Paulo Radmilovic – The incomparable Raddy

1886-1968

1908 Weston-super-Mare Water Polo Team English Champions. Back Row: Cecil Stradling,
H H Clark. Middle Row on deckchairs: T H Thould, P Radmilovic, A Barnes.
Front Row: Chas Stradling, H Dommett.

Biography in list form

  • 1906 Athens Olympics: These Games were not recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He competed in 100m Freestyle and came fourth, no time, but won second heat in 1:43.06; 400m freestyle, was fifth (no time), he did not finish the one-mile freestyle.
  • 1908 London Olympics: 800m relay (gold medal), 100m freestyle, second in heat (1:12.0); 400m freestyle, first in heat, finished fifth in final (6:10.0); 1500m freestyle, first in heat (25:2.2); water polo gold medalist, beating Belgium in final, 9-2.
  • 1912 Stockholm Olympics: 100m freestyle, second heat two (1:10.4), second round fifth (1:19.0); water polo gold medalist, beating Belgium, Sweden and Austria.
  • 1920 Antwerp, Belgium Olympics: Captain of the Great Britain Water Polo Team, winners of the gold medal with wins over Spain, USA and Belgium.
  • 1924 Paris Olympics (Chariots of Fire). In Great Britain Water Polo Team which lost to Hungary in the first round after three periods of extra time).
  • 1928 Amsterdam, Holland Olympics: Captain of the Great Britain side beat Czechoslovakia 4-2, Holland 5-3, lost to Germany 5-8, lost to French 1-8, finished fourth overall; qualified to swim in the 1500m freestyle, but did not compete as water polo game clashed.
  • 1930 Commonwealth Games: Swam 1650 yards representing Wales, but did not finish.
Post card of 1907 presenting the legendary Paul Radmilovic. Born in Cardiff, Walles, Radmilovic was the third son of Antun Radmilovic, a Croat from Dubrovnik, who relocated to Cardiff in 1860s. His mother was born in Cardiff, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Radmilovic competed for Britain in the Olympic Games a record six times and captained the Water Polo team four times. Possibly his finest moment in an outstanding Olympic Water Polo career came when he scored the winning goal against Belgium in the 1920 final. His final appearance was as a 42-year-old in 1928 as a member of the British Water Polo team. Source: Supplement to ‘The 1908 Olympic Games, the Great Stadium and the Marathon’ by Bob Wilcock (marathon@societyofolympiccollectors.org)

He was known throughout the swimming world as “Raddy”, and he lived in Weston-super-Mare from 1904. He was the backbone of the successful Weston-super-Mare water polo team in this small seaside resort.

However, Paulo Francesco Radmilovic was born in Cardiff on March 5th, 1886, the third son of Antun Radmilović, a native of Dubrovnik, on the coast of Croatia. Antun relocated to Cardiff in 1860s and became the landlord of the now demolished Glastonbury Arms pub in Bute Street. His mother was born in Cardiff, the daughter of Irish immigrants.

Across the road was the home of ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll, the British featherweight champion who found fame in America and, in 1910, narrowly failed to defeat Abe Attell for the world title.

Driscoll had a statue erected in his honour in Bute Street 11 years ago and, although Radmilovic cannot match that, he has had a plaque at the international pool in Cardiff Bay.

His paternal ancestors were from Makarska; grandfather from Makarska and grandmother from Dubrovnik were married and living in Dubrovnik.

He had a remarkable career, both as a competitive swimmer and most notably as a water polo player, from his Olympic debut in 1906 right through to the Amsterdam Games of 1928, when he was 42! A record six Olympic appearances, which might have been an unbelievable eight if Britain had sent a team to the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, USA, and the 1916 Games not been cancelled because of World War One.

Raddy has a claim to being Britain’s finest all-round aquatic Olympian. Certainly the Americans think so, as he was the first British swimmer to be recognised by the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967, shortly before his death at the age of 82 on September 29th, 1968. He was the second water polo player (after American Wallace O’Connor) and the third Briton (after coach Matthew Mann and English Channel swimmer Captain Matthew Webb) to be inducted.
His induction statement reads:
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PAUL RADMILOVIC (GBR)
1967 Honor Water Polo Player
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FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1906 4th (100m freestyle), 6th (400m freestyle); 1908 gold (4x200m freestyle relay; water polo); 1912 gold (water polo); 1920 gold (water polo); ENGLISH LONG DISTANCE CHAMPIONSHIP: 1907, 1925; ENGLISH 1 MILE CHAMPIONSHIP: 1926; ENGLISH NATIONALS; 1909 (100yd freestyle).
Paul Radmilovic represented his country (Great Britain) in five Olympic Games, a record that would have been six if the First World War had not cancelled the 1916 Games. On two of these occasions, 1912 and 1920, he captained the winning British water polo team.

