All posts by Paul Tchir

The 1928 Mexican Winter Olympic Bobsleigh Team, Part II

Today on Oldest Olympians we have an exciting update to a story that we covered recently on this blog. Two posts ago, we shared what little we knew of the tale of the Mexican bobsleigh team at the 1928 St. Moritz Olympics. At the conclusion, we noted that the full identities of three of the five competitors remained a mystery.

(Porfirio Díaz)

Shortly thereafter, Carlos Hernandez forwarded us some fascinating information: the entire team was composed of the close circle of Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, who had been ousted from power and sent to exile in Paris in 1911, where he died a few years later. G. and J. Díaz, therefore, were close relatives of this famous politician! Based on this evidence, and with a little help from Hilary Evans and Connor Mah on the finer details, we were able to identify these men as Porfirio’s grandsons: Genaro Díaz Raigosa and José de la Cruz Porfirio Genaro Díaz Raigosa. Both were born in Mexico City; Genaro on April 19, 1904 and José on April 29, 1907. Genaro eventually returned to Mexico and died there on December 5, 1963. José died sometime in 1988, but we have been unable to ascertain further details.

(Manuel Escandón)

As for the final competitor, Juan de Landa, we were told that his full surname included either y Escandón (from Carlos Hernandez) or Osio (from Fernando Arrechea). While we have been unable to find an exact match for either, we suspect that he may actually have been José Manuel “Pepe” de Landa y Osio, born May 28, 1899 in Tlalpan and died March 6, 1961 in Mexico City, who was the son of Guillermo de Landa y Escandón. We have, however, been unable to confirm this. This would, however, make him related to the Escandón brothers, Manuel, Pablo, and Eustaquio, who won a bronze medal for Mexico in the polo competition at the 1900 Paris Olympics.

There is certainly a much larger story to tell here, but for now this is all that we have. In terms of updates, we also wanted to thank Gérard Lefebvre, who confirmed that two-time French water polo Olympian Maurice Lefèbvre was born on October 30, 1913 in Tourcoing and died there on May 24, 1983. We will be bringing you something new shortly so, as always, we hope that you will join us!

F. Vailee

We have a quick post today for the Oldest Olympians blog, concerning the French gymnastics team at the 1948 London Games. When considering Olympic mysteries, we usually run into cases that come from before World War II, when the proceedings and competitors were often less well-documented. Today, however, we are going to look into the case of the 1948 competitor listed on Olympedia as “F. Vailee”.

(A picture of the 1948 French Olympic women’s gymnastics team, from Journal Le Petit Corse)

There was only a single gymnastics event for women contested at the 1948 London Olympics: the team all-around. France finished 10th out of the 11 teams, with only the Belgians faring worse. The competitor known as “F. Vailee” was one of the more successful members of the squad, yet she remains the only one about whom we know nothing. In fact, it seems that even what very little we have on her name is likely incorrect.

Research into French archives by Connor Mah has indicated that she was from Louveciennes and was active nationally from around 1947 through 1951, also representing her country internationally in 1949 in Italy. Her surname is given as Valle, Delle Valle, and Vallée, which was apparently her maiden name, although we do not have any clues regarding her age. The best candidate that he was able to uncover was a Carole or Caroline Della Valle of Belfort who was active in the sport in 1943, but this is far from a certain candidate. It does, however, raise the possibility that she was either foreign-born or born to a recently-immigrated family in France.

And that is really all we have. It seems unusual to have a postwar competitor whose very name eludes is, but she is not even the only French Olympian from 1948 where we lack this basic information. Perhaps we will cover some of the other nameless competitors in a future post but, whatever we bring you next, we hope that you will join us again!

