The extraordinary comeback that made Dick Gunn boxing’s oldest ever Olympic champion

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Dick Gunn
Miles Templeton remembers Dick Gunn and Dick Gunn, who both made their mark in Olympic boxing

THE Seventies were a fantastic era for domestic boxing but, let’s be honest, they were not so good for fashion (I know, I was there). Looking like they have just walked out from a Bond Street boutique, we can see brothers Chris and Kevin Finnegan looking particularly dapper. Standing between them, and far more sensibly dressed, is their amateur trainer, Dick Gunn. There probably aren’t too many around now who will remember Dick but, as a trainer at Hayes BC where the Finnegan brothers first made their mark, he was a first-class coach. Dick had one professional bout himself, at Rochester Casino back in 1949, and as it didn’t go too well for him, he decided to concentrate his energies in the gym, and it is fortunate that he did, for he was largely responsible for Chris Finnegan winning gold at the 1968 Olympics.

Dick could draw upon family experience when it came to the Olympics as he was a descendant of the oldest ever Olympic boxing champion and a three-time ABA featherweight champion, a man with the same name, Dick Gunn. Old Dick won his ABA titles in consecutive years between 1894 and 1896 while boxing for the Lynn BC. It wasn’t until 12 years later, in 1908, that he picked up Gold at the London Olympics at the same weight. By this time, he was 37 years old and had been retired from the ring for many years.

He was one of the founder members of the Lynn and what a club that turned out to be. Matt Wells, Dave McCleave, Terry Waller, Billy Wells, Billy Knight, Gary Davidson and Henry Akinwande are among the standouts who learned their trade at the club. He won the first of his ABA titles in 1894, when the boxing took place at the old Queens Hall on Langham Street in Westminster. His clubmate Percy Jones took the bantamweight title that year and by 1896 the two of them each succeeded in winning a hat-trick of ABA titles at their respective weights and the Lynn had really made its mark. In the true amateur sporting spirit of the time, and after having so dominated the featherweight division for these three years, Dick – aged just 25 – retired from the ring to give some other boxers a chance of winning the amateur championship. He genuinely believed that it wasn’t good for the sport for one man to keep winning the same title and so he became an administrator, helping out in all manner of ways at his beloved club.

By 1904 he had moved to the Gainsford BC, where he frequently took part in exhibition contests. One of these took place at the National Sporting Club when he boxed three rounds with the British featherweight champion, the great Jim Driscoll. When the 1908 Olympics were announced to take place in London, Dick couldn’t resist the idea of making a comeback so that he could take part. A whole generation of youngsters, equally determined to make the team, probably had no idea of his abilities and achievements as Dick was around 15 years older than most of them.

He trained assiduously at Gainsford and made the team, along with four other British entrants among a field of 14. He despatched a Frenchman in his opening contest and then beat the reigning ABA champion Tom Ringer, another Lynn man, in his second.

Having received a bye in the preliminary round, these two wins were enough to put him into the final where he met Charley Morris of the Polytechnic BC. Old Dick knew too much for his younger opponent and he outwitted him over the three-round course to take gold.

Dick then became an amateur referee for very many years before he finally bowed out as a time-keeper. In this capacity he appeared at another London Olympics, in 1948. Dick became Life Vice President of the ABA before he died in 1961, aged 90. Each Dick Gunn had therefore made a major contribution to British Olympic boxing.

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