Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1971
World record, 1 mile (co-holder)
World record, 220-yard and 440-yard hurdles
World record, 1/6 mile, Pittsburgh
World record, 1/4 mile, Cleveland
World record, 50, 60 and 75 yards
At a time when speed skating was capturing the imagination of the sporting public, Toronto's Fred Robson was the most famous indoor speed skater of his era. The son of a butcher who had emigrated from England, Robson spent his life in Toronto and upon leaving school entered the piano repair business. He was an avid athlete who enjoyed cycling and was the cox for the Toronto Rowing Club. But it was as a speed skater that Robson became best known, competing first at age 15 on homemade skates at Toronto's Mutual Street arena. Robson became the Toronto junior champion in 1897, and he held a civic title for the next eleven years. That same year he also won the first of six straight Ontario championships. But these titles were just a prelude to Robson's accomplishments on the world stage. In the early-20th century, speed skating meets drew large crowds to the new, modern indoor arenas that were being built in the larger cities across central Canada and the northeastern U.S. Robson excelled in the "mass-start" sprints that were the feature events of these meets. In 1903, he won the 220-yard race at the Canadian mass-start indoor championships. A year later, in Pittsburgh, he set his first world record finishing the mile in a dead heat with American Morris Wood. But it was beginning in 1911 that Robson truly began to dominate the world's best speed skaters. That year, in Boston, he set the world record over 220 yards. In January 1913 Robson set the world record for the one-sixth mile in Pittsburgh and the ¼-mile hurdles in Cleveland. Then, on February 11, 1913, in front of a hometown Toronto crowd, he broke the world records in both the 440 yards and the 220-yard hurdles, the latter his own record set in Montreal in 1907. But perhaps Robson's best single-meet performance came in Pittsburgh in February 1916 when he set new world records at 50, 60, and 75 yards. Only a month later, back home in Toronto, he broke his own record in the 50-yard dash. Robson set a Canadian record over 100 yards in 1917 and was also an accomplished outdoor skater. He owned the world record in the outdoor 220-yard hurdles, set in Montreal. Over his amazing competitive career, which lasted until he was 40, Robson held world records at nine distances, set a Canadian record at a tenth, and won over 100 medals. In 1915, Robson was elected president of the Toronto Speed Skating Club, an organization the he had helped found. He retired from competitive speed skating in 1919 at age 40 but continued to skate in exhibitions of trick skating and benefit performances throughout the 1920s. During this time he set the Canadian records for barrel jumping (eleven barrels) and for the running high jump on skates, 4' 2", an inch short of the world record. The public appetite for speed skating waned in the late 1920s and 1930s to be replaced by figure skating and that sport's newest international star, Norway's Sonja Henie. Nevertheless, Robson is still remembered as Canada's world-record setting "flash on skates." He is also a member of the Speed Skating Canada Hall of Fame.