Jock Semple

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Jock Semple
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John Duncan Semple

(1903-10-26)October 26, 1903
DiedMarch 10, 1988(1988-03-10) (aged 84)
OccupationAthletic therapist / trainer
Known for 1967 Boston Marathon incident

John Duncan "Jock" Semple (October 26, 1903 – March 10, 1988) was a Scottish-American runner, physical therapist, trainer, and sports official. In 1967, he attained worldwide notoriety as a race official for the Boston Marathon, when he physically assaulted and attempted to tear off the bib number from 20 year old marathon runner Kathrine Switzer. Switzer was officially entered in the race in accordance with the Boston Marathon's rule book which at that time made no mention of gender, [1] [ better source needed ] despite Semple saying that amateur rules banned women racing for more than a mile and a half (2400 m). [2] He subsequently oversaw implementation of qualifying times in 1970 and, in response to lobbying and rule changes by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the implementation of a separate women's race in 1972. [3]


Life and career

Semple was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1921 to work as a cabinetmaker in Philadelphia. He moved to Boston after running in his first Boston Marathon and began to work in sport-related fields. He was a masseur and physical therapist for the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics, and a trainer for Olympic athletes.

Semple became known to a lay audience while working as a Boston Marathon race co-director. He had an established history dating back to at least 1957 of physically attacking Boston Marathon runners he perceived to be "non serious" competitors, whether officially entered or running the course unofficially. [2] In a 1968 interview with Sports Illustrated , [2] he remarked "These screwballs! These weirdies!" crying at the ceiling "These MIT boys! These Tufts characters! These Harvard guys! They write me askin' should they put on spiked shoes for the marathon!" According to fellow race official Will Cloney: "He hurls not only his body at them, but also a rather choice array of epithets... Jock's method of attack is apt to vary." In 1957, Semple narrowly escaped arrest for assault after attempting to knock down a marathon competitor who was wearing webbed snorkeler's shoes and a grotesque mask. "The thing that made me so damned mad," Semple said, "was that the guy was runnin' with the good runners." at the 6.5 miles (10.5 km) mark. [2]

Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb completed the 1967 Boston Marathon unofficially; she had completed the marathon in 1966 having been denied an official entry by race director Will Cloney who rejected her registration with the claim that women were physiologically incapable of running 26 miles (42 km). Gibb finished the 1966 race in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds, [4] ahead of two-thirds of the runners. Another woman, Kathrine Switzer, also completed the 1967 race having registered officially (the Boston Marathon rule book made no mention of gender [1] ). Semple said her race registration was a result of an "oversight" in the entry screening process. [5] :7 Semple tried to stop Switzer by repeatedly hitting her as she ran. [1] [6] [5] :114–118 Switzer wrote in her memoir "A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, 'Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!'" [7] Switzer's boyfriend Tom Miller managed to shove Semple aside after Semple had knocked Switzer's coach to the ground when he attempted to protect Switzer; both Miller and Switzer's coach were competing in the race alongside Switzer. [1] In a 1968 interview Semple said Miller's success in stopping Semple was because he was a hammer thrower. [2] Photographs of Semple attempting to rip Switzer's number off were widespread in the media. [2]

A consequence of Switzer's completion of the 1967 Boston Marathon as an officially registered runner in line with the rules then in force was that the AAU changed its rules to bar women from competing in races against men. [8]

Later in life, Semple reversed his position on women competing in the marathon. According to Marja Bakker (a later organizer of the race), "Once the rule was adjusted and women were allowed in the race, Jock was one of their staunchest supporters. He was very progressive." [9] Semple later publicly reconciled with Switzer. [10]

In 1981, he published an autobiography, Just Call Me Jock. [5] He was inducted into the RRCA American Long Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1985. [11]

Semple died of cancer of the liver and pancreas in March 1988 in Peabody, Massachusetts. [3] [12] He and Kathrine Switzer had become friends and she would visit him at the hospital where he was being treated for his cancer. [13] The Jock Semple Award given by the Boston Athletic Association is named in his honor.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Switzer, Kathrine (2017-04-04). Marathon Woman (4th ed.). Da Capo Press Inc. ISBN   978-0306825651. Archived from the original on 2020-04-20. Retrieved 2020-04-24. We checked the rule book and entry form; there was nothing about gender in the marathon. I filled in my AAU number, plunked down $3 cash as entry fee, signed as I always sign my name, 'K.V. Switzer,' and went to the university infirmary to get a fitness certificate.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Myron Cope (April 22, 1968). "Angry Overseer Of The Marathon". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 5, 2012. In among the serious runners, fast and not so fast, are the characters: [...]; and, of course, women, who trot along as unofficial entrants, denied numbers for their chests. All of these poseurs, few of whom come close to finishing the race, send a shudder up the spine of John Duncan Semple, the irascible, 64-year-old Scot who is Mr. Boston Marathon himself.
  3. 1 2 "Jock Semple, Marathon Official". The New York Times. Associated Press. 1988-03-10. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  4. Derderian, Tom (1996). Boston Marathon: The History of the World’s Premier Running Event. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishers.
  5. 1 2 3 Semple, Jock; Kelley, John J.; Murphy, Tom (1981). Just Call Me Jock: The Story of Jock Semple, Boston's Mr. Marathon . Waterford Publishing. ISBN   978-0942052015.
  6. Concannon, Joe (April 5, 1987). "1967: Semple meets Switzer". The Boston Globe . p. 58. Retrieved April 9, 2020 via
  7. Emanuella Grinberg. "1st woman to officially run Boston Marathon to do it again 50 years later". CNN. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  8. Romanelli, Elaine (1979). "Women in Sports and Games". In O'Neill, Lois Decker (ed.). The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements . Anchor Press. p.  576. ISBN   0-385-12733-2. [Switzer's] run created such a stir that the AAU [...] barred women from all competition with men in these events on pain of losing all rights to compete.
  9. "'Jock' Semple dead at 84". The Day . New London, Connecticut. March 10, 1988. p. F8. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  10. Bettman Archives image Accessed 17 April 2017
  11. "Distance Running History: RRCA Hall of Fame Inductees 1980 - 1989". Road Runners Club of America. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  12. Harber, Paul (March 10, 1988). "John Semple, Marathon codirector and Bruins, Celtics therapist; 84". The Boston Globe . p. 71. Retrieved April 9, 2020 via
  13. "Jock Semple dies at 84". The Berkshire Eagle . Pittsfield, Massachusetts. UPI. March 10, 1988. p. 44. Retrieved April 9, 2020 via

Further reading