The 1928 Mexican Winter Olympic Bobsleigh Team

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to share a piece of Olympic history that most people are probably unaware of. Many might be surprised to hear that Mexico, not a particularly wintery nation, has appeared at six editions of the Winter Olympics, with the most recent having been in 2010. Those who are familiar with this fact, however, may still be unaware that the country’s first participation at the Winter Games came in 1928, when it sent five men to compete in the bobsleigh event. While this appearance is fascinating in and of itself, it also contains an element of Olympic mystery that we like to showcase on this blog.

(The 1928 two-man bobsleigh event, from a photograph posted on Reddit)

The event allowed teams to be composed of either four or five men, but everyone entered five-men teams to avoid being at a disadvantage. It was postponed from its originally scheduled date and then limited to two runs due to poor weather. Of the 25 teams entered into the four/five man bobsleigh at the 1928 St. Moritz Games, Mexico placed 11th overall, coming in 16th in the first run and 8th in the second. This put it ahead of teams from more traditional winter nations, such as Switzerland, Poland, and Austria.

Given the nature of bobsledding during this era, it is not surprising that the two competitors that we do have some information about were members of higher society. Mario Casasús was a military officer who had connections to the world of finance and had an affair with the wife of American philanthropist Frank Jay Gould. Similarly, Lorenzo Elízaga was an aristocrat and property owner with a residence in Paris who later married an actress and died in Spain in 1996.

The other three competitors are more mysterious. We have a full name for only one of them – Juan de Landa – with the other two known only as G. and J. Díaz. As one might expect, nothing has yet been found about these individuals, so the question remains: who were the men who helped Mexico make their Winter Olympic début over 90 years ago? We suspect that the story could be found in Mexican archival material, but we have yet to comes across anything that might shed more light. Mexico did intend to send another team to the 1932 Lake Placid Games, but they did not compete, so we are left to wonder if perhaps some of the prospective team members intended to repeat their appearance from the 1928 edition.

We wanted to post today not only to share this interesting, if brief, story, but also to publicize it in the hopes that perhaps someone reading this might be able to provide more information. We will continue to write up Olympic mysteries here at Olympstats in the coming days and we hope that will you will continue to join us!

1928 British Gymnasts

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to look at the British delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Games. There are many gaps in our knowledge of those who competed at this edition, but we wanted to focus in on the gymnasts, as there are two in particular that have eluded efforts to track down the details of their later lives.

As a member of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute, Doris Woods represented Great Britain as part of the first national women’s gymnastics team and helped them place third in the all-around in 1928. She later took to judging gymnastics competitions, but aside from the fact that she remained unmarried as late as 1939 (and thus retained her surname) and that she may also have been a member of London’s Ibis Club, we know nothing about her. Given the lack of clues in contemporary reports and even the uncertainty about her surname (which is sometimes listed as “Wood”), the best we can say is that she is almost certainly deceased, but otherwise remains an Olympic mystery.

On the men’s side, T. B. Parkinson was a member of the British team that placed 11th and last at the Amsterdam Games. Individually, he had a best finish of joint-65th on the horizontal bars. Unlike Woods, we know much about Parkinson’s gymnastics career, including that he did not take up the sport until he was 18 and that he was British national champion in the team all-around in 1933, 1934, and 1936 with the Bolton Lads. The one critical detail that escapes us, however, is his full name, which might provide additional clues as to his birth and death. Research by Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore has suggested that he may have been Thomas Buchanan Parkinson of Bolton, born February 4, 1905 and died November 29, 1965, but thus far no one has been able to confirm this.

Thus we have another short blog entry today, but we will be back soon with more Olympic mysteries. We hope that you will join us!

Stéphane de la Rochefoucault

Just to move in a different direction, today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to feature a short and completely random Olympic mystery. Long ago, we featured the case of the 1900 French fencer Viscount de Lastic, an individual who should have been easy to identify, yet remains unknown. He is not, however, the only member of the French nobility for whom we are missing information.

