History of the Event

Matt Skelhon

Matt Skelhon, Paralympic Gold Medalist & 2013 Race Starter

The charity race follows in the heroic footsteps of the famous film “Chariots of Fire”. The film tells the story of Harold Abrahams, a Cambridge runner, and his bid to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. It includes the iconic scene of the race around Trinity College Great Court.

The first charity race took place in 1992 and was the initial idea of Bill Matthews, Race Director for many years, who joined the committee of a local charity and was looking for fundraising ideas. Watching the famous film re-kindled memories of an earlier trip to Olympia in the Peloponnese and he came up with the inspired idea of a local charity fund-raising race in the vein of the Chariots of Fire film.

Bill took the idea to a longstanding friend, Lewis Isaacs. Between them they easily persuaded their respective firms Robson Rhodes, chartered accountants (now Grant Thornton UK LLP) and solicitors Hewitsons, to provide the initial funding and organisation. Hewitsons continues as the main sponsor to this day.

Although not at Trinity College Great Court, the first race took place in the grounds of the The Perse School for Girls in Cambridge. On the day of the race even the persistent rain could not dampen the spirits of the 77 teams whose heroic efforts raised £17,000 for the charity. The race moved to its current location at Queen’s Green in the town centre the following year to incorporate a scenic route through the streets of the city and Trinity College. In 2007, Kings and Clare colleges added their support to the event and the route now takes in all three colleges.

The event’s Honorary President for many years was Sir Arthur Marshall, a veteran from the 1924 Olympic team whose exploits are celebrated in the film. His son, Sir Michael Marshall, has taken over this role, following Sir Arthur’s sad death in 2007.

Lord Puttnam, creator of the film “Chariots of Fire,” started the race in 2003 and said “I am very proud of the fact that, twenty five years after its production, Chariots of Fire is still proving its value by, among other things, helping to raise money for charities in Cambridgeshire year after year after year. It must have struck a chord for I know of no other film that manages to evoke the same, entirely positive reaction”.