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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Village green for Olympic legend
by Thelma Etim
BBC News Online, Southampton

Charles Bennett
Modest Olympian Charles Bennett will be remembered
His efforts helped forge Great Britain's reputation as a major force at the Olympics.

Dashing around the track to breast the tape, railway worker Charles Bennett became the country's first gold medallist in a track event.

Yet more than a century later his name is all but forgotten by today's sports enthusiasts.

However, all that is about to change because residents of Shapwick - population 190 - are to open a village green in his honour.

It was at the Paris Games in 1900, where the unassuming 29-year-old triumphed, coming first in the 1,500-metre event.

He created a world record of 4 min 6.2 sec and made his mark.

Despite making history, Mr Bennett eventually returned to his job on the Bournemouth to Waterloo railway and drifted into obscurity.

When he died in 1948, aged 78, he was a publican in Kinson, Bournemouth.

When he came back he was carried shoulder high through the streets of Wimborne
Grandson Chris Bennett

Now 104 years later, residents of the Dorset village want to ensure the amateur runner's amazing achievement will be commemorated.

"It is fitting that Charles Bennett be remembered in this way," explained Margaret Wetenhall, chair of Shapwick Community Trust, set up for the purpose of fundraising for the Olympian project.

The trust began negotiating for the plot of land with the National Trust in 2001, securing a 25-year lease in June.

Mrs Wetenhall, who has lived in Shapwick for 17 years, added: "We have 50 children in the village and they have nowhere to play."

Interest in Mr Bennett was sparked by the Bournemouth Athletics Club who asked the trust to stage a race day - the Charles Bennett Millennium Mile Race - on September 2000.

The event raised 3,500 towards the project. Funds have also come from other sources including the East Dorset District Council, the Countryside Agency, Doorstep Green, Living Spaces and the Lottery.

Charles Bennett
The Charles Bennett Playing Field

"Charles Bennett has brought the village even closer together, " said Mrs Wetenhall.

The Olympian's grandson, Chris Bennett said: "I am very, very proud, when you consider he was the first British athlete to win a gold medal and that takes a lot of doing.

"I look at it as a great achievement. When he came back he was carried shoulder-high through the streets of Wimborne, apparently."

Mr Bennett was the country's first track athlete to win a gold medal.

Tennis champion John Boland scooped gold in the singles and doubles, along with Launceston Elliott for one-arm lifts during the first modern Olympic games in 1896.

However, Mr Bennett said the whereabouts of his grandfather's gold medal is a mystery.

He said: "The story goes he was a gambling man and he liked the horses. We do not have the medal."

The Charles Bennett Playing Field was due to be officially opened mid-September, a Family Picnic Day will mark the event.




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