Edwin Harold "Teddy" Flack (5 November 1873 – 10 January 1935) was an Australian athlete and tennis player. He was Australia's first Olympian, being its only representative in 1896, and the first Olympic champion in the 800 metres and the 1500 metres running events.
Born in London, England, Teddy Flack was five years old when his family migrated to Australia, to live in Berwick, Victoria. Soon after leaving the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1892, where he studied Greek history, Flack joined his father's accountancy firm, Davey, Flack & Co.
From 1892 to 1894, Flack was active in middle distance and distance running in amateur athletics in the then colony of Victoria, competing with the Melburnian Hare & Hounds athletics club.
In 1892 he placed third in the inaugural Victorian 10 mile cross country championships, held at Caulfield Racecourse, in a time of 1:02.42.0.
On 9 to 11 November 1893, an intercolonial meet described as the "Australasian Championships" was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, between athletes from the British Colonies that were later to form the nations of Australia and New Zealand. This was the second such meet, the first having been held at Moore Park in Sydney on 31 May 1890. Flack competed in the 1893 event and won the mile championship in a time of 4:44.0, with a winning margin of two yards. He also competed in the 880 yards (won by Ken McCrae of New South Wales in 2:06.8) and three miles championship (won by Charles Herbert of Victoria in 15:33.6), but was unplaced in both events. By virtue of his win in the mile event he was also awarded the Victorian 1893 mile championship title and, on a separate date in 1893 (day and month unknown), was third in the Victorian 10 mile cross country championship in a time of 1:05.21.
On 15 December 1894 he won both the 880yards (2:07.2) and mile (4:49.4) Victorian 1894 championships and, on an earlier date in 1894 (day and month unknown) was 2nd in the 10 mile cross country championships (1:00.02). The 1894 event was Flack's last appearance in the Victorian Championships.
At the age of 21 Flack was sent to London to receive further training as an accountant with the firm Price, Waterhouse & Co (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). A keen athlete in Victoria, Flack joined the London Athletic Club and was intent on attending the coming inaugural Olympics while in the city of New York.
Flack reached Athens after an uncomfortable six-day rail and sea trip, during which he was plagued with sea sickness. On the opening day of the Games he won his first race, the first heat of the 800 metres run, finishing in a time of 2 min 10.0 sec. On the second day he lined up against the American favourite, Arthur Blake, in the 1500 metres run. Running shoulder to shoulder with Blake in the final straight, Flack powered ahead near the end to win by more than five metres in a time of 4:33.2. On the fourth day of the Games Flack earned his second first-place medal, winning the 800 metres in 2 min 11.0 sec.
It may be noted that, even by the standards of the time, the times required to win the 800m and 1,500m at the first Olympics were slow. Although there was no official world record in that era, by way of comparison the local 880 yards (804.67m) championship in Flack's home colony of Victoria was won that year in 2:04.4 and the previous year (1895) in 2:03.4. At the Australasian Championships of 1896, the mile (1,609m) was won by New Zealander W Bennett in a time of 4:28.6 - some 4.6s quicker than Flack's Olympic 1,500m time, despite running 109 metres further.
Just a day later Flack tried for a treble, in the marathon, even though he had never run a race more than 10 miles, less than half the marathon distance. He was in second place behind Frenchman Albin Lermusiaux, bronze medallist in the 1500 m run, for much of the race. After 32 kilometres, the Frenchman dropped out and Flack was left in the lead. But with just three kilometres to go, Flack suddenly collapsed. He was so delirious that, when a Greek spectator tried to help him, Flack punched him to the ground. Flack was removed from the course and tended to by Prince Nicholas.
Although largely unknown, Flack also competed in the tennis singles and doubles at the Athens Olympics. He lost in the first round of the singles to Aristidis Akratopoulos of Greece. In the doubles he was paired with an English friend, George S. Robertson. They reached the semi-finals after a walk-over in the first round, but lost their only match to Dionysios Kasdaglis of Egypt and Demetrios Petrokokkinos of Greece. They placed third due to their semi-final appearance, but medals for third places were not yet awarded in 1896.
Flack was a popular competitor at the 1896 games, and was commonly referred to as the "Lion of Athens".
Flack returned to Victoria and the family accounting firm in Melbourne in 1898, and purchased a property near Berwick, Victoria, where he stayed on weekends and bred Friesian cattle. Flack never competed for Victoria again (or for Australia after it was formed in 1901), but joined the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and was involved as a representative for Australia at the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress. Flack died in 1935 following an operation at a private hospital, and was cremated with his ashes interred at Berwick Cemetery.
Flack is commemorated by a bronze statue on the median strip of High St, Berwick, which was unveiled in 1998 by former running great and later Governor of Victoria, John Landy. The former Berwick Recreational Reserve was renamed Edwin Flack Reserve in 1996 to honour the town's first Olympic hero and medal winner, and includes several sporting grounds including an athletics track, an Australian rules football oval, netball courts and soccer pitch. Melbourne Grammar School's sporting complex at Port Melbourne has been named Edwin Flack Park in honour of their past student.
Flack was commemorated on a 45-cent Australian postage stamp in the Olympic centenary year of 1996. The AOC named one of streets alongside Stadium Australia at Homebush in Sydney, venue of 2000 Summer Olympics, as Edwin Flack Avenue. Flack has been inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Flack was portrayed by English actor Benedict Taylor in the 1984 television mini-series The First Olympics: Athens 1896. Contrary to the portrayal in this mini-series, Flack did not interrupt his studies at Oxford University to compete in the Games. Instead, he took a month's leave from his job as an accountant at Price Waterhouse.