The Olympic Torch has already made its way through Calderdale and the Games will be over before we know it. I don’t think that we have any born and bred Greater Elland athletes in these Games but turning back the clock to 1936 a local lad, a 21-year-old mill worker from Bedford Street, had been selected to represent Great Britain as part of the feather-weight weight-lifting team.
The Courier described Norman Holroyd as ‘stylish and courageous’. ‘He has had a remarkable rise in this branch of sport. Until about 18 months ago he had no knowledge of weight-lifting, though at his work he must have raised thousands of pounds each week. After reading articles on weight-lifting he decided to practice on approved lines, and in order to qualify for recognised titles, joined the Bradford College of Physical Culture. Since then, his successes have been notable for today he is the Northern Counties and Yorkshire weight-lifting champion. As recently as June, Holroyd competed in London for the English championships, gaining second place in the light-weight class. Losing only by 5lbs, though he weighed in as a feather weight.’
I can imagine that the nature of Norman’s work prepared him well for the rigours of his sport. We may not appreciate how physical manual work could be over 70 years ago.
George Walsh, the team manager, had this to say about Norman’s chances: ‘Our first string in the feathers is a lifter of whom we are all proud. He is young, immensely strong, stylish and courageous. He will not reach or break records this Olympiad, but he will in the next, for, if ever a man possessed all the qualifications that go to the making of a world-beater, that man is Holroyd. And even in these games – and in spite of the fact that he is only a youth and this will be his first important competition – the Yorkshireman will not fare badly. He’ll be beaten, but not by much; he’ll be out-lifted, but by nothing like the margin by which our feather-weights have always gone down in the past.’
Norman came 15th at the Games, which was a respectable performance. He did get to meet the great Jesse Owens!
As predicted his future in weightlifting looked secure – British Champion nine times, the first English weight-lifter to lift double his body weight (120kg when he only weighed 60kg), joint second in the World Weightlifting Championships in Paris 1937 and a member of the British team that beat Germany in 1938 and France in 1939. Unfortunately the war put his sporting career on hold. Norman did qualify for the 1948 London Olympics but injury prevented his participation. He retired from weightlifting in 1950.
Many older Ellanders still remember Norman Holroyd. He worked for NuSwift up to 1979. Norman died in 2002. You can find some of his photograph collection on the internet. He was a very worthy Olympian to represent our district.
David J. Glanfield
Greater Elland Historical Society
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