Remembering Norman Pritchard: Pioneer Olympian, actor and IFA secretary

Norman Pritchard will always be remembered as the first athlete to represent India at Olympics and win a medal

By Samrat Chakraborty ·

A first is always special and Norman Pritchard will always be remembered as the first athlete to represent India at Olympics and win a medal. In fact, he won two medals.

He bagged a silver each in the 200-meter hurdles and 200-meter dash event in the 1900 Paris Olympics, becoming the first Asian-born athlete to achieve the feat.

At the Paris Games, he participated in five events and reached the final in three – 110m hurdles, 200m dash, and 200m hurdles. He, however, failed to qualify for the final of 60m and 100m dash, after winning the first heat of the 100m event.

But did you know that Pritchard was more than just an Olympian, donning multiple hats in his career.

Early life in Kolkata

Norman Gilbert Pritchard was a British citizen who represented India in the 1900 Paris Olympics. He was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on January 23, 1875, to George Peterson Pritchard, an accountant in Alipore, and Helen Maynard Pritchard.

Pritchard graduated from St.Xavier's College in Kolkata and then joined a well-known trading house in the city which operated under the name Bird & Co.

It was substantiated by noted English track historian Keith Morbey who unearthed Pritchard's records from the India Office Records section of the British Library in London in the early 2000s. He also recognized entries related to Norman in Thacker’s Indian Directory, a well-known Kolkata publishing company that operated until 1960.

Love for football

Pritchard was a natural athlete. He was not only a fine sprinter but loved the game of football during his formative years. And he went on to achieve distinctions in both the disciplines.

One of his best-known records was when he won the Bengal 100 yards dash for seven consecutive years between 1894 and 1900. He also recorded a famous hat-trick in an open football tournament in India in a game for St. Xavier’s against Sovabazar in 1897.

Later, he served as one of the main office bearers for the Indian Football Association - the organization that administers association football in the state of West Bengal, India. It was founded in 1893 (continues to function even now) and is one of the oldest Football Associations in India.

Norman Pritchard was the first to represent India in Olympics

Farewell to India

Pritchard travelled to England, with his father, to trade in the jute market in 1900. It was then that he started participating in the athletic circuit in England which ultimately saw him participate in the 1900 Olympics.

He, however, returned to India after bagging the two silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics.

It was later in February 1905 that Pritchard finally bid adieu to his birthplace Calcutta and returned to England to continue trading in jute.

Ahead of his return to his native place, Pritchard was given a farewell by the IFA, where he had held the position of joint honourary secretary from 1900 to 1905.

Acting career

It was Sir Charles Wyndham, an English actor and theatre proprietor, who saw the acting talent in Pritchard. After seeing a dramatic narration of one of Lord Curzon’s (then Viceroy of India) durbars in Delhi, Wyndham offered him parts in plays before advising him to take up an acting career seriously.

Considering his advice, Pritchard moved to the United States of America (USA) and made his Broadway debut in 1914. He went on to act in 26 plays and 27 silent movies, becoming the first Olympian to do so.

He acted under the screen name of Norman Trevor.

Some of his finest works of acting could be seen in Jane Eyre (1921), The Black Panther's Cub (1921), Beau Geste (1926), and Dancing Mothers (1926) while Tonight at Twelve (1929) was his final movie.

Incidentally in 2002, former Bengal cricket captain Raju Mukherji came across a feature piece on Norman Trevor for his finest act in Beau Geste, in a school alumni magazine.

“There was no mistaking the old Calcutta athlete in the character of the Commandant of the French Foreign Legion. Age and the vicissitudes of fortune had left their mark on the features of his face, but his figure was as well-knit, his step as light as on the day he nearly won the sprinting championship of the world at Stamford Bridge [in London in 1900]... I recalled the days when Norman Pritchard (or to give his stage name, Norman Trevor) was not only the greatest short distance runner India had produced but also a fine footballer in both codes, soccer and rugby… Norman Pritchard was the most unselfish of sportsmen.”

Pritchard breathed his last in October 1929 due to a brain malady.