The 1904 Gold Medal-Winning Tug-of-War Team

Today Oldest Olympians is going all the way back to the 1904 St. Louis Games, where the United States would have the largest number of athletes representing it until 1992. Of course, this is not too surprising when one considers that it was held in the midst of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and most of the competitors did not even know that they were taking part in the “Olympics”, as there were no official national delegations at the time. Thus Olympic historians have had to work hard in determining which events were Olympic and which were not and this had led to the appearance of many athletes whose identity is unknown, as they were not otherwise famous.

Milwaukee Athletic Club. Tug of War Olympic champions. [L-r, H. Seiling, C. Magnussen, P. Flanigan, B. Johnson, O.G. Olson]. [1904 Olympics]. [Louisiana Purchase Exposition]. LPE 917. Photograph, 1904. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. WF 0743. NS 16179. Scan © 2004, Missouri Historical Society.

One example that we have chosen to explore today is the Milwaukee Athletic Club’s gold medal-winning entry to the tug-of-war contest. Despite the team’s name, they were all actually members of the Columbian Knights Athletic Association in Chicago, which has made tracking them down even more difficult. One newspaper article stated that two of the members were originally from Milwaukee but had moved to Chicago, without specifying which ones. Despite the team’s victory in their event, the coverage in newspapers was relatively limited, without many identifying clues or sporting histories of the individual members. In terms of biographical data, only one, the Norwegian-born Conrad Magnusson, is complete.

(Oskar Gustave Olsen)

For two of the members, frequent contributors Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore have been able to at least identify a candidate. In addition to competing in the tug-of-war event, Oscar Olson was also one of four participants in the two-handed weightlifting event. Newspaper accounts seem to confirm that an O.G. Olsen was a member of the Sleipner Athletic Club (later known as the Norwegian-American Athletic Association) during the 1900s in Chicago, alongside Magnusson. Census research suggests that Oskar Gustave Olsen, born December 15, 1875 in Oslo and died December 5, 1962 in Chicago was likely the athlete. This Olsen was a machinist who had immigrated from Norway in 1881 and spent his life in Chicago. Although this Oskar Olsen’s picture resembles that of the Olympian, there is no concrete evidence tying the two together. 

(Henry Conrad Sieling)

Similarly, a later-in-life photo of Henry Conrad Sieling, born February 5, 1869 in Hanover Germany and died February 6, 1949 in Chicago resembles that of the Olympian Henry Seiling. He was a laborer who had lived in Chicago since immigrating as an infant, and research of census records suggests that he is a likely candidate, though we have not been able to verify this with certainty. As for Sidney Johnson (whose name is sometimes listed as “B. Johnson” or “B. B. Johnson”) and Patrick Flanagan (also spelled “Flannigan” in some sources), we have essentially nothing except for their photos above, due to their common names and lack of other mentions in newspapers. Olson, Magnusson and Johnson seem to have competed together again in a tug-of-war event at an athletics meet in Chicago under the Milwaukee Athletic Club banner in March 1905; this is the last certain mention that we have been able to find. Even though we have nothing to go on, however, we still wanted to share this as a reminder that even some of the most decorated American Olympians can be lost to obscurity, and we hope that at some time in the future we can uncover the stories of their lives once more.

1948 Iranian Olympic Boxers

Continuing our look into Iran at the 1948 London Olympics, we noted recently that one of the boxers, Emanoul Aghasi, died last month at the age of 90. Aghasi was much better known, however, as the father of Andre Agassi, one of the most successful tennis players in history. Emanoul, however, is the only one of the eight boxers that Iran sent to that edition for whom we know their ultimate fate. Today, therefore, we wanted to take a quick look into the other seven and share what little we do know about them.

(Ghasem Rassaeli, from a picture uploaded by Babak Bagheri)

For two, we know at least that they are deceased. George Issabeg, born November 9, 1930, was the only boxer who returned in Helsinki in 1952; he competed both times as a welterweight, but did not advance far. We do know that he is deceased but, unfortunately, we do not know when this occurred. A grave for a George Issabeik (another potential transliteration of his name), born December 18, 1930, who died November 8, 1990, can be found in Los Gatos Memorial Park in California, but unfortunately we cannot confirm that this is the Olympian. Frequent contributor Connor Mah also found evidence that flyweight Ghasem Rassaeli, who was eliminated in his first bout, is also deceased.

