They Too Had Their Olympic Moments

Not everybody with connections to the Olympic Games was an athlete who competed in the Olympics. Here are a number of famous people, in various fields, who had Olympic connections often not well known.


Sissel – the Norwegian classical cross-over soprano with the Angelic pipes was well-known in Norway since she was a young teenager. But it was her appearance singing the Olympic Hymn at the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics that helped her become known to an international audience.

Sissel at Lillehammer Closing Ceremony

Gordon Lightfoot – Canada’s best known folk singer was past his popular prime in 1988 but was still chosen to sing at the Opening Ceremony of the Calgary Winter Olympics, performing one of his old standards, “Alberta Bound,” as the world’s athletes came to Alberta.

Placido Domingo – Placido Domingo, the well-known Spanish tenor, performed at the Closing Ceremony of two Olympic Games. In 1992 at Barcelona, Domingo sang the Olympic Hymn. In 2008 at Beijing, Domingo performed a duet with Song Zuying, singing The Flame of Love.

Oddjob – In the very popular James Bond movie, “Goldfinger,” the villain was Auric Goldfinger, who was trying to take over the world’s gold supply. Goldfinger’s lead henchman and enforcer was a stocky Oriental-appearing muscleman named Oddjob. Oddjob was played by Harold Sakata, a Hawaiian-American of Japanese ethnicity, who won a silver medal in weightlifting at the 1948 Olympics for the United States.

José Carreras – At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Closing Ceremony, José Carreras, the famed Spanish tenor, sang _Amigos Para Siempre_ with Britain’s classical cross-over lyric soprano Sarah Brightman. Brightman would also sing at another Olympics, performing You and Me with Chinese tenor Liu Huan at the Beijing Opening Ceremony in 2008.

Gore Vidal – Eugene “Gene” Vidal competed in the decathlon for the United States at the 1920 Olympic in Antwerp. Vidal was a West Point graduate who also starred in football at the US Military Academy. His son was Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, who became much better known as Gore Vidal. Gore Vidal was a writer, screenwriter, and political analyst in the United States, once described as “the best all-around American man of letters since Edmund Wilson.”

Dr. Seuss – American shooter Theodore Geisel competed in two shooting events, both variants of free rifle at 200 metres, at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. The events are not considered Olympic events at this time, but would be considered demonstration events. Geisel’s grandson, Theodor Seuss Geisel, later became much better known under his nom-de-plume of Dr. Seuss, popular author of children’s books.

Charlotte Rampling – Charlotte Rampling is a well-known actress, appearing on over 100 films in the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and France. She was the daughter of Godfrey Rampling, who won two medals with British 4×400 metre relay teams – a silver in 1932 and a gold in 1936.

Swoosie Kurtz – An American actress, Swoosie Kurtz has won one Emmy Award (American television) and two Tony Awards (Broadway). Her father was Frank Kurtz, bronze medalist in platform diving at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Frank Kurtz later became a highly decorated military pilot, having received the Croix de Guerre, 3 Silver Stars, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 3 Air Medals, and 5 Presidential Citations for his aviation heroics. During World War II he piloted the Boeing B17-D Flying Fortress bomber, which was nicknamed “The Swoose” because it resembled a half-swan, half-goose. The Swoose is the source of the unusual name for his daughter, as Swoosie is her real given name.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Conan Doyle was on-hand to watch the 1908 Olympic Marathon, having been asked to write a story about it for The Daily Mail. His story on the Dorando Pietri tragic ending appeared in that newspaper on the next day. He also started a financial fund which was given to Pietri, violating all contemporary amateur rules. Conan Doyle is often considered to have been one of the officials assisting Pietri across the line in the famous photo seen below, but that is incorrect, as those two officials were Jack Andrew, the Clerk of Course, and Dr. Michael Bulger, the Chief Medical Officer.

James Foulis – Jim Foulis was a Scottish golf professional who won the 2nd US Open ever played, in 1896. His Olympic connection came because, after moving to the United States, and settling in the midwest, he became a well-known golf course architect, and designed the Glen Echo Country Club course, the site of the 1904 Olympic golf tournament, the last time golf was contested at the Olympics.

Walt Disney – known for Disney World, Disneyland, multiple movie and television productions, Walt Disney was also the man responsible for choreographing the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.

Miloš Forman; Kon Ichikawa; John Schlesinger; Mai Zetterling – These four international directors, responsible for multiple popular movies, were four of the eight directors chosen to co-direct the Official Movie of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Because there were eight directors, the movie was entitled “Visions of Eight.”

