- Type: Athlete
- Sport(s): Track and Field
- Year: 2019
Eldridge Eatmen was a native of Zealand Station, a small village prominent in the mid-1800s in New Brunswick, not far from Fredericton, where he was born on March 12, 1880. He moved to Saint John as a young man and performed within the Maritimes from 1902-1910 (travelling within Canada and Europe to compete); he was considered by many sports enthusiasts and foot-racing officials as the greatest sprinter every produced by New Brunswick.
A brief history lesson: “In the 1890s, interest in track & field was so keen that indoor meets were held in the spring and the fall, with outdoor events in the summer – and with the invention of the ‘electric light’, track meets at night became fashionable”.
Eldridge was a smart young man who knew that blacks would not be accepted in the white man’s world of amateur and the newly minted Olympic sport, and being poor, thought that professional racing would be his best chance for success. He would be proven right!
Some of Eldridge’s achievements @ 100-120 yards (the common standards of the day) included:
- 1902: First official match, which he won racing against John (Tip) O’Neill, which began his stellar career on both sides of the Atlantic.
- 1903: He beat world champion sprinter Tom Keen at Moosepath in Saint John at 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.
- 1905: The fastest Canadian sprint at the Maritime Championships at 8 seconds,
- 1905: Defeated Mr. Humphrey in a match in Moncton – worth $500 (side bet) @100 yards in a record time of 4 seconds.
- 1906: Won the World Championship in Scotland – the Powder Hall Trophy (Edinburgh).
- Beat a thoroughbred race-horse over a distance of 120 yards.
- 1904-07: Reigned as the World professional sprint Champion.
- 1910: Bet 130 pounds sterling on a 130 yard race, which he won by inches: since it was all the money he owned in the world, he was literally running for his life!
He also toured The British Isles with the late, great, heavyweight boxer, world champion Jack Johnson, where Eatman helped to raise funds for Johnson to travel to Australia to win the world heavyweight title on Boxing Day, 1908.
In 1915, near the beginning of WWI, Eatman joined the British Army; served with distinction as a corporeal for 785 days on the front (in the awful trench warfare of the day) in France with the famous Northumberland Fusiliers … and survived, a feat in itself.
Much later, he spent time with Joe Louis (boxing) and Jesse Owens (1936 Olympic medalist in sprint). In 1935, after Mussolini attacked Ethiopia, he travelled and spoke within Canada to recruit volunteers and raise funds to help this small rural country repel the Italian fascists.
Eldridge Eatman was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and into the New Brunswick Hall of Fame in 2016.
The Maritime Sport Hall of Fame is pleased indeed to induct Eldridge (Gus) Eatman, who performed at world-class standards over 110 years ago, but was essentially forgotten and unrecognized, especially during a time when racism dominated all sport … indeed much of life generally. The Maritime Hall has a mandate to search for such individuals with in our “historic category”, but this application came by the normal application route through a cousin, Maurice Eatman. Thank you sir, for bringing this wonderful athlete to our attention!