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Charles Reidpath, Olympic Champion

Charles Reidpath, war hero, civic builder and Olympic Champion, was born in Buffalo, NY 1889. His cousin Isabelle Reidpath Martin was the wife of Darwin Martin, who commissioned one of Frank LLoyd Wright's finest works, the Darwin Martin House. At Lafayette high school 1904-08 Reidpath was an outstanding track competitor, in spite of an unorthodox "flat footed" running style. It was while at Syracuse University 1908-1912 that Charles Reidpath became a collegiate track star, winning the 220 and 440 yard dashes in the 1912 intercollegiate games. At one point he held the college record for the quarter mile.

On graduating from Syracuse in 1912 with a degree in civil engineering, Charles Reidpath was pressured by relatives to quit sports and take a position with the family business in Buffalo. Instead, he made the U.S. Olympic track team, and headed to Stockholm, Sweden for one of the finest Olympics ever held. Reidpath won the 400 meters in an Olympic record shattering time of 48.2 seconds. This record lasted until 1924, when it was broken by Eric Liddle, whose story was made famous by the movie "Chariots of Fire". Running the anchor leg of the 4x400 meter relay, Reidpath helped the U.S. team set a world record of 3:16.6.

The 400 meter contest was thrilling and controversial. In one of the few serious official miscalculations in the 1912 games, the semifinals were held without lanes for individual runners. The result was a confrontation between German champion Hanns Braun and American runner Donnell Young. Braun allegedly cut Young off, a hard bumping incident resulted, and officials hit Young with a disqualification. As a result, the finals were dominated by Buffalo's Charles Reidpath and the German, Hanns Braun. Reidpath had won the first semi-final heat in record setting time. In the finals (run in lanes, officials slamming the proverbial barn door after the horses, or at least Donnell Young, had gone) Braunn took the lead at about 200 meters. However, Charles Reidpath caught him on the home stretch, and won the Gold medal for the U.S. by a narrow margin.

The 4x400 meter relay was not as closely contested. Reidpath told the Buffalo Courier-Express that his teammates "were so far out in front that by the time it came for me to take over, the race was just about over too". In fact, Reidpath was chosen to run the all important final leg and helped the American team to set a World record of 3:16.6, a record that lasted for 12 years. After the games, Charles Reidpath donated both of his gold medals to Syracuse University.

Away form sports, Charles Reidpath worked for the Berdencer construction company from 1912 through 1937, when he was named director of buildings for Buffalo, NY. For 15 years he worked in the city department of public works, and in 1956 helped build the Federal Reserve Bank as superintendent of construction for architects.

Reidpath also had an outstanding military career. As a Lt. Colonel he served in England, France and Belgium in the Transportation corps during World War II winning battle stars for the Northern France and Rheinland campaigns. In Belgium he was made Officer of the Crown for his services at the vital port of Antwerp in 1944 and 1945. Charles Reidpath was made a Brig. General when he retired from the New York National Guard in 1948.

Charles Reidpath passed away on October 21, 1975 in Kenmore Mercy Hospital following a brief illness. He was 86 years old. He was survived by his wife, the former Sally Pratt, two children, five grand-children and five great-grand children. Relatives remember him as kindly, nature loving "uncle Charlie" who helped his young relatives discover things like Racoon nests and Birds eggs along the old Bridal path near his home on West Delevan Avenue in the City. He is buried in section one of Buffalo's Forest Lawn cemetery, along with members of the Pratt family. A simple marker mentions only his war service.

Reidpath's accomplishments in the 1912 Olympics were understandably somewhat overshadowed by the even greater feats of Jim Thorpe, winner of the decathlon and heptathlon, but his place in track and field history is secure. In the early 21st century, two of Reidpath's nephews, Dick and Ted Sullivan, were still active in Buffalo area track and field, even though they were both in their 70's.


Sources... Buffalo News, 10-22-1975 'Gen Charles Reidpath dies, was olympic gold medalist', obituary, no author given... Buffalo News, 10-11-1930 'Buffalo athletes won many world honors in sportdom' byline Gene Korzelius... The Complete Book of the Olympics, by David Wallechinsky... Buffalo News 'UNCLE CHARLEY' REIDPATH WAS GOLDEN IN 1912 GAMES Published on September 17, 2000 MICHAEL BEEBE... "Reidpath wins 400 metre Olympic race", Buffalo News 7-12-1912 byline United Press... "Americans again take lions share of Olympic events" Buffalo Courier 7-12-1912 byline Stockholm July 12, no author given... "Reidpath of Buffalo, representing Syracuse breaks Olympic record" Buffalo News 7-12-1912 byline Associated Press... Private e-mail and phone conversations with relatives of Charles Reidpath.