Kenelm Digby Challenge Cup Quarter Mile Challenge Cup

Presented to the Amateur Athletic Club by Kenelm Thomas Digby 1868

By Dr Jane Ainsworth

The Story of the Event

Winners of the one lap event, known as the quarter mile until 1969, and then the 400m thereafter, are presented with the Kenelm Digby Challenge Cup, one of the Amateur Athletics Association’s oldest trophies, dating back to 1868. 

The event has provided considerable success for British athletes, with the Olympic victory of Eric Liddell in Paris 1924 dramatised in the film Chariots of Fire. More recent winners, notably Martyn Rooney in 2014, have continued the tradition, both as individual champions at European level, and with successful relay legs. Three of the four members of Team GB’s 1991 championship-winning relay team are recorded on this cup; of Kriss Akabusi, Derek Redmond, and Roger Black, who ended his career with a Commonwealth and two European individual gold medals, as well as World and Olympic silvers.

Photo credit: Ruth Brennan

History of the Trophy
Why does a trophy presented for a track event depict a discus thrower? The inscription on the reverse of the plinth points towards ancient Greece.

Detail of the Greek inscription on the base of the Kenelm Digby Trophy. Photo credit: Ruth Brennan

Inscription and translation:

ὧ μέγα σεμνὴ Νίκα, τὸν ἐμὸν
βίοτον κατέχοις,
καὶ μὴ λήγοις στεφανοῦσα

Ο great holy Victory, may you
take over my life, and not stay your hands from crowning me.

In the ancient games, discus was the third and often deciding discipline in the pentathlon, rather than an event in its own right, and it is an image that was picked up by the organisers of the early editions of the modern Olympics, notably featuring on the posters for Antwerp in 1920 and London in 1948. Pentathletes were considered to be the stars of ancient athletics, described by the philosopher Aristotle as, “the most beautiful athletes” due to the discipline which training for the events imposed on mind and body. This idea of a ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’ was a key part of the education system in Victorian Britain, along with study of the classical world and often preparation for serving in the army. Any winner of this trophy in the 1800s would have therefore been expected to not only win the event but understand the inscription and act as an inspiration for other competitors at home and abroad. This combination of athletic prowess, scholarship and service is one which has recurred in the winners of the trophy throughout its history; the service ranks of the 1908 and 1948 Olympic champions, Halswell and Wint, who also served as High Commissioner of his native Jamaica, are indicated on the trophy.

The Donor
Sir Kenelm Thomas Digby, the donor of the trophy is an example of Victorian education. He competed in the inaugural Amateur Athletic Club Championship 1866. During his university career at Oxford he rowed for his college and played cricket for the university. He also played 8 first class matches with an average of 14.33, the first of these being for “The Gentleman of England” v “The Gentleman of Kent and Surrey” in 1855. He went on to pursue a career in Law, serving as a barrister, a County Court judge, under-secretary at the Home Office and finally as a member of a committee investigating war crimes.

Previous Winners*

1866 J.H. Ridley1897 S. Elliott1930 K.C. Brangwin1967 T.J. M. Graham
1867 J H. Ridley1898 W. Fitzherbert1931 G.L. Rampling1968 M.J. Winbolt-Lewis
1868 E.J. Colbeck1899 R.W. Wadsley1932 C.H. Stoneley1969 G. Griffiths
1869 E.J. Colbeck1900 W.M. Long1933 F.F. Wolff1970 M. Bilham
1870 A.R. Upcher1901 R.W. Wadsley1934 G.L. Rampling1971 D. Jenkins
1871 A.R. Upcher1902 G.W. White1935 W. Roberts1972 D. Jenkins
1872 R. Philpot1903 C. McLachlan1936 A.G.K. Brown1973 D. Jenkins
1873 A.R. Upcher1904 R.L. Watson1937 W. Roberts1974 D. Jenkins
1874 G.A. Templer1905 Lieut. W. Halswell1938 A.G.K. Brown1975 D. Jenkins
1875 F.T. Elborough1906 Lieut. W. Halswell1939 A. Pennington1976 D. Jenkins
1876 F.T. Elborough1907 E.H. Montague1946 F/Li A.S. Wint1977 T. Andrews
1877 F.T. Elborough1908 W. Halswelle1947 J.P. Reardon1978 M. People
1878 J. Shearman1909 A. Patterson1948 Y. Curotta1979 El Kasheef Hassan
1879 E. Storey1910 B. Reed1949 D.C. Pugh1980 O.R. Milne
1880 M. Shearman1911 F. Halbhaus1950 L.C. Lewis1981 T. Dunn
1881 L.E. Myers1912 C.N. Seedhouse1951 D.C. Pugh1982 M. Paul
1882 H.R. Ball1913 G. Nicol1952 A.S. Wint1983 D. Clarke
1883 J.M. Cowie1914 C.N. Seedhouse1953 P.G. Fryer1984 D. Clarke
1884 J.M. Cowie1915 – No Championship1954 P.G. Fryer1985 D. Clarke
1885 L.E. Myers1918 (European War)1955 P.G. Fryer1986 D. Clark
1886 C.C. Wood1919 G.M. Butler1956 M.K.V. Wheeler1987 G. Tiacoh
1887 C.C. Wood1920 B.C.D. Rudd1957 F.P. Higgins1988 K. Akabusi
1888 H.C.L. Tindall1921 R.A. Lindsay1958 J.E. Salisbury1989 Philip Brown
1889 H.C.L. Tindall1922 H.F.V. Edward1959 J.D. Wrighton1990 Howard Burnett
1890 T.L. Nicholas1923 W.E. Stevenson1960 Milkha Singh1991 Derek Redmond
1891 M. Remington1924 E.H. Liddell1961 A.P. Metcalfe1992 Alvin Daniel
1892 C. Dickinson1925 H.B. Stallard1962 R. Brightwell1993 O. Kennedy
1893 E.C. Bredin1926 J.W.J. Rinkle1963 A.P. Metcalfe1994 R. Black
1894 E.C. Bredin1927 D.G.A. Lowe1964 R.I. Brightwell1995 M. Richardson
1895 W. Fitzherbert1928 D.G.A. Lowe1965 M.D. Larrabee 
1896 J.C. Meredith1929 J.A.T. Hanlon1966 W.A. Mottley 
2010 N. Leavey2013 N. Levine2016 C. Williams
2011 R. Tobin2014 M. Rooney2017 S. Koumi
2012 L. Wooldbridge2015 N. Levine2018 S. Koumi
  2019 S. Koumi

*N.B. Names are as recorded on the trophy and are not always as recorded elsewhere; the victories of Gwynne Griffiths in 1969 and the first of David Jenkins’ successes in 1971 are missing.  The donor’s name elsewhere appears as Kenelm, and the 1948 champion as M. Currotta.