The 1928 St. Moritz bobsleighing events are among the poorest documented in terms of the biographical details of the competitors, and we are missing even the full names of two of the Mexican competitors, G. and J. Díaz (in fact, that whole team is probably worth its own Olympic Mysteries blog post). One would assume, however, that the competitor known as Stéphane, Viscount de la Rochefoucault would be at least well-known enough to have a few details for. After all, we have full life stories for two of his teammates and full birth information for a third, leaving only Jacques N. Rheins as a mystery. Even for Rheins, however, we know that he was a World Championship bronze medalist in 1934.

(Coat of arms of the Maison de La Rochefoucauld)

About Rochefoucault, however, we know nothing for certain. Searching for a “Vicomte de la Rochefoucault” by the name of Stéphane yields few relevant results, save for repeated suggestions to search for the house of “de la Rochefoucauld”. This inquiry is slightly more fruitful, but leads to no viable candidates for the Olympian on the surface.

(Obituary for the Vicomte de la Rochefocault in The Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1907, pg. 11)

Searching through newspaper archives was immediately more successful, as we located the obituary of a sports patron by the name of Vicomte de la Rochefocault, who died February 25, 1907 at the age of 44. Of course, this could not be the Olympian from 1928, but it did provide a lot of family details to work with, as his full name was Charles Marie de La Rochefoucauld. Yet still, there was no Stéphane to be found in the family tree.

(Sosthène de La Rochefoucauld pictured at Genanet)

Charles Marie did, however, have a nephew by the name of Sosthène III, who participated several times in the early 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race, a sport that often intersects with those who take part in bobsleigh. Sosthène was born June 20, 1897, making him a reasonable 31 in 1928, a year in which he was also titled the Vicomte de Rochefoucauld.

It seems almost certain, therefore, that Sosthène was the Olympic bobsledder, but, unfortunately, we were unable to locate a smoking gun. Sosthène died October 20, 1970, so if it was him, he was never among the oldest Olympians. Nonetheless, we hope that you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of exploring unknown Olympians.

Post-World War II Olympic Mysteries

Today on Oldest Olympians we are concluding our look at Irish Olympians who were born before 1931 for whom we lack either a date of death or confirmation that they are still alive. We have just three more competitors to cover, all of whom took part in the Games after World War II. Although this means that they could, in theory, still be alive, we believe that it is most likely that are all deceased.

Peter Foran – Member of the Irish boxing delegation to the 1948 London Olympics

Peter Foran, born in 1927, was a member of an Irish boxing family and won his first junior title as a welterweight in 1946. In 1948 he captured the senior title and was therefore selected to represent his country in the Olympic tournament, ultimately losing to upcoming bronze medalist Hank Herring of the United States in the second round. He later worked in the radio and television industry and while we know of an Irish obituary for a Peter Foran who died on July 28, 2007, we have yet to connect it conclusively to the Olympian.

Tom Smith – Member of the Irish fencing delegation to the 1948 London Olympics

Tom Smith was active in fencing from 1943 through 1956, but the highlight of his career came when he was selected to represented Ireland in the foil competitions at the 1948 London Games. There, he was eliminated in the first rounds of both the individual and team tournaments. As one might imagine, his fairly common name has been an obstacle to finding anything more about him and while it seems likely that he is deceased given his active years, it is possible that he is still alive.

Harry Byrne – Member of Ireland’s sailing delegation to the 1972 Munich Olympics

Harry Bryne, born July 2, 1929, represented Ireland in Dragon class sailing at the 1972 Munich Games, where the nation placed 16th among 23 teams overall. We do not know much else about him, although we are led to believe that he is the individual listed in this obituary, who died July 4, 2019. Unfortunately, we have been unable to confirm this fact.

That concludes our posts on Irish Olympic mysteries! We did want to update one of the Canadian cases: Connor Mah was able to confirm that Canadian sport shooter Donald Sanderlin was indeed born in 1933, but sadly died in 2013. We also have a correction from Diego Rossetti, who informed us that Italian gymnast Silvio Brivio died in 2010, not 2011. As always, we greatly appreciate such contributions. Looking forwards, we will be bringing you a new topic in the coming days and we hope that you will join us!

