All posts by Hilary Evans

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts…

“For the loser now, Will be later to win”. I guess when Bob Dylan wrote those words 50 years ago he never for a minute thought they’d be applied to the thorny question of which country is the best at finishing last at the Winter Olympics. The answer is not particularly gratifying if you happen to come from Great Britain. The British might have had an empire on which the sun never set but the conquest of India and large parts of Africa is not ideal preparation for various forms of sliding down a mountain or skating across frozen ponds.

So how did we calculate the table below? Very simply the last place finisher in every Winter Olympic event from 1924 to 2010 is awarded a gold medal, second to last won silver and, of course, third last gets bronze. For ease of calculation we have ignored anybody not included in the final classification so if really wanted to avoid “winning a medal” all you had to do was fall, give up or get disqualified.
The results show Great Britain with quite a lead on this “reverse medal table” which I suppose is legacy of being ever present at the Winter Games without ever being a major player at the Games. Indeed it was a Briton, Cyril Horn, who in this upside down view of Olympic history became the 1st Olympic champion by finishing last in the 500m speed skating at the Chamonix games of 1924.

The rest of top ten can be divided into countries like Japan and South Korea who like Great Britain have usually elected to fill their quota of competitors without ever really expecting to dominate the competition and countries like the USA and Canada who seem to be here by sheer force of numbers.

Argentina in 6th place with 31 “golds” is comfortably the top nation in this table to have never won a medal by the usual method of accounting with Greece next best in 15th. The most successful nation in the history of the Winter Games, Norway, also proves successful in not losing. Norway’s 15 reverse golds puts them outside the top twenty in our list and subtracted from their genuine gold medal total of 107 puts them at +92 and well clear of the USSR at +74 and Germany at +71. Unfortunately for Britain this method of calculation still keeps them at the wrong end of the list with -44 ahead of Japan on -35 with Argentina moving into third on -31.

It has to be said that coming last in an event doesn’t mean that you’re in the same class at ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Mexican cross-country skier who took so long to finish at the Calgary Games that a search party was sent out to look for him. Sometimes it’s just that Lady Luck looks you in the eye and then proceeds to knee you in the groin. That’s what happened to American speed skater Buddy Solem in the 10000 m at the St. Moritz Games of 1948. Halfway through the event a warm wind blew in from the south and started to melt the ice. By the time Solem finished his heat you could see waves forming on the ice each time he passed by. He finished 5 minutes behind the next slowest and nearly ten minutes behind the winner.

My advice to Britain? See what you can do to make additions to the Olympic programme. Maybe the introduction of darts on ice, snow snooker or sub-zero cricket may help drop Britain down the table. On second thoughts, let’s forget sub-zero cricket – the Australians might just prove too good at that.

Rank Nation G S B Total
1 GBR 53 67 43 163
2 JPN 44 43 36 123
3 USA 43 60 68 171
4 CAN 42 41 45 128
5 KOR 38 32 30 100
6 ARG 31 25 26 82
7 CHN 29 39 20 88
8 FRA 25 30 30 85
9 AUS 24 15 21 60
10 YUG 24 15 17 56
11 ITA 23 33 22 78
12 HUN 22 24 23 69
13 BEL 21 6 8 35
14 AUT 18 16 26 60
15 GRE 18 15 8 41
16 ROU 17 21 25 63
17 GER 17 16 18 51
18 BUL 16 13 7 36
19 LAT 16 9 15 40
20 POL 15 24 25 64
21 NOR 15 14 15 44
22 UKR 13 17 8 38
23 SWE 13 12 16 41
24 RUS 13 11 18 42
25 TPE 13 6 11 30
26 SUI 11 17 22 50
27 EST 10 6 5 21
28 KAZ 9 12 10 31
29 CHI 9 7 5 21
30 MGL 8 11 10 29
31 NZL 8 7 5 20
32 LIB 8 6 4 18
33 NED 8 5 14 27
34 PRK 8 5 7 20
35 ARM 8 5 2 15
36 BLR 8 3 16 27
37 BRA 7 0 5 12
38 CZE 6 12 11 29
39 MEX 6 8 7 21
40 DEN 6 8 1 15
41 MDA 6 3 4 13
42 CYP 6 2 4 12
43 PUR 6 2 4 12
44 TCH 5 17 10 32
45 TUR 5 12 6 23
46 ESP 5 9 12 26
47 ISV 5 5 3 13
48 SVK 5 4 9 18
49 ISL 5 3 6 14
50 FIN 4 6 9 19
51 CRC 4 5 3 12
52 URS 4 4 7 15
53 LIE 4 3 4 11
54 BIH 4 3 1 8
55 IRI 4 2 2 8
56 SMR 3 6 1 10
57 FRG 3 5 8 16
58 MAR 3 4 5 12
59 HKG 3 2 0 5
60 UZB 3 1 2 6
61 IND 3 1 1 5
62 GUA 3 1 0 4
63 GDR 3 0 2 5
64 LTU 3 0 2 5
65 ALG 3 0 1 4
66 HON 3 0 0 3
67 IRL 2 5 3 10
68 CRO 2 4 7 13
69 MKD 2 3 0 5
70 AND 2 2 1 5
71 BOL 2 1 1 4
72 POR 2 1 1 4
73 KGZ 2 1 0 3
74 LUX 2 0 1 3
75 ALB 2 0 0 2
76 RSA 1 5 1 7
77 SLO 1 4 6 11
78 EUN 1 2 1 4
79 NEP 1 1 1 3
80 SCG 1 1 1 3
81 TJK 1 1 1 3
82 EGY 1 1 0 2
83 SEN 1 1 0 2
84 SRB 1 1 0 2
85 FIJ 1 0 2 3
86 AHO 1 0 0 1
87 CMR 1 0 0 1
88 KEN 1 0 0 1
89 THA 1 0 0 1
90 TTO 1 0 0 1
91 GEO 0 2 4 6
92 IVB 0 1 1 2
93 MON 0 1 1 2
94 GHA 0 1 0 1
95 GUM 0 1 0 1
96 ISR 0 1 0 1
97 PER 0 1 0 1
98 PHI 0 1 0 1
99 VEN 0 1 0 1
100 AZE 0 0 1 1
101 BER 0 0 1 1
102 ETH 0 0 1 1
103 MAD 0 0 1 1
104 PAK 0 0 1 1

