The O’Leary Belt was won by the novice Nicholas Murphy, who finished with a total of 808 km. One of the athletes initiated to the sport by the race was Patrick Fitzgerald of Long Island, who had earlier run 17.6 km in 59:50. Fitzgerald then competed in a number of 6-day, 14-hr/day contests and within 2 months finished his first full 6-day event with 838.5 km.
The second O’Leary Belt race was held in Madison Square Gardens in April 1880. This was a far more competitive race and was won by Frank Hart, who covered 909.7 km, a new world record. En route he set an American 24-hour record of 210.9 km. Three of the top American finishers in that race, William Pegram, John Dobler, and H. Howard, then challenged Rowell for the Astley Belt. Hart and O’Leary could see no reason for traveling to Britain. Instead they invited Rowell to a return race in America.
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The sixth Astley Belt race began at the Agricultural Hall in London on November 1, 1880. Included in the field were the Britons “Blower” Brown, who had previously set a world record of 890.5 km, and George Littlewood from Sheffield, the latter competing in only his second 6-day event.
Rowell took off quickly, going through 160 km in a record 13:57:13 en route to a world 24-hour record of 235.2 km covered in 22:27. By the end of 3 days he had covered 547.4 and he finished with a new world record of 911.4 km. Littlewood was second with 756.7 km. The first American to finish was Dobler, who completed 724.5 km. The failure of the Americans was put down to the poor condition of the Agricultural Hall, which was described in the following terms: “Madison Square Gardens bears about the same relationship to it as a lady’s boudoir in Fifth Avenue does to a log hut in the Western wilds” (Osier & Dodd, 1979, p. 117).
With three Asdey Belt victories, Rowell needed only one more victory to obtain absolute possession of the coveted Astley Belt. He was challenged by Weston in the seventh and last Astley Belt race, which was held in June 1881 at the Marble Rink in London. With Weston came Daniel O’Leary, Frank Hart, Charles Harriman, and John Ennis, the latter two who had also competed in the third Astley Belt race. Regrettably, Weston fell ill the night before the race and withdrew on the third day after completing 323.6 km to Rowell’s 450.8 km.
The world 6-day record was improved three times by Americans in 1881; the last by Patrick Fitzgerald, who covered 937 km at the American Institute Building in Manhattan in December. Rowell, who was in attendance, vowed to start training the next day for a race to take place the following February. In this race, which Rowell stated was to be his last, he wished to set a record that would last forever1127 km (700 miles) in 6 days.
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