1928 Swiss Field Hockey Team

Two posts ago on Oldest Olympians, we began looking into the topic of Olympians from the 1928 Amsterdam Games who are missing their full names in our database. Several individuals sent in information that identified S. de Lanfranchi and Simon de Lanfranchi and L. le Cornu as Léon le Cornu. We greatly appreciate all of the submissions! In that vein, we decided to do another post on this topic, this time looking at the three Swiss competitors with missing full names, all of whom played for their country’s field hockey team at these Olympics.

Switzerland is an oddity in that it is a European nation for whom we have much data missing. The Swiss field hockey team that placed joint-seventh out of nine squads at the 1928 Amsterdam Games in particular has very little biographical data; as of this writing, there is only one starting member for whom we have complete birth and death information. Four others have at least some details. Of those that remain, we know the complete names and clubs for four: Adalbert Koch of the BSC Old Boys, Maurice Magnin and Max Zumstein of Urania Genève Sport, and Roland Olivier of Servette FC.

(Henri Poncet)

Of the remaining seven members, four at least have complete names: Charles Piot, Fred Jenny, Werner Fehr, and Henri Poncet. Poncet was better known as an ice hockey player with AEHC Zurich from 1921 through 1932 and played for the national team in two games at the 1929 European Championships. This brings us to our three missing names. The first, F. Fischer, played for Red Sox, Zürich, and there are two individuals with this surname active on the national team: Alfred and Beppo. Alfred would seem to be the more likely candidate, perhaps going by “Fredi” or “Freddy” Fischer, but reports on initials have known to be mistaken in the past, so Beppo remains a possibility.

For the other two, J. Loubert and R. Rodé, all the information we have on them is their clubs, Varembé and Servette respectively, and we know nothing additional about their careers. We do not have much else to add but, in addition to hoping to bring in more leads with greater attention, we hope as always that you found a few details on the lost history of the Olympics at least a little interesting and that you will join us next time for another post!

Viktor Shuvalov and Zdeněk Růžička

Normally when one among the oldest Olympians dies, we prefer to dedicate a post uniquely to them to honor their life and legacy. Unfortunately, the deaths of two very prominent individuals among the Oldest Olympians were announced today and, since we covered one of them only a few days ago and could not choose which to feature, we decided to write a quick blog post mentioning them both.

Firstly, Russian ice hockey player Viktor Shuvalov, born December 15, 1923, died today, April 19, at the age of 97. Shuvalov, who was also a footballer, crowned his decade-long ice hockey career with a trip to the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Games, where, as a member of the Soviet team that won the gold medal, he played in all seven matches. Internationally, he was a World and European Champion in 1954 and 1956 and earned an additional European championship title in 1955. He also won the Soviet Championship five times. He retired from active competition in 1958 and embarked upon a coaching career, in addition to holding several roles in sport administration, and was the last surviving member of his 1956 Olympic champion squad and the oldest living Olympic ice hockey player. Shuvalov’s death means that American Ralph Warburton, born February 7, 1924, who competed at the 1948 St. Moritz Games, is now the oldest living Olympic ice hockey player. Canadian Murray Dowey, born January 3, 1926, who won that gold medal at that edition, is now the oldest living Olympic ice hockey medalist.

Secondly, Zdeněk Růžička, whose 96th birthday we covered only a few days ago, died shortly thereafter. Růžička took part in three editions of the Olympic Games – 1948, 1952, and 1956 – and won two bronze medals, in the rings and the floor exercise, in 1948. He also competed at the 1954 and 1955 World Championships, won three national all-round individual championships (1948, 1954, and 1956), and carried his country’s flag at the 1956 Melbourne Games before retiring in 1957. He went to coach and train at his club, Sokol Brno 1, and also served as its president. By career, he had training in ceramics and worked at a brick factory. His wife Matylda was also a two-time Olympic medal-winning gymnast. He was the oldest living Olympic medalist to have represented Czechoslovakia, a distinction that now goes to Marie Kovářová, born May 11, 1927, who won a gold medal with the Czechoslovakian gymnastics team at the 1948 London Games.

1928 Missing Full Names

Recently on the Oldest Olympians blog, we have been highlighting Olympic competitors whose full names are not known. We concentrated on the 1948 London Games partially because there are so few of them from this edition, but also because 1948 is somewhat of an anomaly given that there are no competitors from the 1932 and 1936 Olympics for whom we do not have at least a full name. On the other hand, there are 17 such participants (not counting art competitors) from the 1928 Amsterdam Games: eight from Belgium, three from Switzerland, three from India, two from France, and one from Turkey. Today, we wanted to highlight the latter three cases.

(The 1928 Turkish team, pictured in the document mentioned below)

A. Şefik – Member of Turkey’s wrestling delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

A. Şefik represented Turkey in wrestling’s light-heavyweight, Greco-Roman tournament at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, where he lost his first two bouts and was eliminated from the competition. He was known in contemporary reports as “Şefik Bey”, but since “Bey” is just an honorific from that era, and there were many individuals who held it, this does not help us identify him. We do know from a very detailed report in Turkish that Şefik was a member of the Haliç Wrestling Club of Istanbul but, unfortunately, he is the only competitor not named in full from the 1928 Turkish wrestling delegation. There was a founding member of that club by the name of Bahriyeli Şefik, who was active during that era, but we cannot confirm that he is the Olympian, even though it is possible that the “A.” stands for a rarely used part of his name, or even a military rank such as Albay (colonel).

