Monday, 29 July 2013

Daily Mail 24th July 2013


Lawrence Clarke goes over to the boot of his car to show me a couple of black silk top hats and, in  passing, a pair of Gucci loafers nestled among fluorescent athletics kit.

The day we meet he is pulling on his tailcoat ahead of lunch in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. In our 21st century world, it is said that one of the last class distinctions is between those who own their own morning suits and those who hire them, and Clarke is decidedly in the former camp. So much so, that the man who finished fourth in the 110 metres hurdles at London 2012 is sponsored by Gieves & Hawkes, outfitters to the quintessentially English.

Charles Lawrence Somerset Clarke, heir to the Baronetcy of Dunham Lodge held by his father Sir Tobias Clarke, must be the poshest man in sport. And in an era when some people - from the Chancellor of the Exchequer down - are busy Estuarising their English, he speaks as if he has got the Elgin Marbles stuck in his throat.
Not surprising, given that his uncle is Jacob Rees-Mogg, the free-spirited Conservative backbencher so renowned for his Edwardian manner that he is affectionately known as 'The Honourable Member for the Early 20th Century'. Latin quotations, as well as the word 'floccinaucinihilipilification', trip off his privileged tongue.

Clarke, like Rees-Mogg, is an Old Etonian, from a long line of Old  Etonians. The names of his forebears are recorded on the walls of the College as Oppidan or King's Scholars. 'I am pleased I went to Eton,' he says. 'It is a wonderful school. It is producing some people who are at an outstanding level academically, and highly driven, highly motivated in other walks of life.

'At Eton there are no prizes for coming second - literally, you do not get a silver medal in athletics. It makes you work hard. And boys who are not the most academically gifted can try to be the best in some other facet of school life, as I did with sport.
'Now Eton is taking on the running of an academy, and that is great. That will allow other people to get the opportunity I was lucky enough to get, intellectually, socially, in sport, in arts, whatever.
'I would like to see the return of grammar schools. None of the last few governments has got it to work how they would want it to.'

He talks affectionately, and encyclopaedically, of his family. His great-grandmother was Elfrida Roosevelt, making him first cousin, four times removed from Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, and second cousin, four times removed from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd.

His heritage on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a link to pioneering gold mining in Africa, shapes his outlook. 'All my family have worked hard, creating something for themselves,' he explains. 'I am appreciative of the chances I have been given but I want to achieve  something for myself - win titles rather than just inherit one.

'I like the way it is in the States. Here people can begrudge people success or money or a better car; in America they say, "What can I do to have a better car as well?" In Britain we live by the politics of envy; in America they live by the politics of aspiration. Athletics is a pure meritocracy. I cannot get into a final on the basis of who my father is.'

Clarke, 23, is a member of the training group at Bath run by the septuagenarian sage of British  hurdling, Malcolm Arnold. The group includes 400m world hurdles champion Dai Greene, hewn from the Welsh valleys and earthier than the tweed-wearing OE. Greene ribs Clarke for having God Save the Queen on his iPod. The banter is softened by the fact that Clarke does not take himself too seriously.
He only took up athletics properly in his last year at Eton, an echo of Lord Burghley, the Sixth Marquess of Exeter and real-life hero of  Chariots of Fire, who only started running after going up to Cambridge.
'I saw Burghley's name everywhere at Eton. I looked him up. He was a friend of my grandfather and the archetypal amateur.'

Clarke, who is studying for a  Masters in management and finance from this autumn, has been asked to recreate the apocryphal scene of Burghley jumping over hurdles with champagne glasses on top of them - in real life it was matchboxes - but does not wish to do so until he has replicated  Burghley's own achievements.
Progress towards that summit is proving slower this season than he had hoped, having broken his wrist in training and twice torn a  hamstring. But on Saturday he will be back in the Olympic Stadium displaying the stoic, stiff upper lip of the English aristocracy.
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