Davis Cup – The Davis Cup was donated by Dwight Filley Davis as an international team tennis trophy in 1900, while Davis was still a student at Harvard. Dwight Davis later played in the 1904 Olympic tennis tournament, reaching the round of 16 in singles, and the quarter-finals in doubles. Davis would enter politics and serve as the United States’ 49th Secretary of War (later called Secretary of Defense) from 1925-29.

Wightman Cup – The Wightman Cup was an international team tennis trophy for women, which was contested between the United States and Great Britain from 1923-89. The trophy was donated by US tennis star Hazel Wightman, who won the US singles title four times from 1909-19, including three times in a row (1909-11). Wightman played in the Olympic tennis tournament in 1924, winning gold medals in both ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles.

Bobby Orr, Sophia Loren, John Glenn, Stephen Spielberg, Lech Wałeşa, Desmond Tutu – all of the above, famous in multiple fields, helped carry in the Olympic Flag at the Opening Ceremony of various Olympic Winter Games. Orr, considered by many the greatest ever ice hockey player, carried the Olympic Flag at Vancouver in 2010. Legendary actress Sophia Loren was an Olympic Flagbearer at Torino in 2006. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, and was later a US Senator for many years. Stephen Spielberg is a movie director who has directed some of the most popular movies ever made, including Jaws, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and ET – the Extra-Terrestrial. Wałeşa and Tutu were were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and 1994 respectively, Wałeşa for his role in Solidarność, and his role in helping Poland break free from Soviet control; while Tutu was a South African bishop responsible for helping the break-up of apartheid in that nation. The last 4 all carried the Olympic Flag at Salt Lake City in 2002.

Olympian Bio of the Day – Evelyn Furtsch

Happy 100th Birthday

Evelyn Furtsch Ojeda (USA-ATH-1932)


B. 17 April 1914; San Diego, California, USA

Year-Sport Event Place Medal
1932 Athletics 4×100 m relay 1 Gold

Evelyn Furtsch won a gold medal in the 1932 4×100 relay, running the second leg. She had not qualified for the 100 metres because both Elizabeth Wilde and Louise Stokes finished ahead of her at the Final Trials, but were not selected for the Olympics, so Furtsch, representing the Los Angeles Athletic Club, was perhaps fortunate to have won a place on the relay team for the Los Angeles Games. The only time she placed in an AAU championship was in 1931, when she finished second in the 100 yards. After the Olympics she attended Santa Ana College for two years, but there was no track team and her opportunities for training in that era were limited, so she ended her track career, competing in field hockey and basketball and then got married after her second year of college. She was elected to the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame in California in 1985 and in 1984, received the Ralph Clark Distinguished Citizen Award in Santa Ana.

As of this date, 17 April 2014, Evelyn Furtsch is the 8th oldest living Olympian (see the page, by one of our compatriots, Paul Tchir). She is the 3rd oldest living American Olympian, after Walter Walsh (1948 SHO – *4 May 1907) and Simone Schaller (1932 ATH – *22 Aug 1912) (Walsh is the oldest living Olympian). She is the 2nd oldest living gold medalist, after Hungarian Sándor “Alex” Tarics (1936 WAP – *23 Sep 1913). She is the 3rd oldest living track & field Olympian – after China’s Guo Jie (1936 – *16 Jan 1912) and Schaller, and the oldest living track & field gold medalist and medalist.

Evelyn Furtsch becomes one of only two US Olympic gold medalists to have survived to 100, the other being James “Babe” Rockefeller, who won gold in 1924 rowing coxed eights (alongside Benjamin Spock). She becomes one of only two US Olympic track & field medalists, and one of only four Olympic track & field medalists (all nations) to have survived to 100, joining the following: Herman Brix (USA – 1928 shot put), Godfrey Rampling (GBR – 1932 and 1936 4×400), and Edvin Wide (SWE – 5 medals from 1920-28). She joins Godfrey Rampling as the only Olympic track & field gold medalists to survive to 100, Rampling winning gold in the 1936 4×400 relay.

