Harry Edward- GB's unsung hero

Up next in the series of black icons you might not know is Harry Edward. Some say he is the greatest sprinter to have ever lived.

The 1920 Antwerp Olympics are remembered for a few things; it was the debut of the five Olympic rings, the Olympic flag flew for the first time and a new athlete’s oath was taken.

But the story of Harry Edward is one that is usually forgotten, and unjustly so. This is the story of the first black athlete to compete and win medals at the Olympics in the 100+ year history of Team GB.

Edward was born in Germany to a Prussian mother and Dominican father. From an early age, he showed great athletic and academic ability as he and his sister were brought up speaking both French and German.

His world turned upside-down when the first World War broke out in 1914. Within months, German secret police knocked on Edward’s door and detained him as a prisoner of war at Ruhleben camp.

As you would expect, the conditions for a prisoner of war were pretty poor, but Harry used sports as a crutch and built his life around prison yard races.

After the war ended, Harry immigrated to the UK where he used his language skills and qualifications to get a job as a teacher of French and German.

Despite the traumas of prison, Harry found his way back into sport and was so successful that he was selected to run the 100m, 200m and relay races at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

He reached the final of the 100m and 200m where he won bronze in both becoming the first black person to represent Britain and win medals at the Olympic games. Some say Harry was robbed of a better medal. Harry claimed he was distracted by a shout from a starter in the 100m and sprained his tendon in the 200m semi-finals.

Either way, his achievements didn’t go unrecognised, and he was congratulated in person by King George V. Harold Abrahams, winner of the 1924 100m race, later described Edwards as one of the greatest sprinters he had ever seen.

Harry went on to compete in British AAA meets in both 1921 and 1922- where he won the 100-, 220- and 440-year titles within an hour- before moving to the US to carry out the rest of his athletic career.

In the final paragraph of his memoir “When I Passed the Statue of Liberty, I Became Black”, Edward says “I hope that the story of my economic struggles in the face of racial obstacles may provide similar encouragement and inspiration and contribute in some constructive ways to urgently needed reforms and changes.”

If we look at athletes such as Linford Christie, Christina Ohuruogu, Mo Farah and Dina Asher-Smith, I think it's safe to say Harry, they have.