The NFL and the Olympic Games

Jim Thorpe

Tonight the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will face each other in Super Bowl XLVIII so it seems as good a time as ever to delve into the link between the National Football League and the Olympic Games. The connection goes back as far as the beginning of the NFL in 1920.
The first Olympian to play in the NFL (or the American Professional Football Association as it was then called) is still almost certainly the greatest all-round sportsman ever to grace the gridiron – the legendary Jim Thorpe. For publicity purposes Thorpe was even installed at the League’s first chairman. The link continues to this day in the shape of Tampa Bay running back Jeff Demps and Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills.

The only man to reach the peak of both sports is another track and field legend in the shape of “Bullet” Bob Hayes. Eight years after his triumphs at the Tokyo Olympics he was part of the victorious Dallas Cowboys team at Super Bowl VI and later followed Thorpe into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Michael Carter, shot put silver medallist in 1984 is the other Olympian to earn a Super Bowl ring – he did it just 6 months after his Olympic appearance.

Unsurprisingly the vast majority of the Olympic/NFL have been both American and have come from a track and field background but there have been a number of exceptions. Wrestling is the only other sport where multiple Olympians, including 2 gold medallists, have graduated into the NFL but the last to date left the NFL after the 1969 season.
A unique case is that of NY Giants back-up quarterback Randy Dean. He made fleeting appearances in the late 70s after having been a valuable member of the US handball team at the 1976 Games.
The only non-American to reach this list is Australian high jumper Colin Ridgway. He arrived on a college scholarship to Lamar University in Texas and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a punter. His stint in the NFL lasted just 3 games before he was released.

Another unusual case is that of Herschel Walker, the only NFL player to have competed in the Winter Olympics. Already an established star in the NFL, Walker was a late addition to the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s bobsled programme for the 1992 Winter Olympics. Joining the squad only after the Minnesota Vikings had ended their season his appearance on the US roster was unpopular with many of his US teammates. Pushing for Brian Shimer he finished 7th.

Finally we should remember one man who never made it to this list. Stone Johnson was a finalist in the 200 m at the Rome Olympics and a member of the US relay team that was disqualified after crossing the line first in the final. In 1963 he was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Oakland Raiders when he sustained a broken neck. He succumbed to his injuries 10 days later. Although he never played a down in a regular-season NFL game, his number 33 was retired by the Chiefs.

