A NEW biography about a remarkable Borders sporting figure is set to race onto bookshelves this autumn.

Jimmy Curran: Scotland's Greatest Athletics Coach, by Craig Statham, tells the story of Jimmy Curran, who was born in Galashiels in 1880, fought in the Second Boer War, emigrated to the USA and trained 13 Olympic athletes.

As an amateur runner at the beginning of the 20th century, winning the prestigious Hawick Border Mile Championship, Curran would train in the Galashiels cemetery.

“There were no tracks anywhere in Scotland apart from in the bigger towns and cities, so he used the graveyard in Galashiels,” said Mr Statham.

“At that time they would run distances in yards, so the equivalent of the 400m was the 440 yards, and the cemetery I think was 450 yards.

“It was almost perfect and it was almost a circle, so he would use that to train when he was younger.”

Mr Statham, who also works at the National Library of Scotland, said: “Jimmy was probably the best half-miler in the UK, up until about 1907, when he emigrated to the United States.

“You could make substantial amounts of money running in the States at that time; he initially worked at the University of Pennsylvania as a trainer under a chap called Mike Murphy, and then got a job at the Mercersburg Academy.”

Having already trained one Olympic champion – Wyndham Halswelle – before he moved to the USA, Curran went on to train a further 12 Olympic athletes, five of whom won gold.

He was coach for 51 years at Mercersburg Academy, a school whose students at the time included actor Jimmy Stewart and President Calvin Coolidge’s son John, and its racetrack is still named after him.

“He’s almost a legend in that Pennsylvania area,” said Mr Statham.

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Curran was fond of a challenge and would often set up walking challenges, travelling around 30 to 40 miles in a day, “and think nothing of it,” said Mr Statham. “One day in 1938 he played 298 holes of golf in 15 hours.”

For this feat, he appeared in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, a cartoon serialised in US newspapers from 1918. His other appearance in the cartoon was thanks to his kicking a football 50 yards in bare feet.

The writer stumbled across the Gala athlete by accident.

“I was originally researching Wyndham Halswelle,” he said. “He’s in the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, famous for having won the Olympic 100-metre final without running against anybody because the Americans pulled out in protest at an umpire’s decision.

“He was then shot dead in World War One.

“So I was researching him but this chap Jimmy Curran kept popping up in the newspapers so I did a little bit more research and contacted one of his granddaughters, who was very helpful.”

Mr Statham, who lives in Newbattle, Midlothian, travelled to the States with wife Janette and son Christopher, 17, for further research and to interview “multiple people, who were either family members or trained by Jimmy”.

“It was a family holiday but I took two days out to visit New York Public Library and a couple of days to go to Mercersburg Academy, where I was able to dig into newspapers that aren’t available anywhere else in the world.

“There was a lot of research done,” said Mr Statham. “It was five years’ work, fitting it in around my full-time job.”

Curran, who died in 1963 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was inducted in the Scottish Borders Sporting Hall of Fame in 2008, but Mr Statham believes he is otherwise little known in the land of his birth.

“Generally, he’s been forgotten. He’s a footnote in a few newspapers so hopefully this book will bring his story back to life again.”

The book, priced at £9.99, goes on sale this month (September) and can be purchased by contacting Mr Statham via email on craig.statham@btinternet.com