Modest George is a role model to today’s athletes

George Bailey (centre), of Buxton, at the Commonwealth Games in 1930 where he won gold.
George Bailey (centre), of Buxton, at the Commonwealth Games in 1930 where he won gold.

Chances are if you win a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, a life of fame and fortune won’t be too far away.

Those athletes competing at this year’s event in Glasgow, which began this week, can expect to fill up the column inches, be swamped by television interviewers and receive generous monetary compensation for their troubles.

George Bailey in the Buxton Advertiser, August 30 1930.

George Bailey in the Buxton Advertiser, August 30 1930.

However, one Buxton man who grabbed gold 84 years ago at the Games was not exposed to such luxuries; he simply enjoyed sport and happened to be rather good at it.

George Bailey won a gold medal at the inaugural British Empire Games (the predecessor to the Commonwealth Games) which were staged in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada in 1930.

Aged 24 at the time, George romped to victory in the two-mile steeplechase.

He won the race at a canter, finishing 100 yards ahead of his nearest opponent and even setting a Canadian running record at the same time.

Upon his winning return to Buxton, George was due to be presented with a hero’s welcome at the town’s train station with the Fairfield band due to greet him.

However, George decided to politely shun the limelight as his nephew Dennis Hill explains: “When he came back from Canada I’m told that he got off the train a stop early, at Millers Dale.

“He then proceeded to run all the way home back to Fairfield - which is about six-and-a-half miles!

“That was the kind of man uncle George was; He never wanted any fuss or attention and didn’t want to be in the limelight.”

George was born in 1906 and was one of nine children.

He enjoyed football and boxing but it was running that he had the biggest passion for.

He ran each day to work on a building site in Hayfield, all ten miles of it whilst clad in heavy working boots.

Dennis, 81, says that his uncle’s modesty, even when having just won a gold medal, stemmed from a down-to-earth approach to life.

He added: “He was a very modest man.

“He had lots of running vests emblazoned with Team England yet he never wore them.

“That was because if he did then people would ask him about his running, and he was never one to brag.”

As well as the gold medal he won in Canada, George could count himself unlucky not to have added an Olympic medal to his cabinet.

In 1932 he competed at the Los Angeles Olympics but was involved in a hugely controversial race.

In the final of the 3000m steeplechase, his favoured distance, the lap-checker fell ill and his substitute forgot to change the lap notice sign the first time around, causing competitors to run an extra lap.

The farcical situation would be almost impossible to replicate in today’s world where times and distances are measured as close to perfection as is possible.

George went on to compete at the second staging of the British Empire Games, held in London, where he claimed a bronze in the event he had won four years previously.

After performing on the world stage, George went on to claim a host of records and titles on the domestic scene before retiring from running in 1938.

George passed away in August 2000, aged 94.

However, his achievements on the world stage should well be remembered by those athletes trying to emulate him in Glasgow.