The British invented water polo and dominated the game for 25 years, so it is fitting that their greatest star, Paul Radmilovic, make the Swimming Hall of Fame. Now 80, this four-time Olympic champion has the distinction of gold medals in both swimming and water polo. He was part of Great Britain’s winning 800 meter relay in 1908, won water polo gold’s in 1908, 1912 and 1920. In 1925, the immortal “Raddy” won every British freestyle title but one. The quarter mile escaped him in a sweep from 100 yards to 5 miles but in 1965, at age 78, he still swam his quarter mile each day.
“Swimming Times” had this to say about his 1925 performances: “. . . Mr. P. Radmilovic who surprised the swimming world by his wonderful achievement in winning the long distance championship of England, which he had also won 18 years previously. His time in 1907 was 69 minutes, 15.2 seconds and in 1925, 65 minutes, 6.4 seconds. J. A. Jarvis won this event seven times and Hatfield five, but no swimmer appears to have equaled Radmilovics striking performance for swimming and winning the long distance championships 18 years after his previous victory. Until last year he had never held the 1 mile championship of England, but at the East India docks he had quite a comfortable win. “Raddy” believes in careful and systematic training so that before the race, he has some idea as to what the final result would be. Before the mile championship, he is credited with saying: “I shall beat 24 minutes, 30 seconds.” He won easily in 24.22. How many of the younger generation could demonstrate such judgment of pace over a distance? Mr. Radmilovic has been a sprinter as well as a long distance swimmer, and in 1909, won the national 100 yards. He represented Great Britain in five: the Athens, London, Stockholm, Antwerp and Paris Olympics.”

Paul Radmilovic was an international swimmer and water polo player from age 16 until he was 45. He symbolizes water polo greatness in the Swimming Hall of Fame’s desire to be both international and representative of all elements in swimming. Raddy was born in 1877, just 6 years before the death of Britain’s first Hall of Famer, Capt. Matthew Webb, first man to swim the English Channel. Between them, these two Englishmen span the entire history of modern swimming.
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His competitive swimming career started with Cardiff Swimming Club, and in 1901, at the age of 16 years, he won his first of 15 Welsh 100-yards freestyle titles, only missing out to W J Kimber in 1921.
He continued to dominate the Welsh Championships for the 220-yards and 440-yards events when they were introduced in 1927, and he was 41 years of age.

The record he set for the quarter mile in 1929 of 5.44.2 stood until 1938. He was the first winner of the 880-yards in 1910 and won it for the sixth time in 1929.

He was almost as successful at the English ASA Championships, winning a total of nine titles over a variety of distances, but it is the span of his successes that is so impressive: Twenty years separating his win in the 1907 Long Distance from his 1927 success.

As an Olympic swimmer, he competed in the 1906 Interim Games in Athens, finishing fourth in the 100-metres freestyle. He had won the second heat of the 100-metres freestyle in 1.43.0, beating the eventual silver medalist, Zoltan von Halmay, and his fourth in the final was the best place by a British swimmer. Strangely he wasn’t included in the Great Britain 4 x 250-metres freestyle team that won the bronze medal, as he would certainly have been faster than at least one of the team, and the 47-year-old William Henry was preferred.

Two years later at the London Olympic Games, in addition to his gold medal in the water polo team, he was part of the victorious Great Britain quartets in the 4 x 200-metres freestyle relay. Two days after the final of the water polo, he was drafted into the 4×200 metre relay squad when another swimmer withdrew due to illness and swam the second leg of a dramatic race. Hungary appeared to be cruising to victory when anchor leg swimmer Zoltán von Halmay began to lose consciousness in the water. Halmay struggled to the finish but Henry Taylor had touched four seconds earlier to give the British victory. Radmilovic also competed in three individual freestyle events but failed to make a final… Although he didn’t make the final, he broke the Olympic Record in the individual 1500m with 25.02.6 and also competed in the 100-metres freestyle at both the 1908 London Olympics and 1912 Games held at Stockholm.

