The first Astley Belt race was held at the Agricultural Hall in London in March 1878 and the second at Madison Square Gardens in October 1878. Both were convincingly won by O’Leary with a best distance of 837.7 km, a new world record. Weston entered neither.
Despondent at the American domination of this event, Astley began the search for a British pedestrian who could tackle foreigners. He chose Charles Rowell, a 24-year-old boat boy from Maidenhead, Kent, with little athletic experience besides a modest best-15-km time of 60 minutes. Rowell, who was 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighed 63 kg, was given support and time to train. In the winter of 1879 he set sail for America to vindicate British pedestrianism.
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The third Astley Belt contest was held in March 1879 at Madison Square Gardens. O’Leary, worn out from too much racing, was no match for Rowell, who won with a distance of 800.2 km, a quite remarkable performance for a novice. O’Leary retired on the third day of the race.
Three months later, the fourth Astley Belt was contested in London. Rowell was unable to compete because of injury. Weston, who had watched Rowell’s progress, had by this time realized that a good runner like Rowell would always beat a good walker. Before the race Weston had started running training. Utilizing his new technique, Weston took the lead on the fourth day of the race, finishing with a new world record of 880 km.
Three months later, the fifth Astley Belt was contested at Madison Square Gardens. Rowell regained the championship belt with a distance of 843.8 km and returned to Britain.
One week after the finish of the fifth Astley Belt race, the first O’Leary Belt race, sponsored by Daniel O’Leary, was held in Madison Square Gardens. O’Leary’s stated purpose in sponsoring the race was to develop a pedestrian capable of bringing the Astley Belt back to the United States, but financial motives may also have played a roleO’Leary and his supporters reportedly made close to $60,000 profit from the race.
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