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​The Incomparable Thomas Rae Nicolson

T R Nicolson at his peak as an athlete and shinty player

The Incomparable Thomas Rae Nicolson   

As a specialist in the weight events who won no less than 42 Scottish titles in all, Tom 'T R' Nicolson (1879-1951), compiled an incomparable record in the annals of Scottish athletics. The only shinty player to grace not one but two Olympic Games – in London in 1908 and Antwerp in 1920 - was the shinty player, farmer, and heavy-weight athlete par excellence.  Born on 3 Oct 1879 at Auchgoyle Farm, at Tighnabruaich on the Kyles of Bute, he was one of the eleven children (ten boys and one girl) of Neil and Anne Nicolson.

Tom, commonly referred to as “T.R”, was arguably the most outstanding personality of a family which produced eight superb shinty players and four supreme athletes. Married to Isabella (nee Hutton), they had three sons and one daughter.

T.R. Nicolson became captain of the famous Kyles Athletic shinty team winning many honours with six of the brothers playing together. Nicolson was arguably the finest Scottish athlete of his generation. An outstanding thrower in all the heavy events, he was by all accounts a great shinty player, an accomplished wrestler, a gifted golfer and a skilful footballer who apparently had trials with Rangers FC in Glasgow. In his heyday he was friendly with both Bill Struth, Rangers Manager and Willie Maley manager of Celtic, probably through his involvement in the Rangers and Celtic sports at the turn of the 20th Century. (He was also friendly with the legendary entertainer Sir Harry Lauder, who for some time, had a house in Glenbranter near Dunoon.)

Tom excelled at the shot and hammer to the extent of being one of few who could challenge the pre-eminence of the Irish-American throwers of his day.

Six feet tall and weighing 175lb, Tom Nicolson began competing in 1901 at the SAAA Championships. A modest beginning led to a series of awesome performances based on natural strength and diligent practise at the family farm in Argyll. As a 23-year-old he won his first Scottish hammer throwing title and achieved an unsurpassed 19 consecutive titles up until 1924; won again in 1926 and 1927 and was placed second in 1929, aged 50.

He won 14 SAAA shot titles and the AAA shot and hammer championships at Northampton Cricket ground in 1903. In 1904, at the Rangers Highland Sports at Ibrox, he proved himself to be one of the top three in the world, throwing the American style 16lb hammer 51.72m from a nine-foot circle. In the hammer, he was virtually unbeatable in Scottish terms. He eventually set a record of 50.84 at a Scotland versus America contest in Edinburgh. As a native record it stood for 39 years and as a British mark for fifteen. In the 28 years he competed in the Scottish SAAA Championships, he won the shot 14 times; the wire hammer 21 times; Scots hammer 3 times; 56lb weight 4 times, a grand total of 42 Championship wins. His record would surely have been even more formidable but for the intervention of the First World War.

Tom Nicolson made two appearances at the Olympic Games, in 1908 in London when he was placed fourth, and in 1920 in Antwerp where he was sixth, his performance diminished by late arrival due to farm commitments. The lambing came first. Such was his fame, however, that his qualification entry was waived.

Nicolson was a great amateur athlete with an incomparable record. Known for his geniality, modesty, durability and awesome strength, he never followed his brothers into the professional ranks on the Highland Games circuit. Great grandsons still represent the Kyles at camanachd.  How happy he would surely have been to see his descendants running out in numerous Camanachd Cup finals.

Tom Nicolson died in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow on 18 April 1951, aged 71. He is buried in the Kilbride Churchyard, Ardlamont. No obituaries appeared in the Scottish national press, (there was a short reference to his passing in the Dundee Courier) surely a grand omission given the truly colossal achievements of one of Scotland’s (if not Britain’s) greatest amateur athletes.

His fame has been, until now, noted in the National Dictionary of Biography, but where else? This is a man whose reputation was world-wide, his sporting and athletic prowess “world class”. The SAAA have now elevated Tom Nicolson into their Hall of Fame along with 14 others, righting a wrong which has long required remedy.  It is over-due recognition and will be welcomed throughout the shinty-playing community. Hopefully, he will eventually find his rightful place in Scotland's Sporting Hall of Fame and come the day shinty gets around to recognising its greatest exponents and personalities, he will surely be amongst those at the head of the nomination line. Tom Nicolson's award will be accepted at a ceremony on Saturday night by Bobby Nicolson, his grandson, himself a noted shinty player in his day.  He will be accompanied on Saturday night by Ronald Martin, Bobby's cousin's son, making him a great grandson of Tom. Ronald played for and captained Kyles a few years ago. To paraphrase one great man, Sir Alex Ferguson, another Tom Nicolson would be "very proud" and rightly so.

The Incomparable Thomas Rae Nicolson   - Camanachd Association welcomes SAAA recognition

The legendary Scottish heavy-weight athlete and renowned shinty player  Tom "T R” Nicolson of Tighnabruaich has been elevated into Scottish Amateur Athletics’ Hall of Fame. At a ceremony in Glasgow on Saturday night (Nov 3) the award will be accepted on behalf of the family by Bobby Nicolson, Tom's grandson.  He will be accompanied on Saturday night by Ronald Martin, Bobby's cousin's son, making him a great grandson of Tom. Ronald played for and captained Kyles a few years ago.  Thomas Rae Nicolson was the only shinty player to grace not one but two Olympic Games – in London in 1908 and Antwerp in 1920 - was the shinty player, farmer, and heavy-weight athlete par excellence.  

Tom, commonly referred to as “T.R”, was arguably the most outstanding personality of a family which produced eight superb shinty players and four supreme athletes. Married to Isabella (nee Hutton), they had three sons and one daughter.

Speaking on behalf of the Camanachd Association, shinty's governing body, said:  "T.R. Nicolson became captain of the famous Kyles Athletic shinty team winning many honours with six of the brothers playing together. Nicolson was arguably the finest Scottish athlete of his generation. An outstanding thrower in all the heavy events, he was by all accounts a great shinty player, an accomplished wrestler, a gifted golfer and a skilful footballer who also is said to have had trials with the Rangers FC in Glasgow. He excelled at the shot and hammer to the extent of being one of few who could challenge the pre-eminence of the Irish-American throwers of his day. The whole shinty community will be delighted at this recognition of the incomparable Tom's outstanding athletic achievements. Known for his geniality, modesty, durability and awesome strength, this is a man whose reputation was world-wide, his sporting and athletic prowess “world class”. Hopefully, we will eventually find his rightful place in Scotland's Sporting Hall of Fame and come the day shinty gets around to recognising its greatest exponents and personalities, he will surely be amongst those at the head of the nomination line."



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