Olympic gold and Super Bowl winner
“Bullet” Bob Hayes USA
1964 100m/4×100 Gold
Dallas Cowboys (1965-74) – Super Bowl winner 1972, San Francisco 49ers (1975)

Olympic medal and Super Bowl winner
Mike Carter USA
1984 Shot Put Silver
San Francisco (1984-92)

Olympic gold medal and NFL experience
Jim Bausch – Chicago Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds (1933)
Ron Brown – Los Angeles Rams (1984-90, 1991), Los Angeles Raiders (1990)
Milt Campbell – Cleveland Browns (1957)
Henry Carr – New York Giants (1965-67)

Glenn Davis – Detroit Lions (1960-61)
Sam Graddy – Denver Broncos (1987-88), Los Angeles Raiders (1990-92)
Jim Hines – Miami Dolphins (1969), Kansas City Chiefs (1970)
James Jett – Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (1993-2000)
Johnny Jones – New York Jets (1980-84)
Glenn Morris – Detroit Lions (1940)
Tommie Smith – Cincinnati Bengals (1969)
Jim Thorpe – Canton Bulldogs (1920 & 1926), Cleveland Indians (1921), Oorang Indians (1922-23), Rock Island Independents (1924-25), New York Giants (1925), Chicago Cardinals (1928)
Gerald Tinker – Atlanta Falcons (1974-75), Green Bay Packers (1975)
Peter Mehringer – Chicago Cardinals (1934-36)
John Spellman – Providence Steam Rollers (1925-31), Boston Braves (1932)

For a full list of all Olympians who have played in NFL (or AFL) please visit this page

Olympians with a disability – Part Two

Part two in a series on people who have competed at the Olympic Games despite suffering from a physical disability.

Lis Hartel (DEN) – Equestrianism
2 silvers

In the 1930s Lis Hartel was coached by her mother Else Holst, but when she reached a national competitive level, Gunnar Andersen, a professional horseman, took over. In the early part of her career she competed in both jumping and dressage, and was Danish champion in dressage in 1943 and 1944. Later in 1944, she was struck by polio. At that time she was pregnant with her second child, and no one thought that she ever would be able to compete on horseback again. But through her determination and strong will she gradually regained function in most of her muscles, although she remained paralyzed below her knees for the rest of her life.

In 1947 she started to compete in dressage again, and she improved her dressage skill together with her excellent horse Jubilee and was selected for the Danish team in the 1952 games. Although she needed help to get on and off her horse, she surprised everybody by winning the silver medal in the dressage competition in Helsinki. Four years later she won another dressage silver medal at the Equestrian Games in Stockholm, also this time together with her favourite horse Jubilee. She won the unofficial world championships in dressage in 1954, and was Danish champion in dressage in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1959, the last time with a new horse, Limelight.

Lis Hartel’s equestrian achievements caught interest among ordinary sport interested people in Scandinavia, where equestrian among many was regarded as an upper-class sport. She was a charming and charismatic woman, extremely popular not only among followers of equestrians, but also among people outside the horse circles. She also became a role model of other victims of polio, showing what was possible to achieve through training and determination. She was invited to do dressage exhibitions in several countries in Western Europe, and raised funds for treatment of polio victims. In Doorn in the Netherlands, a centre for disabled was named after her, the Lis Hartel Foundation.

Natalia Partyka (POL) – Table tennis
Natalia Partyka was born without a right hand or forearm. She began to play table tennis at the age of seven and four years competed in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. At eleven years of age, she became the youngest Paralympian in history. By 2004 she was clearly the Paralympic table tennis player and began to make an impact in able bodied competition by winning the European Cadets title. Partyka has gone on to win three consecutive Paralympic titles, compete in both the Beijing and London Olympics and win medals at the able bodied European Championships.

Paola Fantato (ITA) – Archery
At age 8, Paola Fantato was diagnosed with polio, and has been wheelchair-bound since. She picked up archery in her twenties, and quickly became quite successful at archery events for disabled. She won a Paralympic bronze medal in 1988, upgrading that to gold in 1992. She was then invited to join the Italian Olympic team and qualified for the Atlanta Games. While eliminated in the first round, she became the first athlete to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year, winning team gold and an individual bronze. Her successes have only increased, adding two golds in Sydney and one in Athens, as well as two world titles to her tally.

Jack Dearlove (GBR) – Rowing
1 silver
Jack Dearlove was 12 years old when he lost the lower part of his leg. He was hitching a lift to cricket practice on a friend’s bicycle when the wheels of the bike stuck in some tram lines. The two boys were thrown into the path of a steam wagon and his friend was killed outright. By the time of the London Olympics of 1948 Dearlove had twenty years’ experience as a coxswain which included steering the Thames Rowing Club to a victory at the Henley Regatta. He refused to wear an artificial leg, walking with the aid of crutches instead, and this proved problematic for the British Olympic Association who forbade him for taking part in the opening ceremony of the London Games.
Dearlove went on to have a successful career in business with the Sainsbury’s organization. His son, Sir Richard Dearlove, served as head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1999 to 2004.

