John W. Loaring was born in Winnipeg in 1915, and moved to Windsor with his family when he was 11 years old. Just before he was about to start high school at Kennedy Collegiate, he contracted rheumatic fever. His family doctor said his running days were over, but John thought otherwise. “Every night, he was running, running, running, and hurdling, hurdling, hurdling. It was the story of perseverance, indomitable will, and genuine hard work” said the Kennedy Athletics Director.
By the time Loaring was 19 years old, he was dominating the provincial and national high school track scene, and his winning streak continued into his years at the University of Western Ontario. In the summer of 1936, Loaring became the Provincial 440yd hurdles champion. It was the first time he’d ever raced the event. He set an Ontario record that took 27 years to break.
His next competition was the 1936 Olympic Trials in Montreal. He won the 400m hurdles, breaking the Canadian record. This was his first time running the metric version of this distance, and his record stood for 11 years. He also won the 400m run at these trials, again in Canadian record time. These wins meant his dream was now a reality – he’d earned his place on the Canadian Olympic team.
The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games occurred later that summer. They were the first Olympic Games to be televised. Loaring witnessed the first ever Olympic torch run making its entrance into a capacity Olympic Stadium in Berlin. He warmed up alongside famous US athlete Jesse Owens, and competed with Adolph Hitler watching. It was here, at these Games, that he made Canadian history on the cinder track.
His first Olympic event was the 400m hurdles. It was his 21st birthday, and he’d advanced to the finals, making him the youngest finalist in the field. He had only run this event once before in competition at the Trials. Despite his lack of experience, Loaring earned an Olympic silver medal in that 400m hurdles event, finishing 3/10ths of a second behind the World Record holder and 1932 Olympic gold medallist, America’s Glenn Hardin. Loaring later said….“It was my 21st birthday, and it was impossible to describe the intense feeling of overwhelming happiness, humility, awe, and pride I experienced standing by Hardin and in the presence of 120,000 standing people”.
A few days later, he ran another four 400m run races: first round, second round, semi-final, and final. He placed sixth in the 400m run. The next day, he anchored the 4x400m Canadian relay team, making up a nearly seven metre deficit after receiving the relay baton, allowing the team to clinch 4th place. Later he said….“The inspiration of taking part in the greatest of all competitions, and the wonderful facilities and organization made it possible to excel beyond all hope, and to reach physical and mental peaks of stamina and determination”.
The German newspapers said John Loaring was “the toughest competitor of 1936” for running a total of nine races (including qualifying rounds) in such a short time-span. Writers of the “Guinness Book of World Records”, said: “Loaring’s competitive record at the 1936 Olympics must just about represent the most severe test to which any Olympic athlete has ever been subjected.”
To this day, he is the only male athlete to complete all three Olympic finals involving the 400m distance in any combination of Olympic Games (and he did it in one Olympics).
Days after his string of 1936 Olympic races, he decided to compete in his one and only steeplechase race while still in Europe. He ran the anchor leg of a relay, which won gold. His time was the best in the world that year. To win, he had to overcome a 12yd lead by the steeplechase world record holder from the US, and he did! This was his one and only steeplechase experience.
In 1937, he unofficially broke the World Record for the 600 yd run – in practice. In 1938, he joined the Canadian team on a 6-week sea voyage to Sydney Australia for the British Empire (now Commonwealth) Games. At the Commonwealth Games he once again dominated the field, winning the 440yd hurdles by an impressive 15 yards, and setting a new Games Record and the best time in the world that year. He went on to win two more relay gold medals, also in Games record time, and was 5th in the 440yd run.
John often ran to win (rather than try to beat records), especially since he was often running so many races. In that 440yd hurdles final, he was very far ahead, and slowed toward the end, still winning by 15 yards. Later, he told his family how disappointed he was for having slowed down, having missed the World Record by only 3/10ths of a second. He remains the only Canadian track and field athlete to win three gold medals in a single Commonwealth Games, and was awarded the J. W. Davies Trophy for Canada’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 1938.
Loaring has been inducted into six Halls of Fame, including the Windsor / Essex County Sports Hall of Fame (where he was an inaugural inductee), the Canadian Olympic, the Canadian Amateur Athletic, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (the top sporting honour in all of Canada for all sports, where he was inducted in the “Legends” category).
Unfortunately, despite being in the best competitive shape of his life, World War II prevented him the opportunity of competing in the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games – both Games were cancelled due to the war. Johnny served as a Radar Officer on loan to the British Navy during the war. In 1941, his ship was sunk by German bombers after running out of ammunition in the Battle for Crete. He survived, clinging to wreckage in the water for hours, and was put ashore in Africa to recover from oil poisoning. In 1942, he served as a Senior Instructor for Radar Officers in Portsmouth, England. Here, he had the chance to start competing in the odd track meet again.
At one meet, he ran two races within 45 minutes of one another. The second race was the 440yd hurdles – he won, only 9/10ths of a second off the World Record. This was during wartime, with little training, and only 15 months after his oil poisoning.
In 1943, he was transferred to Quebec, as the head of Canada’s Radar Training School until the end of the War. There his rank climbed to Lieutenant-Commander. He returned to Windsor in 1947 and became Commanding Officer of H.M.C.S. Hunter.
Outside of his competitions, he remained very involved and passionate in sport. He was an official at the 1966 British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, and held positions with the Canadian Olympic Association, the British & Commonwealth Games Association, and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada.
He was very dedicated to developing sport in Windsor, and founded the Windsor Swimming Club. Today, many sports events and races are still named in his honour (e.g., Johnny Loaring Classic).
Sadly, he died of colon cancer in 1969, at the age 54.
While still alive, he was known to write letters of encouragement to up-and-coming young athletes. Dr. William LaRochelle, a 1948 Olympian from Windsor stated: “While attending Kennedy, the walls of the high school were filled with photographs….and it was from these athletes that I got my inspiration, including John Loaring….his Canadian hurdle record stood from 1936 to 1947, when I broke his record at the Olympic Trials. I met and talked with John Loaring several times during my career and a more gracious and accommodating person I haven’t met since. He was my hero.”