the Scottish Borders’ greatest ever Olympic coach and it is said that, despite achieving global success, in a career at Mercersburg Academy that lasted 51 years he never forgot his roots.

z Jimmy Curran’s story features in the new booklet for schools, Border Olympians and Paralyimpians – A Learning Resource, which has been compiled from original research by Henry Gray, with design work by the Heritage Hub