Pre-World War II Irish Olympic Mysteries

In the past on Oldest Olympians we have looked at Australian and Canadian Olympians who were born before 1931 for whom we lack either a date of death or confirmation that they are still alive. Today we wanted to begin a two-part series looking at similar cases who represented an independent Republic of Ireland. Thanks to some excellent research by Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore, we have only a handful to cover, so today we are going to look into those Olympians who competed in the 1920s, all of whom are definitely deceased.

Mick Farrell – Member of Ireland’s football squad at the 1924 Paris Olympics

Mick Farrell, born in 1902, was a member of the St. James’ Gate Football Club when he represented Ireland in the tournament at the 1924 Paris Games, where the nation was eliminated by the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. He was with St. James’ Gate from at least 1923 through 1928, but outside of that we have been unable to trace him with any certainty. He is possibly the Michael John Farrell born February 7, 1900 who died July 14, 1968: this individual worked the Guinness Brewery in Dublin and had two brothers who were affiliated with the club, but as of yet we have no definitive tie to him being the Olympian.

(John Connor, pictured in the Northern Whig, June 18, 1951)

John Connor – Member of Ireland’s athletics delegation to the 1924 Paris Olympics

John Connor, born in 1893, won Irish national championships in the high (1924) and long jump (1925), but was best known for the triple jump, winning titles in 1921, 1924, and 1925. At the 1924 Paris Games, he placed 10th in the latter event. By career he served with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and was still alive in 1951, when he resigned from that job and was still sprinting. After that, however, we have been unable to locate further details.

(Mossy Doyle, picture in The Boston Globe, November 26, 1927, page 7)

Maurice “Mossy” Doyle – Member of Ireland’s boxing delegation to the 1924 Paris Olympics

Mossy Doyle, born May 16, 1903, was eliminated in round one of the featherweight boxing tournament at the 1924 Paris Games by upcoming gold medalist Jackie Fields of the United States. In Ireland, he won the national title in 1923, 1925, and 1926. He then had a respectable professional career in the United States from 1927 through 1931, but in the 1950s he moved back across the pond to London. His activities near the end of his life are currently a mystery, even to some of those closest to him, and in 1992 it was said that his family believed that he died in a fire a few years earlier. We have not, however, been able to uncover any confirmation of this story.

(George Kelly, pictured in the Sunday Independent, November 8, 1936)

George Kelly – Member of Ireland’s boxing delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

George Kelly won an Irish national championship in featherweight boxing in 1927, which led to his selection to represent the country at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, where he was eliminated in round one. He then had a lengthy career as a professional, which lasted until 1938 and included national lightweight titles in 1934 and 1935. Following his retirement, he appears to no longer be mentioned in newspapers, which suggests that he may have emigrated somewhere. A lack of clues about his personal details, such as his age, occupation, address, and relatives, combined with his common name, have made it difficult to learn his ultimate fate.

That is enough for today, but we have three more Olympians to cover, all of whom competed after World War II. We hope you will join us when we post about them!

Micheline Lannoy

In today’s blog, we wanted to provide a handful of updates about Olympians that we have covered in the past. Most importantly, however, we wanted to wish a happy belated birthday to Belgian figure skating champion Micheline Lannoy, who turned 96 yesterday! Derrick Bouchard, a volunteer researcher with the Kingston Branch of the Genealogical Society, assisted us in locating the son of Micheline Lannoy Macaulay, who was able to confirm that she was indeed still alive. This means that there are no remaining gold medal mysteries, so we greatly appreciate Derrick for the work he did in contacting the family!

