Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to use our blog post to highlight an update to the Oldest Olympians site, specifically the historical list of the oldest living Olympian. Thanks to a little additional research, we have been able to complete the table to the beginning of the Games!
Previously, we knew that Emily Rushton, an archer in the Double National Round tournament at the 1908 London Games, had been the oldest Olympian at some point in her life, as she was born in the first quarter of 1850 and died June 30, 1939 at the age of 89. What we were not certain about, however, was if John Butt had ever held the title. Butt, a two-time Olympic trap shooting medalist, was born October 30, 1850, meaning he was definitely younger than Rushton, and died at some point in 1939. If he had died after June 30, then he would have been the oldest living Olympian until his death, but we finally discovered that he died in the first quarter of 1939, meaning that he was never the titleholder.
From there, our journey back in time was a little easier. Before Rushton, George Barnes, born sometime in 1849 and died January 25, 1934, was the oldest living Olympian. He won bronze in the small-bore rifle, prone, 50 and 100 yards competition at the 1908 London Games and, although we do not know the exact date of his birth, no one else could have held the title since the death of his predecessor, British art competitor Jacob Rees. Rees, born October 15, 1844, represented Great Britain in the architecture competition at the 1912 Stockholm Games, and died one day after his 89th birthday. He in turn was preceded by 1904 American roque silver medalist Smith Streeter, who died December 17, 1930. Although Streeter’s date of birth is sometimes seen as July 1, 1851, records indicate that he was actually born July 14, 1844. Before him was French fencer Luc Alessandri, born May 31, 1842, who competed in the masters sabre event at the 1900 Paris Games and died August 18, 1926.
Prior to Alessandri, the oldest living Olympian was American archer David McGowan, born January 10, 1838 and died September 22, 1924. He competed in the double York round in 1904 and placed 11th. He had been the oldest Olympian for over a decade, since the death of French equestrian Louis, Count du Douet de Graville on October 12, 1912. Graville, who was born February 27, 1831, took part in the four-in-hand equestrian driving competition in 1900. Before Graville, French sailor William Martin was the oldest living Olympian, someone we have covered in the past because he is the Olympian with the earliest known date of birth: October 25, 1828.
Since Martin competed in 1900, however, we still needed to know who was the oldest living Olympian prior to his competition. Thankfully, working forwards from the 1896 Athens Games was not a difficult task. The first “oldest Olympian” was Eugen Schmidt of Denmark, born February 17, 1862, who competed in the very first Olympic event, the 100 metres dash. He held the title for two days, until Italian sport shooter Giuseppe Rivabella, born sometime in 1840, competed on April 8. An individual born as late as Schmidt would not hold the title again for six decades. Rivabella then held the title until Martin competed in 1900.
And that completes the list! Of course, we are missing lots of data on early competitors at the Games, so it seems likely that this will change at some point in the future. For example, since we last posted about Olympians who competed for an unknown country, Olympedia has added one more to its database: an unknown rider who competed in the equestrian jumping competition at the 1900 Paris Games. On the other end of the spectrum, we learned that Italian gymnast Bianca Ambrosetti, who is usually cited as the shortest-lived Olympian after having died in 1929 from tuberculosis at the age of 15, actually lived a few years longer according to research by Diego Rossetti, dying March 27, 1933 at the age of 19. For now, however, we have the most complete list we can get with our current data!