The competitions in water polo were arranged on the Cup Tie (elimination) system, but in such a way that the necessary number of matches had to be played for the second and third prizes between the teams qualified to take part in these rounds. The principle was adopted, that a team which had not been beaten, direct or indirect, by a team that was qualified to fight for the second or third prize, should have the right to play against the team last-mentioned, even if it (the first-named) had already been beaten by some other team. The teams entered were drawn in pairs for the first round, after which the order in which they were to meet in the second round was determined by drawing lots, so that the order in which the games were to be played, right up to the final, was fixed before the games began.
A total of 45 water polo players from 6 nations competed at the Stockholm Games. Austria had seven, Belgium nine, France eight, Great Britain seven, Hungary seven and Sweden seven.

Great Britain met Belgium in the first round, held on July 7th, at Djurgårdsbrunnsviken, and beat them 7-5 after extra time. Sweden played France the next day at the same venue, France losing 2-7. The final first-round match was between Austria and Hungary, Austria being the victors 5-4.

In the second round matches Great Britain came up against Sweden, whilst Belgium had a bye straight to the final. Great Britain got them into the final by beating the Swedes 6-3.

The final was a rather oone-sidedaffair, with Great Britain being the easy victors, 8-0, giving them Gold.

Raddy was a trudgen swimmer, which is a swimming stroke sometimes known as the racing stroke, or the East Indian stroke. It is named after the English swimmer John Trudgen (1852–1902). In trudgen you swim mostly upon one side, making an overhand movement, lifting the arms alternately out of the water. When the left arm is above the head, the legs spread apart for a kick; as the left arm comes down the legs extend and are then brought together with a sharp scissor kick. The right arm is now brought forward over the water, and as it comes down the left arm is extended again. The scissor kick comes every second stroke; it involves spreading the legs, then bringing them together with a sudden “snap” movement.

The swimmer’s face is underwater most of the time; the only chance to breathe is when the hand is coming back and just as the elbow passes the face. This stroke has been developed into the front crawl.

He ndid ot compete in the swimming events of 1920 or 1924, but in a remarkable comeback he managed to qualify for the 1928 Great Britain Olympic Team in the 400-metres and 1500-metres freestyle, but he didn’t swim because the water polo clashed with the swimming programme.
Because of this trudgen style, the selectors had threatened to drop him as he was becoming too slow. However, showing his usual characteristic grit, he went to Exmouth in Devon, rented a chalet and learned the four beat front crawl in the sea, under the tuition of a Mr Taylor, and won the Great Britain Olympic Trials that year. He thought the sea swimming helped his stroke and, besides his wins in the ASA Long Distance event as far apart as 1907 and 1926, he had several wins in the equivalent Welsh event, the River Taff swim.

His record as a water polo player is even more remarkable with a total of three Olympic Golds in the Great Britain Teams of 1908, 1912 and 1920. Perhaps his finest moment came in the 1920 final in Summer Olympics in Antwerp albeit in eventful circumstances. Great Britain and Belgium had impressed in reaching the final and the game itself was a tight one decided when Radmilovic scored to put the British 3-2 ahead. On the final whistle incensed Belgian spectators attempted to attack the British players. Armed police guarded the team as they left the pool.

He competed as a member of the British team in both the 1924 Olympic Games, held in Paris, France, when Great Britain were defeated by Hungary 7-6 after two periods of extra time; and in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, they finished fourth as continental sides had improved both their skills and speed. He was 42 years old when his Olympic career ended.

His record of four gold medals was unrivalled by any British Olympian until Sir Steve Redgrave equalled and eventually broke it by winning his fifth title in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

If one includes the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, he competed at six Olympic Games. It would only be in 1976 when another athlete, fencer Bill Hoskyns, would compete at six Games for Great Britain.

His water polo skills were not confined to the national arena and he was a good club player with Weston-super-Mare, where the team played to huge audiences. Along with this 1908 Great Britain team-mate, Tommy Thould, he led Weston-super-Mare to wins in the English Club championships in 1906, 1907, 1921 and 1925. The team was also in the finals in 1905, 1922, 1924 and 1926.

