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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

WALTER KNOX

Inducted in 1955

Member Details

Date of Birth: Ontario, 1878
Place of Birth: Listowel, Ontario
Date of Passing: March 3, 1951
Sport: Athletics
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1907
Five national titles in a single meet in five different events
1911
57 first, 23 second, 31 third places on British Tour
1913
American all-round professional title
1914
Six out of eight victories in all-round world championship match competition
1920
Coach, Olympic Games
Honoured Member WALTER KNOX
Inspire

Story

Walter Knox was one of Canada's greatest all-round track and field athletes at the turn of the century. Over the course of a brilliant 37-year career that spanned from 1896 to 1933, Knox garnered 359 first place finishes, 90 seconds, and 52 thirds in formal competition. Born in Listowel, Ontario, Knox moved to Orillia as a teenager, thus joining Ontario's hotbed of sporting champions. Excelling in almost every track and field event, Knox soon began collecting titles across the continent. His greatest day came in 1907 when he won five Canadian titles in five different events at a single meet, upsetting a number of Canadian world-class champions in the process. These defeated athletes included Ed Archibald, Canadian pole vault champion and 1906 Olympian, Dr. Cal Bricker, two-time Olympic broad jump medalist and Canadian broad jump record holder for 27 years, and Bobby Kerr, who would go on to claim a gold medal in the 200m sprint at the 1908 Olympics. Each champion athlete was still in his prime, and each one was defeated in his area of expertise by the versatile Knox. Over the course of his career, Knox held national records in a number of different events. These records included a time of 22.8 seconds for the 200yd dash, as well as distances of 46'5" in the 16-pound shot put, 12'6" in the pole vault, 24'2" in the running broad jump, 10'7.5" in the standing broad jump, and 128' in the discus. In the 100yd dash, he matched the world record time of 9.8 seconds. Despite his incredible success, Knox's career did not follow the typical course of most athletes. In his era, before large-scale organized races and hefty cash prizes were common, many professional runners depended on the betting profits from matched races to make a living in sport. Knox lived the life of a vagabond athlete; he traveled from town to town, often under an alias, challenging local favourites, placing wagers, and stirring up the competition to increase the stakes. According to Knox, "to earn even those small wagers the winner first had to use all his wits to have his challenge accepted, then he had to watch for double-crossing and finally he had to have the ability to lick his opponent." In his unpublished autobiography, Knox recounts one particular match race he set up in Michigan in 1907. While competing in an athletic meet at Bessemer, he won four races, but deliberately let a local boy beat him in the fifth. After the race, Knox loudly told spectators that the only reason he lost the race was because the starter had let the home-town runner beat the gun. Knox's showmanship soon attracted a crowd: "You think your boy is good. Look here, I have $200 to say I can give him two yards start in a 50-yard race and beat him." Another $200 was soon fronted and a matched race was set for the following week. After days of training and dodging local saboteurs, Knox easily took the race and the winnings. He later remarked: "looking back it now seems like a lot of mental and physical work to win $200. Still, I had more fun than do the pro athletes of today." Knox also achieved great success on the international track and field scene. On a 1911 British tour, he won 57 events, place second in 23, and third in 31. He defeated U.S. champion John A. MacDonald for the American all-round professional title in 1913 and then went on to defeat British champion F.R. Cramb in six out of eight events for the all-round championship of the world in 1914. Knox was set to go the Olympics as a coach in 1916, but the Games were cancelled due to the onset of the First World War. He was selected as coach once again for the 1920 Olympics, and later served for several years as chief coach of the Ontario Athletic Commission. Knox competed in his last official event, the Ontario shot put championships, in 1933 at the age of 55.


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