Origin of the "crouch start" in sprint races (Long!)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Jun 27 23:50:05 UTC 1999

>From the OED:
_crouch_ b. _Athletics_.  A method of starting in sprint races in which the
runner crouches down on all fours.  In full _crouch start_.
1913 S. A. MUSSABINI _Compl. Athletic Trainer_ 196 The old-fashioned stand-up
position enabled the runners to keep "set" on their marks for a very much
longer time than the present-day straining "crouch" will let them do. _Ibid._
217 Good level running from the modern "crouch" start.

    This is long, but lexicographers at Yale University might be interested.
I'll send a copy to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame Historical
Research Library at Butler University in Indianapolis
    From the BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE, Ed Hughes sports column, 30 June 1936, pg.
16, cols. 7-8:

     _Who Originated the "Crouch Start"?_
     GEN. C. H. SHERRILL, power in American politics and sport, who died a
few days ago, always claimed he originated the crouching start in sprinting.
The General was a man of wide affairs, who held many important posts after
making a track name for himself in youthful days at Yale.  But for all that
he was immensely proud of his claim to the origin of the crouching start.  He
never wearied telling the story of how he happened to hit on the idea, and he
doubtless believed himself.  But did Sherrill originate the crouching start
in sprinting?  There seems to be some doubt; in fact, a lot of it.
     James E. Sullivan, the beloved "Father of American Sport," was one who
voted the honors elsewhere.  Big Jim saluted Bobby McDonald, a celebrated
Australian runner, as the man who introduced the method with the much
disputed origin.  Years ago Sullivan spoke thus on the subject of the
"crouch," the "kangaroo of Australian" start:
     "This peculiar style of starting, known in America as the crouch start,
has been in recent years a subject of much discussion as to where it was
first used.  This man and that claimed that he originated the "crouch."  It
is a well-known fact that the author of this little handbook (Sullivan) took
up the question with Richard Coombes, editor of the Sydney Referee of
Australia, because the writer felt that the "crouch" start came from
Australia to America, and then went to England and other European countries.
     "For several years Mr. Coombes, without doubt one of the great experts
on athletics in the world, conducted a thorough investigation of the crouch
start, and it is now admitted that Bobby McDonald, a famous Australian
sprinter, was the first athlete to use it.  It is stated he got the idea from
watching the kangaroo, and for years it was known as the 'kangaroo start.'"
(Not in OED--ed.)
     _Mike Murphy Explains_
     THIS PILLAR has burrowed into several old tomes, but without discovering
the period of the McDonald man.  Be that as it may, it seems highly probable
that Sullivan, a keen arbiter of sports questions, was aware of Sherrill's
career and his claims.  The conclusion you reach is that the Australian's
efforts antedated that of the Yale man, which is why Sullivan agreed with
Coombes that McDonald was the first sprinter to use the crouch.
     However, the bickering over the glory of conceiving the crouch is by no
means confined to the above gentlemen.  Interestingly enough, the late Mike
Murphy, famous trainer of athletes, put in his bid for recognition and in no
tame terms, either.
     Murphy was in charge of athletics at Yale the day young Sherrill
revolutionized sprinting methods in America by doubling over in the now
famous position, while his three opponents remained vertical.
     And here is how Murphy modestly explained the situation:
     "The crouching start was introduced by me.  This was in 1887, at Yale,
and Charles H. Sherrill was the athlete who demonstrated its superiority.
When he used it in his first race he was laughed at, and the starter,
thinking that Sherrill did not know how to start, held up the race to give
him instructions.
     "Finally, he was made to understand that Sherrill was using a new start.
 Sherrill immediately demonstrated how superior it was to the old standing
start, which it displaced, and now the crouching start is used the world over
for sprinters, hurdlers, and even quarter and half-milers."
     _Which Way Was It?_
     FROM THIS I get more than a lurking suggestion that Michael either
fancied he had invented the crouch or that he had borrowed the idea
elsewhere--perhaps from Australia--and has selected Sherrill to introduce the
novelty in this country.  If Sherrill himself had devised the method and
asked permission of his trainer to use it--then what?  You'd say that Murphy,
in merely granting the permission, had no decent right to state "the
crouching start was introduced by me."
     If such was the case, then in all good conscience, you must insist that,
between the two, it was Sherrill and not Murphy that really introduced it.
     It seems odd that this point was not settled between the two before
Murphy died, or at least that there was not a controversy over it.  Each
seemed to take considerable pride in his claim to the invention.  But
Sherrill, as far as I can glean, received the popular credit, gloried in it,
while Murphy remained mum.
     _"Recovered Himself and Won"_
     EVEN SO the credit, in a sense, was half-baked to further tangle the
subject.  The race in which Sherrill appeared with his bizarre crouch was run
at the Rockaway Hunt Club games, Cedarhurst, L. I., May 12, 1888.  His
opponents were Dericksen, Columbia; S. J. King, Princeton; and F. B. Lund of
Harvard, the three featuring the stiff, muscle-tensed "lunge," "stand-up
crouch" and the "dab" starting style.
     It was true, as Murphy pointed out, that officials and spectators
thought there was something sadly askew when Sherrill persisted in his
"crazy" starting position.  One newspaper account of the race observed:
"Although Sherrill seemed to stumble at the start of the race, he
nevertheless recovered himself and won."
     For many years, and to a great extent today, that was the general
version of how Sherrill happened to hit on his crouching start.  It was
accidental; he stumbled and didn't have time to right himself, starting from
the crouch out of sheer necessity.
     The General always contended otherwise, however, submitting that he had
plotted and practiced the business before exploding his novelty on the public.
     But what about the claims of McDonald, Coombes, Sullivan, and Murphy, to
say nothing of the sabre-toothed tiger and the kangaroo?

More information about the Ads-l mailing list