Harold Maurice Abrahams was born prematurely in Bedford on 15 December 1899, the youngest in a family of two daughters and four sons. His father, Isaac Klonimus (1850-1921), who had proclaimed himself a Lithuanian Jew, escaped to Britain and by 1880 had changed his name to Abrahams, in recognition of his father, Abraham Klonimus (b 1810). Isaac was naturalised in 1902.
Harold's elder brothers each achieved successes in their public lives. The eldest brother, Adolphe, achieved a first at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and then became a consultant physician at Westminster Hospital. Adolphe was knighted in 1939. Another brother, Sir Sidney Solomon 'Solly' Abrahams, competed for Britain at both the Olympic celebrations at Athens in 1906 and Stockholm in 1912. Solly served as chief justice of Tanganyika and Ceylon. The third brother, Lionel, became senior partner in his firm of solicitors and was coroner for Huntingdonshire.
As a boy, Harold was sent to Bedford School, briefly to St Paul's, and afterwards to Repton, where he won the public schools' 100 yards and long-jump championships in 1918. At Repton he was a contemporary of C. B. Fry. His imagination had been fired in the summer of 1908, when he watched his brother compete in the London Olympic games held at the White City Stadium and he became a great admirer of 'Willie' Applegarth. Harold won his first gold medal at Stamford Bridge in 1910, winning the Lotinga Cup which was contested by sons and brothers of members of the London Athletic Club. He joined the Cadet Battalion towards the end of the First World War but did not fight. He served briefly as a second lieutenant in 1919 and then went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read law, achieving third class honours in both parts of the law tripos. He started journalism in 1920 and wrote for the journal 'All Sports' as well as the 'Evening News'. In 1924 he began broadcasting about the Olympics and this continued throughout his life.
Whilst at Cambridge, he became athletically very proficient and achieved three wins in the freshmen's sports at Fenners. He was immediately selected for the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games and chosen to represent Great Britain in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay and the long jump. During 1920 he obtained his Cambridge Blue and won a unique eight victories at the 100 yards, 440 yards, and long jump in the annual Oxford versus Cambridge sports. Between 1920 and 1923 he represented his University against Oxford and was first eight times in nine events winning the 100 yards in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923; the long jump in 1920, 1922 and 1923; and the 440 yards in 1923.
Before the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, Harold studied sprinting in great detail and trained assiduously with his coach Sam Mussabini, a French Arab who also trained Fred Gaby and Harry Edward. For nine months they worked on the theory of perfecting the start, on arm action, control of the stride pattern, and a then-unique 'drop' finish of the torso on to the tape. At the 1924 AAA Championships Harold won the 100 yards in 9.9 seconds but was still a fifth of a second outside the British record set the previous year by the Scottish rugby and athletic hero and 440-yard champion Eric Liddell. At the Paris Olympics Liddell, a strong sabbatarian, felt impelled to confine himself to the 200 and 400 metres, in which he took the bronze medal in the shorter event and the gold medal for 400 metres in a time which gave him the metric world record. In the 100 metres final, Harold's winning time of 10.52 was rounded up to 10.6 and events surrounding this win feature prominently in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'.
In May 1925 Harold severely, and permanently, injured his leg when attempting to improve on his English long jump record of 7.38 metres which had been set at Woolwich and would survive for more than thirty years. He then turned his attention to athletics administration, the sporting press and the BBC and, in 1928, he was appointed team captain of the Olympic athletes sent to Amsterdam.
His active athletics career ended, Harold, who has been called to the Inner Temple bar in 1924, continued practising law until 1940. During this time he engaged in athletics administration and journalism with the Sunday Times, 1925-1967 and was a radio broadcaster with the BBC for fifty years, 1924-1974. One of his greatest achievements was, through force of personality, to raise athletics from a minor to a major national sport during the mid-20th century. He re-wrote the AAA rules of competition which themselves would help to transform the rules of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
Harold served as Honorary Treasurer, 1948-1968, and Chairman, 1948-1975, of the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB). In November 1976 he was elected President of the AAA. He was an unrivalled compiler of athletics statistics and was founder president of both the world and British associations in this field: the Association of Track and Field Statisticians (ATFS), instituted in 1950, and the National Union of Track Statisticians (NUTS), instituted in 1956. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Economic Warfare, 1939-1944, and then with the new Ministry of Town and Country Planning until 1963. He was secretary of the National Parks Commission, 1950-1963). He was awarded the CBE in 1957.
In 1936 Harold married Sybil Marjorie, daughter of Claude Pilington Evers, assistant master at Rugby School. She was a D'Oyly Carte singer and producer of light opera and died suddenly in 1963. The couple had two adopted children, Sue and Andrew. Harold Abrahams died on 14 January 1978 at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, London. An English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled in 2007 at Hodford Lodge, Golders Green, Harold's London home at the time he won the Olympic gold medal in Paris.
Sources: papers of Harold Abrahams; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30743?docPos=1; Encyclopaedia Britannica entry accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1589/Harold-Abrahams; Sports Reference accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/ab/harold-abrahams-1.html; Runners World accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/olympic-moment-harold-abrahams-100m-gold/8092.html; Jewish Sports accessed 23 October from: http://www.jewishsports.net/BioPages/HaroldMauriceAbrahams.htm