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Can they beat the clock?

Trinity College Clock TowerTrinity freshers will take to the cobblestones and flagstones tomorrow in the annual Great Court Run, prior to the Matriculation Dinner that evening.

This famous sporting (and now fancy dress) event is a highlight of Freshers’ Week at Trinity. The race was famously depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.

New students attempt to run round the perimeter of Great Court in the 44-50 seconds it takes for the clock to strike 12 o’clock, which it does twice. Since the eighteenth century Trinity’s clock has chimed twice, first on a low note and then on a higher note.

When students limber up this Saturday they will follow in some illustrious footsteps. Leading middle-distance runners Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe competed in a Great Court Run recreated for charity in October 1988. Coe won, but he did not beat the clock.

According to Dr Hugh Hunt, Keeper of the Clock and a Fellow of Trinity, the clock is remarkably good at keeping time, but it is affected by the weather. Dr Hunt explained:

Recently a barometric compensator was fitted which enables the clock to keep time within one second per month. The time it takes to strike twelve is anything between about 44 and 50 seconds depending on the weather and the time of the week.

On a hot humid day the Great Court Run is a much tougher challenge than on a cold dry day. Also, because the cables that drive the bells run around a drum, the bells run faster within two days of the clock having been wound.

Even if no-one beats the clock this Saturday, there will be prizes. For the race proper, a specially commissioned photographic portrait of the winner will be taken afterwards. (It will be ready for the winner’s mantelpiece after reproduction and framing).

There will also be prizes for the best fancy-dressed runners, which will be judged by Nathaniel Gliksman and Francesca Baker-Pittman of Trinity’s Alumni Relations and Development Office.

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