(Micheline Lannoy)

On to the proper birthday post: Lannoy and her partner Pierre Baugniet were Belgian national champions in the pairs event from 1944 through 1947. In 1947 they took both the European and World Championships, and then followed that up with victories at the Worlds and the Olympics in 1948. Despite these impressive successes, the duo ended their careers after the Games and managed to maintain a low-profile thereafter. Lannoy later moved to Ontario, Canada and took the married name MacAulay. Now that we have confirmed that she is still alive, we can note that she is the sixth-oldest living Olympic champion and the third-oldest living Winter Olympic champion.

Additionally, we also wanted to share a bevy of updates from Connor Mah, who has done some excellent research in solving our Olympic mysteries: for starers, he was able to confirm that the obituary of the John F. K. Hinde who died May 31, 2017 was indeed the Olympian John Hinde, born October 3, 1928, who represented Great Britain in rowing at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Games. Similarly, he proved that the Frank William Daniels born August 21, 1928 who died April 9, 1990 was the American boxer who was an alternate in the middleweight division at the 1948 London Olympics. From our Australian Olympic mysteries, he also demonstrated that welterweight boxer Rusty Cook, born April 20, 1913, who fought as a welterweight at the 1936 Berlin Games, did in fact die on October 10, 1991.

Mah’s research, however, was not confined to confirming previously uncertain information. From the Australian Olympic mysteries, he located the death dates of two freestyle wrestlers: 1948 flyweight Bert Harris, born in 1916, died March 6, 1982, while 1952 welterweight Bev Scott, born September 30, 1914, died October 27, 1998. He also discovered that one of Scott’s opponents, Canadian Niaz “Nick” Mohammed, who was born January 29, 1926, died March 16, 2011. Finally, Mah located dates of death for two other Canadian Olympic mysteries: 1948 athletics bronze medalist Dianne Foster, born March 3, 1928, died January 4, 1999 and 1948 track cyclist Bill Hamilton, born in 1930, died November 23, 2017.

This is to say nothing of the individuals that Mah was able to confirm living, who we will feature in future Oldest Olympians posts. We want to express our extreme gratitude for his aid in solving so many of these Olympic mysteries!

1931 Olympic Missing Links

In order to keep up the momentum of blog posts, today we are going to take a look at Olympic missing links that were born in 1931. These are individuals for whom we believe that we have a date of death, but cannot confirm that the information is accurate. After scanning every Olympian born in 1931, we have come up with four such cases.

(Pietro Marascalchi pictured at Euro Bis)

Pietro Marascalchi – Member of Italy’s wrestling delegation to the 1960 Rome Olympics

Pietro Marascalchi, born August 1, 1931, represented Italy in the heavyweight, freestyle wrestling tournament at the 1960 Rome Games, where he just missed the podium in fourth. He had placed fifth at the 1959 World Championships and later appeared in several films as an actor. The Italian Wikipedia lists him as having died April 17, 2019 in Cittadella, but we have been unable to confirm this.

(Death notice for a Marcel Moget)

Marcel Moget – Member of the Swiss basketball team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Marcel Moget, born April 23, 1931, was a member of the Swiss basketball team that was eliminated in the qualification round at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Domestically, Moget played for Genève BC, but otherwise we know little else about him. Given how rare his name seems to be, we suspect that the death notice for a Marcel Moget who died c. December 2018 is that of the Olympian, but we have been unable to make the connection for certain.

Jacques Panciroli – Member of the French bobsleigh delegation to the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics

Jacques Panciroli, born December 4, 1931, represented France in the four-man bobsleigh event at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Games and finished 18th overall. Bobsleigh is among the most difficult sports to find information about the competitors, at least in the early days, but we did come across an entry in the French Death Index for a Jacques Panciroli, born December 4, 1930, who died February 10, 1997. All we have to connect this record to the Olympian, however, is the similar birthday and the uncommonness of his name.