(L. le Cornu, fourth from the left, pictured at the Bibliothèque nationale de France)

L. le Cornu – Member of France’s rowing delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

L. le Cornu (or Lecornu) represented France in the coxed fours rowing event at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, where his squad was eliminated in round two. We know that he was a member of Rowing-Club Paris, and that he was the namesake of the “Le Cornu” coxed fours squad that won the French national championships in 1929. Unfortunately, this has been all we have been able to learn about him, despite him being referenced several times in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

(S. de Lanfranchi, pictured as the rightmost wrestler, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France)

S. de Lanfranchi – Member of France’s wrestling delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

Similarly, the Bibliothèque nationale de France provides us with a picture of wrestler S. de Lanfranchi, but does not provide enough information for us to identify him. De Lanfranchi represented his country in the heavyweight, Greco-Roman event at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, but lost his first two bouts and was eliminated from the competition. We know that he was active in the years surrounding the Olympics, but we have been unable to discover anything more than that.

We wanted to raise these cases not only to publicize our research in the hopes of finding some new leads, but also because it highlights a fact about much of the missing information in the database: we lack the names of these individuals because we cannot access the resources necessary to track them down, not because they are particularly mysterious. By 1928, most athletes had to truly earn their way to the Olympics, and all three of these competitors had notable accomplishments outside of the Games that were reported in the press. Unfortunately, the press of this era often left out full names of individuals to save printing space, meaning that the further back one goes, the more difficult it becomes to recreate the history. This problem is not limited to the countries mentioned in this post; although American newspapers are perhaps the most accessible digitally, there are still many American Olympians from earlier Games who remain unidentified. All this is to say is that research into sporting history is not always a binary switch, where one simply needs to locate the correct document in order to solve the puzzle (although this can certainly be helpful!). Often times, it requires piecing together enough evidence to finally crack the riddle, so we hope that you will share any tip, big or small, that might help us shed some light on these sportsmen and we thank you as always for spending some of your time with us!

Prince Philip and the Olympic Games

It would not be the Oldest Olympians if we did not make some connection between the recently-deceased Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, nearly 100 years old, and the Games. The short answer would be that he officially opened the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. A slightly more involved answer would be to say that he was the father of HRH Princess Anne, who competed in equestrian eventing at the 1976 Montreal Games, and the grandfather of Zara Phillips, who did the same in 2012. We, however, have a more tenuous connection.

Philip is often cited as being one of the modern developers of the sport of carriage driving, which is exactly what it sounds like – a competitive horse test in which the animals pulled carriages and a rider behind them. This event’s history at the Olympics, however, is far older than even the Duke of Edinburgh, having been held at the 1900 Paris Olympics. Known as the “mail coach” or “four in hand” competition, there were at least 28 entrants from six countries, although only the top four finishers are known, and individuals could have more than one entry in the competition (more precisely – the owners of the horses could have different riders). The winner, Belgian Georges Nagelmackers, for example, had two entries, and was a wealthy individual who was involved in the transportation industry.

(Depiction of the fishing tournament at the 1900 Paris Olympics)

Officially, the 1900 Paris Games contained several interesting events, including basque pelota, croquet, and underwater swimming. Unofficially, non-medal events were held in automobile racing, ballooning, baseball, boules, firefighting, and fishing, many of which have interesting stories and competitors worthy of their own blog posts. So why is this equestrian driving competition afforded Olympic status? Up until 1996, it was generally not, and until recently the winners were not listed in the official IOC database. It was only through advocacy of Olympic historian Bill Mallon, based on research by Karl Lennartz and Walter Teutenberg, that this event (among others) has come to be considered Olympic.

Edmond Brassart

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to bring you a quick update on some trivia that we have covered in the past. Some time ago, we mentioned that, to the best of our knowledge, the first Olympian to die was Selwin Calverly. Calverley also competed in sailing at the 1900 Paris Games and took second place in the 20+ Ton class. He died suddenly at the age of 45, on December 30, 1900, about four months after taking part the Olympics.

(Selwin Calverley)

At the time, however, we acknowledged that this information was somewhat tenuous due to all of the missing data on early Olympic competitors. In fact, we explicitly mentioned J. Brassard, who represented France in masters foil and épée fencing at the 1900 Paris Games and was deceased by the end of the year, although we did not have an exact date of death.

(La Passerelle du Pont des Invalides, where the incident took place, pictured at the bibliothèque numérique de l’INHA)

Thanks to research from Taavi Kalju, however, we have learned that J. Brassard was actually Eugène Edmond Brassart, born March 5, 1870 in Paris. He was killed alongside three others in the collapse of the Passerelle des Invalides, a temporary bridge built for the Exposition Universelle de 1900, on August 18, 1900 (although his body was not found until the following day). Taking place just over a month after his final event, this new information leads us to believe that he has the unfortunate distinction of being the first modern Olympian to die.

In addition to this, we have two more smaller updates. First, Connor Mah was able to determine that British gymnast Doris Woods, who we covered recently, was born August 1, 1902 in Plaistow, Essex and died September 13, 1956 in Caterham, Surrey. Secondly, we wanted to thank Wes Shutt for confirming that British biathlete Norman Shutt, born November 9, 1929, who represented his country at the 1960 Squaw Valley Games, is still alive at the age of 91. As our last update on him had been in 2009, we are very happy to add him back to our tables!