The Canadian Olympic committee held their athletes to the very highest standards of amateurism in the world, to the point where they were encouraged to see athletics as a "hobby" to be done in one's spare time while preparing for a "real" career. To bring in a dreaded professional, someone who had succumbed to the corrupting influence of money, had to have been a difficult decision.
Five strong candidates applied for the job. Three experienced coaches in Dr. Barton of U of T, Professor Williams, who had coached Canadian athletes overseas already and Tom Flanagan, a busy track promoter and coach in Toronto, had applied for the job, as well as a high profile athlete and fledgling coach in Bobby Kerr, Olympic gold medallist in the 200 at the London Olympics. Any one of them would have been a reasonable pick.
But the committee chose Walter Knox. Walter had been declared a professional in 1907 two days after winning five events at the Canadian Track and Field championships. It seems coaching a college team for four months was serious enough to have your amateur card rescinded for life. They didn't even know about his five years of hustling and con games out in the wild west that would have really ruined his amateur credentials.
The committee surely were aware of the rumours that Knox was a professional sports hustler, the skuttlebutt around the athletics world was full of them. But no proof was ever presented to officials so they used his coaching as a reason to oust him from the pure amateur ranks.
So why was Knox their choice five years later?
Simply put, he knew more about technique and the science of sport than the other four combined. Those four, and all the other amateurs, were a part of the culture that sport is something that you just went out and did. Practice and the study of sport was time wasted from moving on with your life and career. In many respects athletics was a come-as-you-are party with the minimum of preparation.
Not so for Knox and the professionals. His livelihood depended on his ability to win races. He had learned that fitness and practice were vital to survival. Knox trained every day, he honed his technique, he studied the technical advances other athletes made, he was a student of sport. As a youth Walter had retrieved shot puts for the great George Gray, world champion shot putter for an amazing 17 years. Gray was the first shot putter to rely on technique rather than brawn, and freely shared his learnings with anyone interested. Walter was a good student. He applied Gray's analytical approach to every event and mastered them all.
So when the Olympic committee was choosing a head coach they decided to go with skill and knowledge over experience and reputation. It should have been a good choice.
The 1912 Olympics turned out to be a personnel fiasco for the Canadian team. Knox tried to apply his professional work ethic to the amateurs, who revolted. The team contained several very opinionated athletes so there were ample ring-leaders for the revolt. The two managers were AWOL for the most part. Most importantly, the team had a flashpoint in "Army" Howard, a very obstinate black sprinter who always seemed to be a source of commotion. It was turmoil from start to finish.
In spite of all the ruckus, the track team did manage to win five medals. Walter had them well prepared physically and many of them were performing better than ever thanks to Walter's technical coaching.
With the appointment of Knox as Head Coach, the amateur athletic world was admitting their limitations as a sports culture. The pros were smarter and better prepared, they knew. But they didn't let that knowledge deter them from their ideological pursuit of pure amateurism though. It would be decades before the "train every day" culture would be accepted into the amateur athletic world.