Searching for Olympic Gold

07 June 2012
imports_CCGB_bobby-pearce-archives-amste_05606.jpg Searching for Olympic Gold
David Brown remembers the sporting legend Bobby Pearce, whose collection of Olympic memorabilia is due to go on auction at Bonham's this month. ...

Bonhams Olympic Games Sale is to be held at Knightsbridge, London on Wednesday 25th July and includes the archive of Australia's first ever double Olympic Medal winner Bobby Pearce, 1905 – 1976.

His collection includes Olympic Gold Medal in addition to memorabilia including letters, photographs and posters, and has attracted pre-sale estimates of £30,000-50,000. Born into a sporting family in 1905, Bobby Pearce began rowing with his father Harry, the Australian Professional Sculling Champion, winning his first open race at the age of 14. He went to the Amsterdam Games in 1928 as the only Australian rower. The legend goes that he stopped during his heat with French rower Saurin to allow a group of ducks to cross and then went on to win by 20 lengths. In the final he beat the American Kenneth Myers, who was apparently so annoyed that he smashed his boat.

Not only was Pearce the first Australian to win a Gold Medal at rowing, he was the only Australia prize winner at those 1928 Games. He was chosen to compete again for Australia at the Los Angeles Olympiad in 1932 and drove across America to compete with his boat on the roof of his car. His win there made him the first to retain an Olympic Rowing gold medal. Pearce turned professional after 1932 competing in the Professional Championship of the World in a wager match at Toronto, where he won the race by a quarter of a mile. He retained the title and went on to defend it successfully in 1934 and 1938, relinquishing it undefeated after WW2.

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Regarded by many as the best sculler ever produced by Australia, he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986. His son, Bob Junior, said: "This is a remarkable archive of Olympic and Australian memorabilia, paying homage to my father's great sporting achievements. I would hope that a suitable home for this collection could be found in Australia."

Other items included in the 25th July Bonhams sale include a 1936 Munich Torch (estimated at £4,000-6,000),  a 1948 London Torch (£800-1,000),  The Harold M Abrahams CBE (1899-1978 – the sprinter immortalised in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire') archive (£2,000-3,000) and a bronze Olympic trophy – 1960 Paralympics, by Silvio Gazzaniga, sculptor of the World Cup Trophy (£1,500-2,000). Further details can be found at the Bonhams website.