Hero photograph
Pat Boot off to the Olympics 1936

Empire Champion & Olympian, Pat Boot


Pat Boot is often neglected in telling the stories of TBHS Old Boy sporting greats.

                           Triumph and Tragedy  

He was alongside Jack Lovelock in small N Z team of six at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Boot contested the 800 metres and made it to the semi-finals. Unlike Lovelock, who resided in Britain, Boot had to prepare for the Olympics aboard ship for 40 days on his way to Berlin. He and fellow runner Cecil Matthews* suffered tendon injuries in the short preparation time before the 1936 Games. The Olympic experience was both a revelation and motivation for Boot on his return to New Zealand.

Two years later at the 1938 Sydney Empire Games, Vernon Patrick Boot, stood on top of the dais at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He won the Empire [Commonwealth] Games gold medal for the 880yds. He demolished the field, winning by 20 yards, in a Games record run of 1m 51.2sec. It wasn’t over for Boot. He lined up for the 1 mile and came home 3rd for the bronze medal. He had established himself as a world-class middle-distance athlete. He was the third fastest 800m runner the world in 1938. Success at the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo seemed a real prospect.

It was not to be. The world plunged into war in 1939 meant that both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics would not be held. Just when Boot was at the peak of his athletic prowess the Olympic dream was shattered.

At TBHS he was an outstanding athlete. He shattered Lovelock’s school mile record by 17.6 seconds running 4m 26.8s. This was regarded as a world record by a schoolboy.

Boot finished his education at Timaru Boy’s in 1933 and the Ashburton lad went on to study at Lincoln College. His athletic record at Lincoln has been described as phenomenal. He also played for the Lincoln College 1st XV. He joined the Dept of Agriculture in 1937 working initially in Ashburton and later in Wellington.

In Wellington he met Lorna Kessel and they were engaged to in January 1940. Marriage followed two months later just prior to Boot’s departure for overseas military service. His war service has been recognized as distinguished. Initially with the South Island 20th Battalion and as a Captain in the 20th Armed Regiment.

In the Middle East in September 1943 the tragic news arrived from Wellington that his young wife had died having contracted meningitis. Lorna Boot was just 25 years of age.

Pat Boot returned home a widower in 1945.

Boot’s return to civilian life and agricultural work saw him working as an Agricultural Instructor in Gisborne. On January 15th 1947, in Chelsea Private Hospital, Gisborne, he failed to rally from an anesthetic administered for a dental operation and died aged 32. Pat was buried in the Taruhera Cemetery two days later.

Pat Boot’s short life was truly one of triumph and tragedy.

* Cecil Matthews was given the task of bringing back to N Z the small oak tree given to Jack Lovelock on the dais in Berlin. It was looked after in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens until planted at Timaru Boy’s in 1941.