Born on 28th December 1870, Charles Bennett was a British athlete, winner of the 1500 metres at the 1900 Summer Olympics and the first British track and field athlete to become Olympic champion. He was a member of Finchley Harriers (founded 1877) which was amalgamated into Hillingdon Athletic Club in 1966.
Bennett, a train driver born in Shapwick, Dorset, was one of the top British middle distance runners of his era, winning the AAA 4-mile (6.4km) championship in 1897, and the cross country running title in 1899 and 1900. In the latter year, also the Olympic year, he won the British title in the mile, qualifying himself for the 1500 metres in Paris.
Bennett lead throughout the race, defeating local favourite, Frenchman Henri Deloge in 4:06.2. That time was an official world record, although many athletes had already run faster in competitions over the slightly longer mile.
Together with the combined British/ Australian 5000 metre team, Bennett won a second Olympic title. Bennett finished first in the race, with an unofficial world record 15:29.2, beating team mate John Rimmer. His third event was the 4000m steeplechase, in which he just failed to catch up with the same Rimmer in the final part of the race, settling for second place.
Charles Bennett died in Bournemouth on 9th March 1949, aged 78.
The village of Shapwick celebrated his Olympic achievements in September 2000 and for the London Olympics in July 2012, with organised one mile runs around a measured mile through the village. Through generous sponsorship and donations, this spawned a large group of villagers to form a committee, resulting in the building of the Charles Bennett Memorial Village Green, which remains open to this day and is used throughout the year for village events.
More than 100 years after his Olympic achievements, his grandson Chris Bennett found his abandoned and overgrown grave in the corner of St Andrew’s Churchyard in Kinson, Bournemouth.
In December 2011 Mr Bennett was finally commemorated after Anthony Ives Memorials of Bournemouth donated free a proper headstone to recognise his incredible feat.
The plinth, unveiled on the eve of the year of the London Olympics, reads: “In loving memory of Charles Bennett 1870-1949. First British track and field athlete to become Olympic Champion. Bennett, known as the Shapwick Express, won two gold medals and a silver at the Paris Games in 1900”.
The new headstone also remembers Mr Bennett’s wife Sarah Lena and reads “Until the day break”.