Personal Best: 100 – 12.2 (1932)

Titanic Olympians

The Titanic sank 102 years ago, on 15 April 1912. There were two Olympians on board – one who had already competed (in 1906), and one who would compete in 1924. The Titanic Olympians are described below:


Sir Cosmo Edmund Duff-Gordon, 5th Baronet of Halkin (GBR-FEN-1906)

B. 22 July 1862; London, Greater London, England, Great Britain

D. 20 April 1931; London, Greater London, England, Great Britain

1906 Fencing – Team Épée – Silver medal

Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon was the 5th Baronet of Halkin, a title he inherited because of the title of Baron being inferred on a great-uncle in 1813. He lived on his country estate, Maryculter, in Kincardineshire, near Aberdeen, Scotland, where he was a sheriff and magistrate. In addition to his skill as a fencer, Duff-Gordon practiced martial arts.

Duff-Gordon survived the sinking of the Titanic, along with his wife and her secretary. Duff-Gordon was one of many men in First Class who were allowed into lifeboats, while many women and children, mostly from Third Class, never reached the upper deck where the lifeboats were stowed. It was also rumored that the Duff-Gordons bribed the crew in their lifeboat to not rescue people in the water, but a later investigation by the British Board of Trade’s Inquiry cleared them of this alleged cowardice.

The inquiry concluded that if their lifeboat had rowed towards the people in the water, it may have been able to rescue some of them, but the conclusion regarding the bribery allegation noted, “The very gross charge against Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon that, having got into No. 1 boat he bribed the men in it to row away from the drowning people is unfounded.”

Per his family, Duff-Gordon spent much of the rest of his life as a recluse. Because of his wealth he did not have to work and little else is known of Cosmo Duff-Gordon after the Titanic incident.


Richard Norris “Dick” Williams (USA-TEN-1924)

B. 29 January 1891; Geneva, Switzerland

D. 2 June 1968; Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA

1924 Tennis – Mixed Doubles – Gold Medal; Singles – quarter-finalist; Doubles – quarter-finalist

The early years of Dick Williams’ life were spent in Lausanne where his father, a tennis enthusiast, was working; under his father’s tutelage he won the Swiss Junior title at the age of 12. In 1912, Mr. Williams accompanied his son to America when Dick was accepted for Harvard. Dick Williams was 21-years-old when he was travelling in first class aboard the Titanic with his father, Charles Duane Williams, when it struck the iceberg. His father perished in the disaster. Shortly after the collision, Dick Williams freed a trapped passenger from a cabin by breaking down a door, and Williams remained on the Titanic almost until the very end, when he was washed overboard by a wave that also took several others. He made his way to Collapsible A Lifeboat and held on to its side for awhile before getting in. The survivors in Collapsible A were then transferred to Lifeboat 14, but even after entering Lifeboat 14 Williams spent several hours waist-deep in freezing water, which left his legs frostbitten and so severely injured that the Carpathia’s doctor recommended amputation. Williams, who did not want his tennis career to be cut short, refused.

Dick Williams won the mixed doubles at the U.S. championships and the national clay court singles in his first American season (1912) and was ranked second nationally that year. In 1913, while still at Harvard, he began his Davis Cup career and in his eight single matches that year he lost only to James Parke, the Irish rugby football international, in the match against Great Britain. Williams was to remain a Davis Cup player until 1926 and in the intervening years he won the U.S. singles title twice and the men’s doubles on two occasions. Williams graduated from Harvard in 1916 and was soon with the armed forces. He saw active service as a captain of artillery and served as an aide to Major Gen. John Harbord, winning the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur in the second battle of the Marne. After the war, Williams played his tennis at the Longwood Cricket Club and started his career as a stockbroker.

In 1920 he teamed up with Charles Garland and they became the only Harvard-Yale combination to ever win the Wimbledon doubles. At the 1924 Olympics, Dick Williams went out to Henri Cochet in the quarter-finals of the singles; in the men’s doubles, playing with his former Harvard teammate, Watson Washburn, he again lost in the quarter-finals when the South Africans, Condon and Richardson, came back to win after trailing by two sets to one. However, in the mixed doubles, with Hazel Wightman as his partner, they scored a comfortable victory after disposing of the Wimbledon champions, Kitty McKane and Brian Gilbert of Great Britain, in the semi-finals.

Olympic Bio of the Day – Hermann Weingärtner

B.     27 August 1864; Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg (GER)

D.     22 December 1919; Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg (GER)

Year-Sport Event Finish Medal
1896 Gymnastics Horse Vault 3 Bronze
Parallel Bars AC
Parallel Bars Teams 1 Gold
Horizontal Bar 1 Gold
Horizontal Bar Teams 1 Gold
Rings 2 Silver
Pommelled Horse 2 Silver

Hermann Weingärtner was one of Germany’s best gymnasts in the 19th century, and the best gymnast in Athens. With the German team, he won two Olympic titles, and added an individual gold on the horizontal bar, as well as two second places and a third. His second place in the rings event was a close one: with the jury deadlocked on a decision, Greek Prince Georgios cast the deciding vote in favor of his countryman Ioannis Mitropoulos. Weingärtner’s six medals was the most won by any athlete at the 1896 Olympics, and his three gold medals trailed only his teammate, Carl Schuhmann.

Weingärtner was a merchant, and later took over management of a swimming pool in Frankfurt am Oder, which had been established by his father. He died in the Oder attempting to save a drowning person.

Olympic Bio of the Day – Carl Schuhmann

12 May 1869 in Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen (GER)

24 March 1946 in Charlottenburg, Berlin (GER)


Year Sport Event Place Medal
1896 Athletics Triple Jump 5
Shot put AC
Long Jump AC
Gymnastics Vault 1 Gold
Horizontal Bar AC
Rings 5
Parallel Bars AC
Pommel Horse AC
Parallel Bars Team 1 Gold
Horizontal Bar Team 1 Gold
Wrestling Greco-Roman unlimited weight 1 Gold
Weightlifting Two-handed 4

Only six athletes have competed in four Olympic sports: three of them did so at the 1896 Olympics (with low participations), and three participated in four different skiing disciplines. The most successful of this sextet is Carl Schuhmann. The German was first and foremost a gymnast. He won three first prizes in Athens, individually in the horse vault, and twice with the German team. With the exception of rope climbing, he competed in all gymnastic events.

His second sport was wrestling. In the small field of five, the native Berliner competed against home favorite Tsitas. The final lasted for forty minutes when it had to be postponed due to darkness setting in. The following morning, Schuhmann decided the contest in his favor, but he remained very popular with the Greek public. The tiny (1.58 m) Schuhmann further competed in weightlifting and athletics, but did not place among the first three.

The 1896 Olympics were the biggest success in Schuhmann’s career, although he had several good showings at the annual German Turnfest. He did remain involved in the Olympics, visiting Athens for a second time in 1906 as a guest of honor and German team leader. Two years later, he was Germany’s team attaché in London, the city where had been a gymnastics teacher since 1898. One of his pupils, Otto Bauscher, represented Great Britain at the 1908 Games. His final Olympic appearance was in 1936, when he was even part of a gymnastics exhibition and tribute in the Olympic Stadium, despite being well into his 60s.

Olympic Bio of the Day – Spyros Louis

12 January 1873 in Marousi, Athina (GRE)

26 March 1940 in Marousi, Athina (GRE)

Year Sport Event Place Medal
1896 Athletics Marathon 1 Gold

As the winner of the first Olympic marathon at Athens in 1896 Spyridon Louis’s place in sporting history is assured. Having placed only fifth in one of the Greek trial races, he was not favored to win the Olympic title but his unexpected triumph gave Greece its only victory in a track & field athletics event at the 1896 Olympics Games and Louis was accorded the status of a national hero. Despite the acclaim, Louis returned to his village of Amarousi, where he worked as a shepherd and mineral water seller, and he never raced again. He later became a rural police officer, but lost his job when he was imprisoned on charges of falsifying military documents in 1926. He spent more than a year in jail before his trial on 28 June 1927, when was acquitted. He remained an Olympic legend and was a guest of the Organizing Committee at the 1936 Games in Berlin. The 2004 Olympic Stadium was built in Amarousi, and named after him.

Personal Best: Mar – 2-58:50 (1896).

Olympic Bio of the Day – Launceston Elliot

9 June 1874 in Mumbai, Maharashtra (IND)
8 August 1930 in Melbourne, Victoria (AUS)

Year Sport Event Place Medal
1896 Athletics 100m 3 h2 r1/2
Gymnastics Rope Climb 5
Weightlifting One-Handed 1 Gold
Two-handed 2 Silver
Wrestling Greco-Romam Heavyweight 4
1900 Athletics Discus 11

Britain’s first Olympic champion, Launceston Elliott was born in India to Charles Elliot and his third wife Ann, but he was named for the Tasmanian city in which he was conceived. He spent part of his early childhood in Australia and it was only when his father, a kinsman of the Earls of Minto gave up his post as a magistrate in India in 1887 and returned to farm in Essex that young Launceston saw England for the first time. He soon showed a keen interest in weightlifting and in 1891 at the age of 16, at which time he was already a pupil of the great Eugen Sandow, he entered for the first British weightlifting championship and made a creditable showing in a contest won by Lawrence Levy. In 1894 he won the British title and in 1896 he went to Athens for the first modern Olympic Games.

Elliot was often described as one of the most handsome men of his generation and he certainly appealed to the Greeks. The 1906 Official Report noted: “this young man attracted universal admiration by his uncommon beauty. He was of impressive stature, tall, well-proportioned, his hair and complexion of surprising fairness”. Clearly the Englishman created something of a stir in Athens and one paper carried the report that “his handsome figure procured for him an offer of marriage from a highly-placed lady admirer”. Elliot was evidently not distracted by the publicity – he won the one-handed lift and his second place in the two-handed rested on a disputed decision. He raised the same weight as the winner, Viggo Jensen of Denmark, but as Elliot moved one of his feet during the lift, the Dane was awarded first prize on the basis of having a “superior style”. In Athens, Elliot also ran in the 100 metres, took part in the rope-climbing event and was fourth in the Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestling.

In 1899 he literally went from strength to strength and set four new British records at the amateur championships. Around 1905, he turned professional and put on a Music Hall act with a partner named Montague Spencer. The two strongmen performed amid scenery representing the Roman arena and, bedecked in the garb of gladiators, they engaged in a mock contest during which they used the cestus, trident, net and other weapons of the arena. At the end of the show, Elliot gave exhibitions of strength, the favorite of which was to support across his shoulders a long metal pole from which, at each end, was suspended a bicycle and rider. With this load Elliot would start revolving, slowly at first, but finally at such a speed that the “riders” would be swung into a horizontal position.

Despite being offered the hand of a “highly-placed lady” in Athens, Elliot married Emelia Holder, the daughter of a Kentish vicar, in 1897. In 1923, they settled in Australia, the scene of Launceston’s early childhood, and he became an honored member of a group of old-time athletes. In 1930, he failed to recover from an operation for cancer of the spine and is buried in the Fawker Cemetary in Melbourne.

Olympic Bio of The Day – James B. Connolly

28 October 1868 in South Boston, Massachusetts (USA)

20 January 1957 in Brookline, Massachusetts (USA)

See also
James Connolly

Year Sport Event Place Medal
1896 Athletics Triple Jump 1 Gold
High Jump 2 Silver
Long Jump 3 Bronze
1900 Athletics Triple Jump 2 Silver
(1906) Athletics Triple Jump AC
Long Jump AC

For purely historical reasons, James Connolly must be considered the most distinguished of all United States Olympians because, on 6 April 1896, he became the first winner at the Modern Olympic Games and the first known Olympic champion in over 1,500 years. In addition to his triple jump crown, Connolly won medals in the high jump and long jump. One can safely assume that this victory adequately compensated Connolly for the decision he had made at Boston some two months earlier. Connolly’s dean at Harvard had counselled him not to make the trip to Athens because his low academic standing might prejudice his being readmitted to the university upon his return. Connolly, however, entertained no doubts as to his priorities and walked out of Harvard, not setting foot there until 50 years later when, as a well-known writer of Gloucester fishing stories, he was invited to speak on literature before the Harvard Union. In 1898, Connolly was with the 9th Massachusetts Infantry at the Siege of Santiago, but in 1900 he again sought Olympic honors. He improved on his 1896 winning mark, but had to settle for second place behind Meyer Prinstein. Connolly missed the 1904 Olympics but competed in 1906, failing to make a valid jump in either the long or triple jump. Connolly later served in the Navy and in 1912 he ran for Congress as a Progressive, although he was defeated. Connolly covered Pershing’s “punitive expedition” into Mexico for Colliers and in 1917 he became European naval correspondent for the magazine. He remained a writer for the rest of his life.

Personal Bests: HJ – 5-5 (1.65) (1896); LJ – 20-0½ (6.11) (1896); TJ – 45-10 (13.97) (1900).

The 1st Modern Olympic Games


On 6 April 1896, 118 years ago today, the 1st Modern Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece. They would last for 10 days, until 15 April 1896, although in that era, Greece used the Julian Calendar, not the more modern Gregorian Calendar, so by their reckoning, the Games took place from 25 March to 3 April 1896. Here is a detailed summary of what happened, 118 years ago.

Dates:  6 – 15 April 1896  [25 March - 3 April 1896]

Host City:  Athens, Greece

President, Organizing Committee:  Crown Prince Konstantinos

Secretary-General, Organizing Committee:  Timolen J. Filimon

Official Opening By:  King Georgios I

Number of Countries Competing:  15

Number of Athletes Competing:  ca. 246  [246 Men - 0 Women]

Number of Sports:  9  [9 Men - 0 Women - 0 Mixed]

Number of Events:  43  [43 Men - 0 Women - 0 Mixed]

Number of Nations Winning Medals:  11

Nations Making Their Summer Olympic Début:  Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, United States  (15).
The Bid: Athens was selected as the host city for the Games of the Ist Olympiad of the Modern Era at the Sorbonne Congress in Paris on 24 June 1894.  London and Paris were also given consideration as hosts, but Athens was elected by acclamation.

Games Summary:     The obvious choice for the first modern Olympics was Greece and the 1896 Olympics were awarded to Athens at the end of the 1894 Sorbonne Congress at which Pierre de Coubertin convinced the delegates to reestablish the Olympic Games.  The city of Athens embraced the Games, but the politicians were initially ambivalent, and in fact, in some correspondence reveals that they asked to be relieved of their duty to host.  Only through the efforts of Coubertin and IOC President Dimitrios Vikelas, were the politicians convinced to lend their support to the project.  Coubertin addressed a meeting of the Parnassus Literary Society, and finished by telling them, “We French have a proverb that says that the word `impossible’ is not in the French language.  I have been told this morning that the word is Greek.  I do not believe it.”  Credit for saving the 1896 Olympic Games for Athens must go to Greek Crown Prince Konstantinos, who headed the Organizing Committee and lent his considerable prestige behind the Athens Games. And although money was short, a last minute donation of 920,000 drachmas by Georgios Averof allowed the ancient Panathenaic Stadium (built in 330 B.C.) to be refurbished and used for the Olympics.

The Games themselves were far from the caliber of sport we expect today.  Only 15 countries participated and many of the top athletes in the world did not compete, as the Games were not well advertised.  The Modern Olympic Games began with an Opening Ceremony on 25 March 1896, or 6 April 1896, depending on whether or not one used the Julian Calendar (then used in Greece) or the more modern Gregorian Calendar, used by most of the world in 1896, and to this day.

The first event of the modern Olympics was the first heat of the 100 metres, won by Frank Lane, a student at Princeton.  But the first championship decided was that of the triple jump, won by James Connolly, a Harvard student, who left the Cambridge school to compete in the Olympics.  He became the first known Olympic champion since Varasdates of Armenia had won the boxing in 369 A.D.

The Americans dominated the athletics events, winning all but the 800 metres, 1,500 metres, and the marathon.  The marathon was based on the legend of Pheidippides although the more likely spelling was Philippides.  According to Herodotus, Philippides was sent to Sparta from Athens asking for help in the battle.  After the battle, a runner, whose name was Pheidippides per Lucian and Eucles per Plutarch, was sent to Marathon from Athens to tell of the victory.  Further details are sketchy, though modern legend has Pheidippides/Philippides arriving in Athens to tell of victory in the battle with the words, “Rejoice, we conquer,” and then dying from his effort.  The legend is now felt to be apocryphal but it was the reason for the creation of the race from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 25 miles.

In the marathon, there were several early leaders, notably Edwin Flack of Australia, who had won the 800 and 1,500 metres.  But midway through the race, Spiridon Loues, a Greek shepherd, took the lead and maintained it to the end.  When he neared the stadium, messengers came into the ancient vestibule and cried out, “Hellene! Hellene! (A Greek!  A Greek!),” sending the crowd into a frenzy.  The Olympic pride based on millennia of tradition was then realized by the home crowd, which heretofore had been rather disappointed by the results of the Greek athletes.  Loues won the race and became a hero, offered gifts and riches by many different Greek merchants.  But he asked only for a cart to help him carry his water and he returned to being a shepherd in his small town of Marousi.

At the end of the 1896 Olympic Games, all the competitors and spectators, including the foreign arrivals, were unanimous in their praise of Athens as an Olympic host.  In particular, the American athletes thought that Athens should be the permanent site.  The team wrote a letter to Crown Prince Konstantine on 14 April 1896, which was published in The New York Times on 3 May, suggesting that all future Olympic Games be held in Athens.  But it was not to be.  Coubertin desired that the Olympic Games should be international in scope and rotate to various cities.  He would always support that idea but perhaps the next two Olympics in 1900 and 1904 made him reconsider the idea a bit.

Medals Won by Countries

Gold Silver Bronze Total
Greece 10 16 19 45
United States 11 7 2 20
Germany 6 5 2 13
France 5 4 2 11
Great Britain 2 3 2 7
Hungary 2 1 3 6
Denmark 1 2 3 6
Austria 2 1 2 5
Switzerland 1 2 - 3
Mixed Team Medals 1 1 1 3
Australia 2 - - 2
Egypt - 1 - 1
Totals (43 events) 43 43 36 122

*No second/no third in men’s gymnastics horizontal bar, teams; no third in men’s athletics 110 metre hurdles; no third in men’s cycling 100 kilometres; no third in men’s cycling 12-hour race; no third in men’s fencing foil, masters; no third in men’s gymnastics horizontal bar; no third in men’s gymnastics parallel bars; no third in men’s gymnastics pommelled horse; no third in men’s swimming 1,200 metre freestyle; no third in men’s swimming 100 metre freestyle; two thirds in men’s athletics 100 metres; two thirds in men’s athletics pole vault; two thirds in men’s tennis singles.

†In 1896 men’s doubles tennis, Germany / Great Britain shared first place, Greece / Egypt shared second place, and Australia / Great Britain shared third place. The British player who won gold in singles and doubles tennis was John Pius Boland, who was technically Irish, but Ireland was at that time a part of the United Kingdom (Great Britain for Olympic purposes).

Top Individual Performances (3+ medals [top 3] or 2+ gold medals [titles])

G S B Total
Herman Weingärtner (GER-GYM) 3 2 1 6
Carl Schuhmann (GER-GYM/WRE) 4 - 1 5
Alfred Flatow (GER-GYM) 3 1 - 4
Bob Garrett (USA-ATH) 2 1 1 4
Paul Masson (FRA-CYC) 3 - - 3
Teddy Flack (AUS-ATH) 2 - 1 3
Louis Zutter (SUI-GYM) 1 2 - 3
Léon Flameng (FRA-CYC) 1 1 1 3
Viggo Jensen (DEN-WLT) 1 1 1 3
Ioannis Frangoudis (GRE-SHO) 1 1 1 3
James B. Connolly (USA-ATH) 1 1 1 3
Adolf Schmal (AUT-CYC) 1 - 2 3
Holger Nielsen (DEN-FEN) - 1 2 3
John Pius Boland (GBR-TEN) 2 - - 2
Conrad Böcker (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Georg Hilmar (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Fritz Manteuffel (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Karl Neukirch (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Richard Röstel (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Gustav Schuft (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Alfréd Hajós (HUN-SWI) 2 - - 2
Gustav Flatow (GER-GYM) 2 - - 2
Tom Burke (USA-ATH) 2 - - 2
Ellery Clark (USA-ATH) 2 - - 2

Technically, in 1896, gold, silver, and bronze medals were not awarded as they are at later Olympic Games. In 1896, the winner received a silver medal, the runner-up a bronze medal, and there was no medal for third place, which is often not even mentioned in various results and descriptions of the events. However, as do many modern chroniclers of the Olympic Games, we term places 1-2-3 as winning gold, silver, bronze medals for consistency with more modern custom.

Youngest Top Three, Men

10-218                   Dimitrios Loundras (GRE-GYM)

Youngest Champion, Men

16-101          Ioannis Malokinis (GRE-SWI)

18-070          Alfréd Hajós (HUN-SWI)

Oldest Top Three, Men

36-103          August Goedrich (GER-CYC)

36-102          Georgios Orfanidis (GRE-SHO)

31-225          Hermann Weingärtner (GER-GYM)

Oldest Champion, Men

36-102          Georgios Orfanidis (GRE-SHO)

31-225                   Hermann Weingärtner (GER-GYM)


Champions by Events – 1896 Athens

Athletics (Track & Field) (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
100 metres Tom Burke (USA)
400 metres Tom Burke (USA)
800 metres Edwin “Teddy” Flack (AUS)
1500 metres Edwin “Teddy” Flack (AUS)
Marathon Spyridon “Spyros” Louis (GRE)
110 metre hurdles Tom Curtis (USA)
High jump Ellery Clark (USA)
Pole vault Bill Hoyt (USA)
Long jump Ellery Clark (USA)
Triple jump James Connolly (USA)
Shot put Bob Garrett (USA)
Discus throw Bob Garrett (USA)

Cycling (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
12 hour race Adolf Schmal (AUT)
100 kilometres Léon Flameng (FRA)
1000 metre time trial Paul Masson (FRA)
10 kilometres Paul Masson (FRA)
Road race (individual) Aristidis Konstantinidis (GRE)
Sprint Paul Masson (FRA)

Fencing (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
Foil (individual) Eugène-Henri Gravelotte (FRA)
Foil for masters Leonidas “Leon” Pyrgos (GRE)
Sabre (individual) Ioannis Georgiadis (GRE)

Gymnastics (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
Horizontal bar Hermann Weingärtner (GER)
Horizontal bar (team) Germany
Horse vault Carl Schuhmann (GER)
Parallel bars Alfred Flatow (GER)
Parallel bars (team) Germany
Pommelled horse Louis Zutter (SUI)
Rings Ioannis Mitropoulos (GRE)
Rope climbing Nikolaos Andriakopoulos (GRE)

Shooting (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
Free pistol Sumner Paine (USA)
Free rifle (200 metres) Pantelis Karasevdas (GRE)
Free rifle (300 metres) Georgios Orfanidis (GRE)
Military pistol John Paine (USA)
Rapid-fire pistol Ioannis Frangoudis (GRE)

Swimming (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
100 metres (for sailors) Ioannis Malokinis (GRE)
100 metre freestyle Alfred Hajos (HUN)
500 metre freestyle Paul Neumann (AUT)
1200 metres Alfred Hajos (HUN)

Tennis (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
Singles John Pius Boland (GBR/IRL)
Doubles Great Britain/Ireland & Germany

Weightlifting (Men)

Event Champion (Nation)
One-handed lift Launceston Elliot (GBR)
Two-handed lift Viggo Jensen (DEN)


Event Champion (Nation)
Unlimited class (Greco-roman) Carl Schuhmann (GER)

Olympic Bio of the Day – Tommy Green

Tommy Green and wife

Tommy Green and wife

Born 30 March 1894 in Fareham, Hampshire (GBR)
Died 29 March 1975 in Eastleigh, Hampshire (GBR)

Year Sport Event Place Medal
1932 Athletics 50 km walk 1 gold

See also

Olympic history contains many stories of handicaps that champions have overcome but few can match the adversities Tommy Green faced before being crowned champion in one of the most gruelling events of the Olympic program. Because of rickets, he was unable to walk at all until he was five years old; in 1906 he falsified his age in order to join the Army but was invalided out of the Royal Hussars four years later as a result of injuries received when a horse fell on him. Then after being recalled with the Reserve in 1914, he was wounded three times and badly gassed while serving with the King’s Own Hussars in France.

Green was first encouraged to take up walking by a war-blinded friend whom he had been helping to train for the St. Dunstan’s London-to-Brighton walk and in 1926, at the age of 32, Green won the first race he entered, a 12 mile race from Worthing-to-Brighton. Following this surprise victory he joined Belgrave Harriers and built up an impressive record in all the major road races. Green won the London-to-Brighton four times and was a six-time winner of both the Manchester to Blackpool and the Nottingham to Birmingham races. Other major successes included a win in the classic Milan 100 km. in 1930, a year which also saw him win the inaugural British 50 km. title. The only significant event that Green never managed to win was the National 20 miles championship, although he finished second on five occasions.

Undoubtedly, the greatest of Tommy Green’s many triumphs was his victory in the 50 km. walk at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. After being troubled by the strong Californian sun he was at one stage one minute behind the leaders, but walking magnificently in the closing stages, he came through to win by more than seven minutes. At the age of 38 years and 126 days, Green is the oldest-ever winner of the event. In 1936 he made a great bid to make the Olympic team for a second time, but his fourth place in the RWA 50 km. was not quite good enough to earn him selection for the Berlin Games.

After his checkered early life, Tommy Green held a variety of jobs before being employed at the Eastleigh Railway Works, where he demonstrated that accident-proneness is a continuing condition by losing a thumb in an industrial accident. On retiring from the railways, Green became a publican in Eastleigh and was a prominent figure in the local sporting world.

Personal Bests: 20kmW – 1-38:45.3 (1933); 50kmW – 4-35:36.0 (1930).


Each of us who write on this blog have our own favourite Olympian. You may have already read about Bill Mallon’s personal choice last week at Tommy Green is mine – Hilary Evans