Charles Westhall, 1852

“…smashing records on the ‘Old Cope’ track…”

Charles Westhall set a new time here for running the mile.

Show transcript

Hello…just give me a moment…that last sprint was impressive, eh? The secret success is in the training, you know.

Charles Westhall, at your service. You probably recognize the name, don’t you? The famous runner ? I used to be famous, back in the 1850s…

No matter – I suppose you have your own sporting heroes now, so we old timers fade away. But believe me, in my time I was one of the top athletes in the world for running and walking challenges.

This place was important to me. It was the first really properly designed race track. The Copenhagen House Race Track, or the ‘Old Cope’ as everybody called it. It was a smooth and level track, with stands, and a proper start and finish line.

But best of all, the track was properly measured – exactly a third of a mile long.  You wouldn’t believe what a big breakthrough that was.

You see, before that you’d hear that so-and-so had done an amazing feat in walking five miles around some mud-covered park in the back end of beyond, but you had no real way of knowing if he had done exactly that distance or if it involved going up or down a slope.

But at the Old Cope, a mile was a mile was a mile, and as long as the officials were using a good stopwatch you could trust the times.

So that brings me to my moment of fame. 1852 was the year, and I met here with George Seward ‘The American Wonder’ and W. Jackson ‘The American Deer’ and we ran the mile.

I was on top form – I have my own method of training – and I passed the finish line in first place at four minutes and twenty eight seconds, the first time anyone had been recorded going under four and a half minutes. The crowd went wild…it was an astonishing feat!

It’s good to see this land being used for sports and training again. If you’re in the Park sometimes, and you hear running footsteps but you don’t see anyone, then that’s me, still training, still trying to get my time down.