British Olympic great finally honoured in Melbourne

BRITAIN'S first Olympic champion, the mustachioed and hulking Launceston Elliot, lay for decades in a grave marked with nothing more than number 960 in a corner of Melbourne's sprawling Fawkner cemetery.

BRITAIN'S first Olympic champion, the mustachioed and hulking Launceston Elliot, lay for decades in a grave marked with nothing more than number 960 in a corner of Melbourne's sprawling Fawkner cemetery.

Monuments had been built and commemorative postage stamps issued for Australia's equivalent sporting legend Edwin Flack who, like Elliot, triumphed at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

But as Britain's Sports Minister Hugh Robertson confessed before witnessing the righting of his nation's sporting history, even he didn't know of Elliot's feats, let alone what had become of him, until a month ago.

"I suspect if he'd been buried at home somebody might have twigged earlier on. We're just grateful that it has been brought to our attention and that we can do something about it," Mr Robertson said in Melbourne yesterday.

Among the 30 present for the unveiling of a headstone that outlines his accomplishments was Elliot's granddaughter, Ann Elliot Smith, who never met her grandfather. "My heart is bursting with pride," she said.

Conceived in Launceston, before his parents, who were of Scottish descent, married in Carlton, Victoria, in 1873, Elliot was born in India on June 9, 1874.

After his father retired as a magistrate in Bombay, the clan returned to Britain and, as an impressively sized 16-year-old, Elliot entered the world's first national weightlifting championships at London's Piccadilly Circus in 1891.

Three years later he was British champion and on March 26, 1896, he and the British Olympic team boarded the SS Congo for Athens.

He entered the 100-metre sprint, rope climbing and wrestling events, but excelled in the discipline he was trained in. In the two-handed lift, Elliot tied with Dane Viggo Jensen on a weight of 111.5 kilograms, but Jensen's execution was considered more stylish by judge Prince George of Greece, who had known Danish ties but no known expertise in weightlifting.

The one-handed lift was contested on the same day and Elliot raised 71 kilograms above his head to Jensen's 57.2. It marked Britain's first Olympic triumph, yet the Athens committee could not afford gold medals so winners were presented with

silver mementoes, an olive branch and certificate.

By the 1900 Paris Olympics, Elliot had set four records at the amateur championships, but the sport was not on the program so he contested the discus. His throw of 31 metres ranked 10th but still set a British record.

A change of direction after those Games had Elliot tap into showmanship. The star of a circus-style strongman act, Elliot led a troupe who performed in leopard skins and togas all over Europe and in South America.

In retirement, soon after World War I, Elliot retreated to a farm in England before the family returned to Australia in 1923 and settled in Whittlesea. Following surgery on a cancerous growth on his spine, Elliot died in 1930, aged 56.