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Lawson "Robbie" Robertson: Champion Coach of the I-AAC

Lawson Robertson was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, September 24, 1883. Robertson, known to his friends and teammates as Robbie, joined the Irish-American Athletic Club in 1903, and served as the Winged Fist's coach from 1909 to 1916, when he was hired as the coach of the University of Pennsylvania track team, a position he held until 1947.

Robertson competed in the 1904, 1906 and 1908 Olympic games as a member of the Irish-American Athletic Club. He won a bronze medal in the standing high jump in 1904 in St. Louis, and in Athens in 1906 he won a silver medal in the standing high jump and a bronze medal in the standing broad jump.

In 1904 he held the national championship for the 100-yard distance. From 1906 to 1908, he held the record for the 300-yard distance and in 1908, he broke the world's record for the odd distance of 65 yards with a time of seven seconds flat.

In 1912, when Mike Murphy, the coach U.S. Olympic track & field team fell ill, Robertson, in his capacity as assistant coach, became the de facto coach of the team, which garnered 16 of a possible 32 track & field gold medals. Robertson also served as the assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic track & field team in 1920, and as the head coach for the next four consecutive Olympiads; 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936.

The following article, from an unidentified newspaper clipping published in 1911, details Robertson’s early athletic achievements, and makes the case for him as head coach of the 1912 U.S. Olympic team.

Unidentified newspaper clipping, September 12, 1916.

“Lawson Robertson, the clever trainer of the Irish-American A.C., is being spoken of very favorably at present as being the most logical man to handle Uncle Sam’s forces at the Olympic games next year.

"He has competed successfully as an athlete for Knickerbocker A.C., and later for the Irish-American A.C. and the Thirteenth Regiment. He has won national, metropolitan, Canadian and military athletic league championships in the sprints and jumps.

"He and Hary Hillman, now coach at Dartmouth University, were the greatest three-legged team that were ever strapped together. Their eleven seconds flat for 100 yards will stand for many a day. (For this feat, Hillman and Robertson were featured in the first ever Ripley's Believe It or Not cartoon).

"Lawson was captain of the Irish-American A.C. for seven years, and under his charge the Celts won every metropolitan, national and Canadian championship that they tried for.

“The Pennsylvania coach at one time was one of the greatest athletes in the country.  He won points for the United States in three Olympic meets, at St. Louis, at Athens and in London. He coached the greatest track team ever developed in America, the old Irish-American A.C.”

– Unidentified newspaper clipping, March 18, 1924.

Detail from a cartoon in The Brooklyn Eagle, June 14, 1908.
"Dinner for Robertson: Irish-American A.C. Coach Soon to Become Quaker Mentor," NYT, Sept. 13, 1916.
1910 Mecca Cigrattes trading card.
Coach Robertson (center wearing suit) with the 1911 I-AAC champion junior team.
"He has worn the American shield on his breast at three Olympic games – St. Louis, 1904; Athens, 1906; London, 1908. He was a point scorer for the Red, White and Blue in St. Louis, 1904 and Athens, 1906. After the Olympic games in London, 1908, he took a team of 19 men, all members of the Irish-American A.C., on a tour through Ireland, England, Scotland, France and Sweden, and competing against a team composed of the best men in the above-mentioned countries, and won every meet. That’s going a few, I guess, and argues well for the big Scot’s ability.

"In 1909 he turned professional and took up the job of coaching for the Irish-Americans and the Thirteenth Regiment, and has done wonders with the men under his charge, winning every championship that he has gone after with each organization, with the exception of the meets in 1910, when the New York Athletic Club beat him by a solitary point.

"Robbie has done wonders with green athletes, as he proved in the cases of A.R. Kiviat, Emilio Lunghi, Alvah T. Meyer, Frank Riley and Jack Monument, whom he developed from practical novices to world-beaters and record-breakers.

"Robbie is one of the greatest students and dopesters in the athletic game, and knows practically every man in the game at present day. As he has been a product of the present-day school and knows the game from A to Z, as it is run at present, as he has been through the mill all over  the world in the capacity of athlete, captain and manager of teams and lastly as coach and newspaper critic. 

"So here’s to Robbie who is a good fellow personally is the right man in the right place, loved by all the athletes and fans who know him, and he has magnetism and personality enough to make good friends of those who he has still to meet and deal with.  Therefore, why shouldn’t an ambitious fellow, who has been very instrumental in placing the grand and ancient pastime of our great Greek ancestors in the high and honorable position which it know enjoys, be given he task of whipping into shape Uncle Sam’s best and bravest sons who will battle for the athletic supremacy of the world for the honor of the colors that they wear in the arena at Stockholm, 1912, when he has the ability to do so.”

Plaque in honor of Lawson Robertson at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field. This is the only known plaque in the U.S., in honor of a former member of the I-AAC.
Most of the images on this page have been generously donated to the Winged Fist Organization by Lawson Robertson's daughter-in-law, Marian Robertson, and may not be reproduced without permission.