Citius, Altius... Maximus
As the 2012 London Olympics loom, a number of articles have been written about Great Britain being the current cricket Olympic champions thanks to their win in 1900 in Paris, the only time the sport has featured in the modern Games. But cricketers with all-round abilities have participated for Britain in other sports over the years, although increasing specialisation, and more recently professionalisation, means it is a thing of the past.
Of the first three names on the list (see sidebar) - from the 1900 Paris Games - two come from the cricket competition, which was not even recognised as an Olympic event until 12 years after it took place. The third was Claude Buckenham, a member of the gold-winning football team, who went on to play four Tests for England almost a decade later. So insignificant was his Olympic success thought that Wisden did not even mention it in his obituary in 1938. Oddly, all three medals in 1900 came at the same venue - the Vélodrome de Vincennes, which was, as its name implies, a cycling arena.
Perhaps the highest profile name on the list is Johnny Douglas, who took Olympic gold in boxing as a middleweight at the 1908 London Games. Douglas, who captained England in 18 of his 23 Tests, fought all three of his bouts on the same day in the less-than-glamorous setting of the Northampton Institute. He outpointed Australia's Reginald "Snowy" Baker in the final. Baker was no sporting slouch either, and had played rugby for Australia. It was said Douglas' father refereed the bout - Baker claimed so in an interview in 1952 - but it seems Douglas senior's role was limited to presenting the medals in his capacity as president of the British Amateur Boxing Association.
Henry Brougham was another who excelled in a number of sports. His forte was rackets, for which he won bronze in 1908. He also won a cricket Blue at Oxford and played four times as a three-quarter for England at rugby, although he was not good enough at that sport to win either a Blue or even get into his school's 1st XV.
Hockey, touted by coaches over the years as a way for cricketers to "keep their eye in" over the winter, has provided the richest pickings. The Great Britain side that took the gold medal in Antwerp in 1920 contained three first-class players - Eric Crockford, Jack MacBryan and Cyril Wilkinson. A fourth, John Bennett, played in the Minor Counties Championship for Berkshire.
In 1948, two from the Great Britain side that took hockey silver were also cricketers. Norman Borrett, described in the Times as "arguably Britain's most talented post-war all-round amateur sportsman" represented Essex three times and also won the British Amateur Squash Championship every year from 1946 to 1950 despite little practice between events. His team-mate Micky Walford, like Borrett a schoolmaster, was no slouch either, winning Blues at Oxford for hockey, rugby and cricket and going on to play rugby wartime internationals for England and reputedly turning down an invitation to play in the Wimbledon Championships because he was "too busy". His record for Somerset, where he played in the school holidays, was impressive and his maiden century, 201 not out in two and a half hours, for the University against MCC at Lord's in 1938, was the 12th-fastest double-hundred at the time.
Another multi-talented group took silver for GB in the 4x100 metres in the same Games. Alastair McCorquodale, a Scottish fast bowler who played three times for Middlesex in 1951, ran alongside a brace of rugby internationals. Remarkably, McCorquodale had only taken up running a year earlier. He also came fourth in a photo finish in the 100m, being given exactly the same time - 10.4 seconds - as the runners in second and third. "He was never over-concerned about training," noted the Daily Telegraph. "It was joked that he would stub out his cigarette to go on to the track."
The last on the list is Essex spinner David Acfield who perhaps made the biggest sacrifice of them all to represent his country at the 1968 and 1972 Olympiads. At a time when the amateur ideal was preciously guarded against encroaching professionalism, Acfield could not be paid for playing sport, even as a cricketer, if he wanted to retain his status. "I wasn't a regular member of the Essex side then, so it was reasonably easy to fit in but it was much harder the next time," he told the Independent. "Perhaps I should have given up because all the time I was an amateur fencer for Britain I couldn't be paid for playing for cricket. I don't think it could be done today."
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa