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.

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