He was also an instrumentalist in Weston being Western Counties Champions in 1904, 1906-1914, 1920-22, 1924, 1927-1929.

Raddy was extremely fast and powerful, and it is reported that the best shot ever seen was at the old Alstone Baths in Cheltenham, and it was his famous “clock shot”. He gathered up the ball in his own half with his back to the Cheltenham goal and unleashed a backhand shot of the most amazing power. The ball crashed into the upright at the back of the shallow end goal, sprung back to the middle of the pool, it the edge of the bath there and rebounded into the balcony where it brought the new clock situated there down. It is said that Radmilovic is still the only man in GB to shoot so hard that you couldn’t see the ball, and several attest to seeing him shoot through the thick netting of the goal with his favorite back-flip shot. A water polo player who was taught by him as a child remembers Raddy demonstrating by potting a shot into a metal bucket placed on the side of the other end of the 100-foot pool at Knightstone Baths.

He was virtually a permanent fixture in the Welsh water polo team in the home international competitions from 1906 until he retired, usually playing centre forward. Not surprisingly, he was heavily marked by the opposition players. His son Peter remembers him often coming back with torn costumes and scratches on his back. A very self-determined man, he trained himself and included a lot of cycling for general fitness in his regime, against the advice of the day. In the garage at home, he hung a puch bag and regularly went for sessions to improve his physical fitness.

A modest man by nature, despite his great ability to entertain crowds, on returning to a large civic welcome after the 1908 Olympic Games, he hid behind some baskets at the local railway station.

Stories about Raddy abound. One told by John Trippett referring to Raddys last international when he represented Wales at the 1930 Empire Games in Hamilton, Canada, where Wales came seventh in the medal table.
Trippett was asked by Raddy to count the laps for him in the 1650 yards freestyle. Half way through he asked Trippett where he was lying in the race and when the reply came back “last”, he said, “bugger this!” And he promptly got out of the pool.

Trippett also recalls how on the voyage to Canada, Raddy conned him out of the bunk position by the porthole, stating that he had asthma and had to have a berth close to the sea air! As a consolation, he did meet the famous Hollywood pair, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

Others remember has the “person who taught the world to play dirty water polo, and then they beat us at it!”

Even after he retired from playing, he remained a larger than life character as a referee. Players of the era remember how when having sent a player out, he would demonstrate the infringement on the timekeeper, then sat by his side to inform the audience of the reason for his decision.
When he got married, such was the esteem in which he was held locally in Weston-super-Mare that the horses where detached from the bridal coach and replaced by locals and swimming club members who proceeded to pull the couple through the streets of the town.

His exhibitions at Knightstone Baths drew large audiences when he performed a series of six tricks and stungs for the delighted spectators. Several of these “fancy” swimming manoeuvres are routines in what we now recognize as synchronized swimming. He did little to endear himself to his new wife, when he rode her new “Hunter” bicycle down the water chute before exiting from the bide into a perfect swallow drive. Unfortunately, the cycle was written off!

A great all-round sportsman, Raddy excelled at all sports that required an eye for the ball, in particular, snooker, and in later life bowls. Next to swimming, he enjoyed golf, becoming a scratch player and demonstrating his competitive nature by performing press-ups and physical exercises at each hole when his opponent teed off in an effort to distracting them.
For a number of years he put on boxing tournaments at the former Tivoli Cinema which stood in Weston-super-Mare’s Boulevard, and if a boxer failed to appear, would strip off and enter the ring. When running the pub in Weston, often some rowdy elements would come over on the paddle steamer from Penarth. Locals recalled that if they caused trouble in the bar, he would lock the doors and then take them on single-handed, invariably winning the encounter. Surprisingly, he didn’t like driving, and his son, Peter, says that once Raddy had to go to London, and 14-year-old Peter was asked to drive, taking the day off school. They had got has far as Chippenham when Raddy leaned over and suggested that it might be a good idea if Peter took off his school cap.

As a hotelier by profession, he had a succession of hotels and pubs in Weston as well as the Royal York House Hotel in Bath, and was for many years the licensee of the Weston-super-Mare’s Imperial Hotel in South Parade. And his impressive collection of silverware was on display here, and continued after his death by his son.

But mystery has surrounded the whereabouts of his gongs since they disappeared after a family feud and his death in 1968.