Jamshid Fani of Iran (left) and Armand Savoie of Canada compete in the featherweight boxing competition at Wembley, during the Olympic Games in London, 9th August 1948. Savoie won the match. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Jamshid Fani, left, pictured at Getty Images)

About the remaining team members, we know essentially nothing. The other boxers to be eliminated in their first match were featherweight Jamshid Fani and lightweight Masoud Rahimiha, while Eskander Shora (light-heavyweight), Hussain Tousi (middleweight), and Mohamed Jamshid Abadi (heavyweight) made it to round two before being eliminated in the next. Tousi, however, was the only one to actually win a match when he defeated Sweden’s Tore Karlsson; the others received a bye.

Unfortunately, that is all we have for today, but we wanted to post this entry as an extension of our previous one in the hopes that we can shed some more light on the Iranian delegation to the 1948 London Games. We hope that you will join us next time as we continue to explore the world of Olympic mysteries!

The 1948 Iranian Basketball Team

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to take a look into another country for whom we are missing significant amounts of data: Iran. Most of the information that we are missing comes from their first official foray into the Games in 1948. With so many names that deserve attention, we have decided to focus on the basketball squad for this post.

Two of the members of that team ended up becoming better known in other fields: Fereidoun Esfandiary later achieved fame as a transhumanist writer under the name of FM-2030, while Farhang Mohtadi had a lengthy career as an engineer at the University of Calgary and lived to the age of 94. Mohtadi was not the only nonagenarian on the team; Hossein Soudipour was 95 when he died in September 2017, as was Abolfazl Salabi when he died last year. We have complete information on many of the aforementioned individuals, as well as Ziaeddin Shademan, who died in Montreal in 2009 at the age of 85.

The mysteries begin with another claimant to longevity: Houshang Rafati. According to edits on Wikipedia, his family name was actually spelled Rafatjah and he was born on June 16, 1922 in Tehran. He later moved to Switzerland and died in Geneva on January 29, 2019, aged 96. Unfortunately, we have been able to verify this information.

(Hossein Soroudi)

For three other members, we at least know a year of death. Hossein Soroudi was not only a basketball player, but also a member of Iran’s national football team, a sport in which he represented his country at the 1951 Asian Games. We know that he died in 1992, but unfortunately do not have an exact date or a year of birth. Similarly, we know that Hussain Jabbar Zadegan died in July 1997 and Ferydoun Sadeghi in December 2005, but little else about either.

About the remaining four members, Asghar Ehssassi, Hossein Karandish, Hossein Hashemi, and Kazem Ashtari, we know nothing at all, not even whether or not they are still alive. They are among the many Iranian mysteries for whom language may very well be a critical barrier to our learning more. For example, we discovered that weightlifter Hussain Zarrini, born June 19, 1930, who represented the country in the featherweight division at the 1956 Melbourne Games, was still alive in December 2019, but in coma, and we have been unable to locate an update as to whether or not he pulled through. Thus we will very likely cover more Iranian Olympic mysteries in a future post.

Return of Olympic Missing Links

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to address a topic that we have not engaged in a while: a classic Olympic missing links post. These are individuals for whom we believe that we have a date of death, but cannot confirm that the information is accurate or connect it to the Olympian with certainty. We have accumulated many such cases over the last months and today we are going to feature five of them.

Arquímedes Arrieta – Member of Uruguay’s boxing delegation to the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Arquímedes Arrieta, born May 1, 1918, represented Uruguay in the featherweight boxing tournament at the 1936 Berlin Games, where he won his first-round bout against Sajiro Miyama of Japan, before losing to Great Britain’s Jack Treadaway in round two. According to Uruguay’s Civil Registration Index, an individual by this name died in 1937 in Montevideo. Unfortunately, there is no additional corroborating evidence (such as an age) to help prove that this was the Olympian, although we were unable to find any activity for the boxer after the Berlin Games, which makes it possible that the deceased individual and the Olympian were one and the same.

Tomás Vilanova – Member of El Salvador’s shooting delegation to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics

Tomás Vilanova, born January 18, 1925, represented El Salvador in two events at the 1968 Mexico City Games, coming in 49th in the rapid-fire pistol, 25 metres competition and 74th in the small-bore rifle, prone, 50 metres tournament. He had more success at the 1950 Central American and Caribbean Games, where he captured one gold and one silver medal. We uncovered an announcement in tribute to a Tomás Vilanova Mayorga that suggests he died c. July 2007. Unfortunately, because we do not have enough information about the Olympian, we cannot connect him for certain to this notice, even though his full name is relatively uncommon.

