Antonio (Antun) Radmilovic (1847-1911)

Olympic Connection

This Olympic year could not be allowed to pass without finding a link to Cathays Cemetery. Fortunately, it wasn't hard to discover -and the person featured was a pretty remarkable Olympian.

In Section D of the Cemetery, just on the west side of the path heading south from the site of the former Catholic chapel, you will find a large memorial, marking the vault of the Radmilovic family. The inscription in the stone tells us that it is the final resting-place of Antonio (Antun) Radmilovic, his wife Hannah, one of their sons, John, and his wife Maria.

A native of Dubrovnik, Antun relocated to Cardiff in the 1860s and became the landlord of the Glastonbury Arms pub in Bute Street. His wife was born in Cardiff, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Their third son, Paulo Francesco "Raddy" Radmilovic, born on 5 March 1886, was to become arguably the greatest ever Welsh sportsman. Before the age of 18, he had collected around 20 trophies for his achievements in athletics. He also played golf and soccer, and he entered the boxing ring a few times. But it is as a water polo player and swimmer that he achieved the greatest success.

Radmilovic made his début for the Wales national water polo team at the age of 15, at the time, the youngest international player in the history of the sport. His Olympic career began as a swimmer at the 1906 Intercalated Games, although he won no medals.(The Intercalated Olympic Games were to have been a series of International Olympic Games, always held in Athens, half-way between, and enjoying equal status with, the normal Olympics. In the event, the only such games were those held in 1906.) Sadly, none of this was witnessed by his mother, who had died in 1897 at the meagre age of 36.

At the 1908 Games, he won a gold medal as part of the British water-polo team that defeated Belgium 9-2 in the final, when Raddy scored twice. Two days later he was drafted into the 4×200 metre relay final when another swimmer withdrew due to illness. Hungary appeared to be cruising to victory until their anchor leg swimmer became ill, allowing the British to win. Radmilovic also competed in three individual free-style events, though failing to make the finals.

He won his third career gold as part of the British Water Polo team at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, when the Austrians were defeated 8-0 in the final. His fourth and final gold came at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, when Great Britain beat Belgium 3-2inthefinal, with Radmilovic scoring the winning goal. At the final whistle incensed "home" spectators attempted to attack the British players and an armed police guard was needed as they left the pool. Unruly spectators are not just a modern phenomenon! He was a member of the British team in both the 1924 and 1928 Olympic water polo tournaments, without medal success, and 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, he competed at six Olympics. This feat was only equalled in1976byfencerBill Hoskyns.

Aside from the Olympics, Radmilovic competed in international swimming and water polo for nearly 30 years. He won his first Amateur SwimmingAssociationtitlein1907when victorious in the open water 5-mile race in the River Thames. His noted versatility came to the fore two years later when he won the 100 yards free-style. He won the English Long Distance Championships in 1907 and 1925 and, a year later, he won the English One-Mile Championship at the age 40. His victories at the Welsh National Championships took place over an even greater time-span, starting with a 100 yards title at the age of 15 in 1901 and ending with a 440 yards victory at the age of 43 in 1929. Locally, he was remembered as 'the Shark of the Taff' because of his impressive performances in the Taff Swim, which was first held in 1924.

Paulo Radmilovic -courtesy of Cardiff Central Library Local Studies Section

Throughout his Olympic career he lived in Weston-Super-Mare, where he ran the Imperial Hotel for many years. He was a member of the local Worlebury Golf Club -he was club Captain in 1938 -and represented the town's swimming and water polo clubs: he was still swimming 400 metres a day at the age of 78!

Radmilovic became the first Welshman to be inducted to the Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1969. He was the 2nd 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. In 1988, he was one of the original ten sports people inducted into the new Welsh Sports Hall of Fame. To celebrate the centenary of his 1908 double-gold Olympic medals, a plaque was placed on the Cardiff International Pool to honour him.

Paulo died in Weston-Super-Mare on 29 September 1968, but was not brought back to the family vault in Cathays cemetery and is buried in the Victorian Milton Road Cemetery in Weston, which shares many of the features and characteristics found in Cathays. His son took over the running of the hotel and continued to display Paulo's vast trophy collection. But his Olympic medals have disappeared and have not been seen for many years, so could be lying lost in a cupboard somewhere in South Wales or south-west England.

Source: Not so Grave News -May 2012 Issue Nº 10