Welsh Sports Hall of Fame trustee Rob Cole and Cardiff-born sports auctioneer Rob Madley, have been trying to find the antiques.

Mr Madley, a director at Bristol auction house Dreweatts, has traced records back for the past 20 years and can find nothing to suggest that they have come on the market in that time.

They could have been sold before that or could even be lying lost in a cupboard anywhere in South Wales or south-west England.
As well as living in Cardiff, Radmilovic lived in Bath and Weston-super-Mare.

Mr Madley said: “There is the possibility they could still be around the area. They are not the sort of things you would throw away, but they are the sort of things that in hard times could have been cashed in for gold.
“They could be lying in a pawnbrokers or a jewellers, they could have been taken in by a money lender. The possibilities are endless as to where they could have gone, but they do not appear to have come up on the market in London for the past 15 to 20 years.”

Mr Cole said: “We have been trying to locate his medals and bring them back to Wales and put them on display here. Four Olympic medals was a unique achievement only recently surpassed by Steve Redgrave.

“We are trying to find them and what I have gleaned over the last week was there was a family feud and that they got sold. So I am now chasing around auction houses trying to find out where they potentially are.
“The difficulty is that these medals are not personalised in any way.
“We have only ever had 16 gold medals and he has got four of them.”
They are marked with the place and year the games took place.
The 1908 medals feature two female figures crowning a victorious athlete with laurel leaves.

Mr Cole is also behind the plaque to honour the sportsman.
He said: “We are trying to raise his profile a hundred years on from when he won his first medals. While a lot of old timers and bookworms like myself know about him most people would not have a clue. That is why we are going to put this small plaque up.

“I could make a very strong case for him being the greatest sportsman ever produced by Wales. Never mind John Charles, Gareth Edwards or whatever.”

Mr Cole has spoken to Radmilovic’s surviving family in Wales and to the Amateur Swimming Association in his hunt but so far to no avail. The prizes could attract bids of thousands of pounds if they were sold at auction.
Mr Madley said: “For four of them you are talking £20,000 or £30,000, so if they are locked in the bedroom or the closet or a chest of drawers in Weston-super-Mare, I would love to know about it.”

The auctioneer is prepared to travel anywhere in the country to track down the medals. He said: “They are out there and I would love to get my hands on them.”

Even as an old man, Raddy still took his daily quarter-mile swim at Knightstone, driving to the pool in his dressing gown, and sometimes the wrong way down a one-way street! A sun-worshipper, he enjoyed basking on the rocks by the pool after his constitutional swim. His grand-daughter Georgina remembers him as a kindly grandfather, very tolerant on his grandchildren.

On November 5th, 1996, 18 years after his death, he received another unique honour. Paul Laumis, himself a second-generation Greek, keen sportsman and restaurateur renamed his establishment “Raddys”, in honor of Weston-super-Mare’s most famous sportsman. Although several British aquatic Olympians are commemorated in street names, as far as is known, this is the only bar and restaurant that is so named. Fittingly it overlooks the old Knightstone Baths on the headland, where Raddy led the Weston Polo Team to national success for so many years. When the Welsh Hall of Fame opened in Cardiff, he was on of the first inductees where visitors can see some of his memorabilia including his Olympic cap and costume.
In 2008, Cardiff further honored Raddy with the unveiling of a plaque at the new Cardiff International Pool.

Amateur Swimming Association spokeswoman Susan McMahon said: “The ASA is pleased with the honor that Paulo Radmilovic is receiving.
“He is one of the most awarded Olympic medalists in Britain’s history and it is appropriate to recognise his achievements on the 100th anniversary of his first two Olympic gold medals.”

The plaque has been funded by the Welsh Assembly Government.
A spokesman said: “Despite being Wales’s first Olympic gold medalist, Paulo Radmilovic is largely forgotten today. On the centenary of his first Olympic gold medal in the 1908 London Games, it is appropriate that we are reminded of his achievements in a place that will be a venue for training camps prior to the 2012 London Games. For that reason, the Welsh Assembly Government has agreed to provide £250 for the plaque”

In 2017 he finally received an honour of a plaque on the wall of The Imperial in South Parade, put up by the Town Council. However, to this dismay of the water polo fraternity, it honours him as a “swimmer” and not as a water polo player!