MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XI) – London 1948: DELFO CABRERA (1919-1981)

Cabrera in the front page of magazine "El Gráfico" (1948)
Cabrera crossing the finish line in first place (London 1948)

After a 12 years gap because of WWII, the 1948 Olympics were to be organised by London. London had already been selected for the 1944 Olympics, finally cancelled because of the war, and although it almost didn´t apply to host them in 1948, finally won the bid. Therefore, it became the first city to host the Olympics twice, after doing so 40 years earlier.

Still struggling to recover after WWII the Olympics looked as a good opportunity to rebuild the trust among the nations, although Japan and Germany were not allowed to compete, and the Soviet Union did not send any athlete. Because of the rationing and economic climate no new venues were built, and athletes were accommodated in existing places instead of building an Olympic village.

In the marathon there was no clear favourite as many races had been cancelled during the war. Finnish Viljo Heino as the world record holder for the 10k and 1-hour was someone to watch, as he was debuting over the marathon distance. Marathoners from the Soviet Union showed great promise, but they were not to compete.

Delfo Cabrera Gómez was born in Armstrong, in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina. From humble origin he used to play football and started running back home from work. In 1932, after Juan Carlos Zabala triumph in the Olympic marathon, he decided to pursue a running career. By 1938 he moved to Buenos Aires and began training in San Lorenzo de Almagro under the talented coach Francisco Mura. Winning some titles in shorter distances, he had to serve in the army during WWII, where he met Juan Perón. The Olympics of 1948 were to be Cabrera´s first major international competition.

The marathon was to start at 15.00 on August 7th, Saturday, with 41 athletes in the start line. Three of them had run in the last Olympic marathon held in Berlin 12 years earlier, a long time that had changed history, and truncated many promising sport careers.

Argentinian Eusebio Guiñez took an early lead, but in the 10k checkpoint Etienne Gailly, from Belgium and debuting in the distance, was in the front. By the 20 and 30k checkpoints, nothing changed in the front. At this point Guiñez was still in second position, with the Korean Choi coming third, and Cabrera slightly behind.

With the hilly course starting to take its toll on some athletes by the 35k checkpoint Choi moved to the front, with Cabrera second, and Gailly and Guiñez following. Only 2 kilometers later Choi started limping and abandoned the race, losing the chance of revalidating the marathon for Korea, as it had happened in 1936.

Although the race looked in its closing stages, it was far from finished. Gailly managed to get in front again, with some runners coming strongly from behind. The Belgian entered the stadium first, but his dramatic effort proved to be too much, and that last lap was to be decisive.

Cabrera entered the stadium shortly behind, followed by the British Tom Richards. Both surpassed Gailly, who was then relegated to third. Cabrera crossed the finish line first, claiming another gold medal in the Olympic marathon for Argentina, only 16 seconds ahead of Richards, and a further 26 seconds ahead of Gailly.

Argentina accomplished three athletes in the top 10, with Guiñez finishing 5th, and Armando Sensini 9th, an achievement that was not repeated in the marathon until 2008 with Ethiopia.

After the London Games Cabrera won the inaugural marathon in the Pan American Games in Buenos Aires in 1951. His Olympic adventure had another chapter, in Helsinki in 1952, where he managed to finish in sixth position. He retired in 1957 and maintained his involvement in the sport, getting to preside the Argentinian Olympic Association. Sadly, he would die in a car accident in 1981, returning from a tribute in his honour, but his legend would be present forever.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Summer_Olympics

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1948/ATH/mens-marathon.html

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delfo_Cabrera

“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.

Marathon departure from Wembley Stadium

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