(Grave of a Heinz Seidel at FindAGrave)

Heinz Seidel – Member of Germany’s cross-country skiing delegation to the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics

Heinz Seidel, born July 5, 1931, represented Germany in two cross-country skiing events at the 1964 Innsbruck Games, placing 29th in the 30 kilometers and 7th with the German team in the 4×10 kilometers relay. Domestically, he won five consecutive relay titles from 1960 through 1964 and the 30 kilometers individually in 1962. We located the grave of a Heinz Seidel born July 4, 1931, who died September 7, 2017, but it is only mentioned that this individual was a glider pilot, and not a skier, so this may just be a coincidence.

That is what we have today, but we have more updates and more mysteries coming on the horizon. We hope that you will join us!

1931 Canadian and Australian Olympic Mysteries

Today on Oldest Olympians, we want to expand our earlier entry on Canadian and Australian Olympic mysteries by focusing on those who were born in 1931, but for whom we have no evidence of being deceased or alive recently. Thanks to some excellent research by Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore, we have only two Canadians and two Australians to cover in this post, so let’s get right to it.

Donald Sanderlin – Member of Canada’s shooting delegation to the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics

We actually have plenty of information on Donald Sanderlin, who represented Canada in the skeet tournament at the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics, placing 15th and 50th respectively. He also competed at the 1967, 1971, and 1975 Pan American Games and held numerous domestic and American honors. By career he worked as an electrician and continued in this profession, and his shooting career, through the 1980s. The only two pieces of information that we do not know are his year of birth and whether or not he is still alive. We believe that he was born on February 26, 1931, but other sources have 1933 as a year of birth, and we have not been able to find anything recent to confirm his living status.

William West – Member of Canada’s sailing delegation to the 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we do know William West’s birthday, December 1, 1931, but not much else about him. At the Games, he represented Canada in Star class sailing in 1960 and 1964, placing 23rd and 7th respectively. Despite having appeared at two editions, we have been unable to uncover much more about him, including if and when he died, perhaps due to his relatively popular name.

(Bill Jones, pictured on the left at the website of the Fairfield Canoe Club)

Bill Jones – Member of Australia’s canoeing delegation to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics

We believe that we may have a similar problem with Bill Jones, born February 14, 1931, who represented Australia in canoeing at the 1956 Melbourne Games, placing fifth in the C-2 1000 and seventh in the C-2 10000. We believe that his full name may be William Thomas Jones, but this has done little to help us track him, or people who might have more information on him, down.

(Cliff Sander, seated second from the right, at The Grassroots Football Project)

Cliff Sander – Member of Australia’s football squad at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics

Cliff Sander, born November 4, 1931, was a member of the Australian football team that was eliminated by India in the quarterfinals of the tournament at the 1956 Melbourne Games, after defeating Japan 2-0 in round one. Domestically, Sander played for St. Helens of Queensland from 1950 through 1957 but, despite being inducted into the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame in 1999, we know little about his later life.

While we do not have a lot of information on most of today’s Olympians, we do have some updates on previously-featured ones. Most recently, we learned that field hockey player Ian Johnston, born March 4, 1929, who was featured as a Canadian Olympic mystery a few months ago, was actually still alive at the time, but sadly died on December 11 at the age of 91. Connor Mah also solved several other mysteries: four-time Canadian Olympic speed skater Ralf Olin, born April 12, 1925, died May 25, 2007 and three-time British Olympic sport shooter Joe Wheater, born October 6, 1918, died November 24, 2011. From other sources, we learned that three-time Dutch Olympic sailor Ben Verhagen, born September 29, 1926, died January 4, 2020 and Pawel K. gave us updates on two of our Olympians who had not been heard from since 2010: Swiss alpine skier Silvia Glatthard, born March 11, 1930, was still alive at least in 2012, but unfortunately Italian gymnast Silvio Brivio, born November 6, 1929, died in 2011. We truly appreciate all of the tips that have been sent our way!

That is a lot of information for one day, so we will stop here, but we have got much more to come and hope that you will join us again!