Kamil Gampe – Member of Czechoslovakia’s modern pentathlon delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

Kamil Gampe was one of three individuals to represent Czechoslovakia in the modern pentathlon at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, where he finished 35th and last. Although he has a name that is not common, we have been unable to find any additional information about him. The only reference to a Kamil Gampe outside of the Olympic context is to the son of Czech actress Milada Gampeová. Her son was born in 1903 and died in 1968, which would make him a candidate for the Olympian. Unfortunately, we have not been able to connect him to the Olympian or find any other information about him.

John Read – Member of Great Britain’s bobsleigh delegation to the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics

John Read, born February 27, 1926, represented Great Britain in the four-man bobsledding event at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Games, where his squad placed 17th out of 21 total entrants. Like many bobsledders, information on Read is scarce, which is not helped by his relatively common name. There is an entry in the England and Wales Death Registration Index for a John Sidney Read who was born on the same day in Salisbury and whose death was registered in the second quarter of 2000. This seems very likely to be the Olympian but, without further confirmation, we cannot be certain.

Albert Piaget – Member of Switzerland’s field hockey team at the 1960 Rome Olympics

Albert Piaget, born April 13, 1928, represented Switzerland in the field hockey tournament at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where his country placed 15th out of the 16 entered teams. Domestically, he was a member of Urania Genève Sport. We found a (now-removed) obituary for an Albert Piaget who died in October 2009 and would have been the same age as the Olympian. Unfortunately, there was insufficient information to make the connection.

Finally, based off of some tips from Connor Mah, we were able to uncover the life story of one of the 1904 Mohawk Indian lacrosse team: Almighty Voice. Almighty Voice, also known as Jacob Jamieson or Jimerson, was born February 19, 1873 on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York and died August 15, 1960 in Coldspring, New York. He had an extensive sporting career in his youth and was well-known at the Carlisle Indian School. We were also able to locate his photograph, which is presented above.

South Vietnamese Olympic Mysteries

An Olympic committee for South Vietnam was recognized in 1952 and, unlike its northern counterpart, it sent athletes to the Summer Games from 1952 through 1972, after which it participated only as part of a unified Vietnamese team. Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to look into the three members from those squads for whom we are missing even a year of birth, in order to shed some light on these oft-forgotten delegations.

Trung Trung Lê and Trần Gia Thu – Member of South Vietnam’s cycling delegation to the 1956 Melbourne Games

South Vietnam sent a road race team to the 1956 Melbourne Games, but as none of the competitors were able to complete the event, the squad did not place. We know that one member of the team, Ngô Thành Liêm, was born in 1926 and died in 1980. Another member of the team, Nguyễn Hw Thoa, was also born in 1926, but as we know nothing else about him, he remains on our “possibly living” list. For the other two members, we have only an approximation for the year of birth. Trung Trung Lê was likely born c. 1928, which would place him among the Oldest Olympians were he still alive. Trần Gia Thu, on the other hand, was born c. 1934, which would make him slightly too young, but without any additional information on the lives of these individuals, we cannot say anything further.

(Vũ and Hương at the 1972 Munich Olympics)

Hương Hoàng Thi – Member of South Vietnam’s sport shooting delegation to the 1972 Munich Games

Hương Hoàng Thi represented South Vietnam in the free pistol, 50 metres event at the 1972 Munich Games, where she placed 56th out of 59 entrants. We do not have even an approximation for her year of birth, but we do know that he was married to another competitor, Vũ Văn Danh, born April 17, 1926, who is on our list of “possibly living” Olympians. It is likely that she is of a similar age, and therefore possibly among the Oldest Olympians were she still alive.

While there are many Vietnamese Olympians for whom we are missing data, we will stop here for today, because we also want to share a few updates. Firstly, we wanted to thank the family of Australian athlete Ted Allsopp, born August 15, 1926, who confirmed that he is still alive at the age of 95! We were also able to solve some of our Olympic medal mysteries, largely due to the help of Connor Mah. Enrico Perucconi, born January 4, 1925, who won a bronze medal with the Italian 4×100 metres relay team at the 1948 London Games, was still alive when we covered him on our blog, but he unfortunately died July 15, 2020 at the age of 95. Raymond Robinson, born September 3, 1929, who won two cycling medals for South Africa at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, died January 4, 2018. Argentine boxers Francisco Risiglione and Eladio Herrera, who won bronze medals in boxing at the 1936 Berlin and 1952 Helsinki Games respectively, died July 28, 1999 and November 25, 2014 respectively. Finally, Mah was able to find evidence that French bronze medal-winning cyclist Roland Bezamat, born May 26, 1928, was still alive at least in 2012, which means for now he remains on our list of living Olympians.