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Crowds gather at Shapwick to remember Olympic hero Charles Bennett
WINNERS: Veteran men’s race winner Justin Matthews was presented with his medal by his father Roger Matthews, with race runner-up Grant Phillips, left, and Gary Worsley, right, under Shapwick Cross
CROWDS gathered at a Dorset village to remember a true British Olympic hero.
Shapwick-born Charles Bennett (1870-1949) became Britain’s first gold medal champion when he won the 1,500 metres in 1900.
Despite also picking up a second gold in the 5,000 metres and a silver in the steeplechase, for many years the train driver’s successes were forgotten.
So Shapwick residents and Bournemouth and Wimborne Athletic Clubs held an Olympic Mile day of races in his memory yesterday.
Around 200 people took part, including war hero Lance Bombar-dier Ben Parkinson, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan.
Organiser Sally Brown was delighted at the turnout. She said: “Charles was so forgotten, I don’t know why.
“We wanted to put him back up there in an Olympic year, to say he really was important in the Olympic history of our country.
“We want his name tripping off people’s tongues because he made history.”
Fittingly, the winner of the first race was Shapwick’s own Jack Ridley, who sprinted the last stretch to fight back from third place.
Jack, 15, said: “Charles Bennett is always a good influence on the village, he gets us doing events like this so people actually know it’s here.
“I didn’t think I was going to win it but then something within me thought ‘You should go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose’.”
Charles’s grandson Chris Bennett crowned Jack the new Shapwick Champion for his five-minute, 57- second time.
In 2000, Bournemouth Athletic Club decided it was time to put Charles’s name back on the map, he said.
Shapwick villagers held car boot sales to fundraise to buy a field, now the Charles Bennett village green.
Seven members of the Finchley Harriers, Charles’s running club in the 1890s, competed.
n See Snapshots of the Past in tomorrow’s Echo.