Olympians with a disability – Part One

For a few days this week it appeared that legally blind cross-country skier Brian McKeever was to win a place of the Canadian team at Sochi. Unfortunately for him an eight place finish in the last Canadian trial race means his chances of becoming an Olympian this time round are now extremely slim. McKeever did make the team for the Vancouver Games but was left on the side lines by the team coaches and did not take part in the Olympic races. So it looks like we may have to wait a little longer for an athlete with a disability to take a full part in the Winter Games. The Summer Games is an entirely different matter and the list of competitors who have triumphed over disability is a lot longer than you might think. Read on…

1904 St. Louis
George Eyser (USA) – Gymnastics
3 gold medals, 2 silver, 1 bronze
Born in Germany, George Eyser arrived in the US as a child. It is believed that he lost most of his left leg in an accident either with a train or a trolley car – there are conflicting reports. To compensate for this loss he developed his upper body strength and became a gymnast. Competing at the 1904 Olympics he won 6 medals in a single day and won gold in the vault, parallel bars and the now obsolete rope climb.

Bobby Bridge (GBR) – Athletics
The first person with a disability to compete in Olympic track and field, Bobby Bridge qualified for the Stockholm Games despite the handicap of his left arm being amputated at the elbow. A competitor in the 10,000 m race walk, he had the misfortune to be disqualified for running. In one race at Stamford Bridge in 1914 he broke the world record for every distance from 11 miles to 16 miles. He was a qualified dentist.

Brian Pickworth (NZL) – Fencing
Brian Pickworth was a promising rugby player until he lost his left arm above the elbow in a shooting accident when he was 21 years old. He then switched to fencing and represented New Zealand not only in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome but also in the Empire (Commonwealth) Games in 1958 in Cardiff and in 1962 in Perth fencing all three weapons.

Neroli Fairhall (NZL) – Archery
Originally a track & field athlete, Neroli Fairhall became paralysed from the waist down following a motorcycle accident. She continued her athletics career, competing in the 1972 Paralympic Games in various events in track and field. She then switched to archery, winning the gold in the 1980 Paralympics. She started competing with able-bodied athletes, from her wheelchair. When archery made its only appearance at the Commonwealth Games in 1982, she won the gold medal. Two years later, she became the first paraplegic to compete at the Olympics. Fairhall did not return to the Olympics, but competed twice more in the Paralympic Games, in 1988 and 2000. She retired after the latter event, switching to coaching. She passed away at the age of 61, of an illness related to her disability.

Olivér Halassy (HUN) – Water Polo
2 gold, 1 silver
Olivér Halassy was eight years old when he lost his left leg from the knee down following an accident as he attempted to jump on board a tram. 25 times a Hungarian national champion in swimming and European champion over 1500 m freestyle in 1931, Halassy was even better known as a water polo player. He was a vital part of the Hungarian team that dominated the sport in the 20s and 30s and won Olympic titles in 1932 and 1936 as well as silver in 1928 and three Olympic titles. Halassy was being driven home one night in 1946 when his taxi was stopped by a Soviet military patrol. An argument broke out between his driver and the soldiers and both driver and passenger were shot dead. He was just 37 at the time of his death.

Marla Runyan (USA) – Athletics
Being legally blind (due to Stargardt’s disease), runner Marla Runyan initially focussed on competing in events for visually impaired athletes. She was highly successful, winning three sprint events and the long jump at the 1992 Paralympics, while also competing in cycling. She added a fifth title at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, winning the pentathlon and a silver in the shot put. But Runyan also aspired to compete in the Olympics, and had tried to qualify for the heptathlon at the US Olympic Trials, placing 10th. Her good 800 m in that competition convinced her to switch to middle distance running. This switch proved a good choice, and in 1999 Runyan won the 1500 m at the Pan American Games, and reached the World Championship final in the same event. She repeated that performance in Sydney, placing 8th in the Olympic final. She then turned her attention to long distance running, eventually competing in the 2004 Olympic 5 km, and placing 4th in the 2002 New York Marathon.

Part two of this article will follow soon.

The First Olympic Winter Sports Champions

The first thing you may have noticed about this blog entry is the title. Not “The first Winter Olympic champions” but specifically “The first Olympic winter sports Champions”. The reason is simple – before the creation of the Winter Games some of the events that were to become part of the winter Olympic programme were held at the Summer Games. Figure skating first appeared at the 1908 Games in London but all winter sports were dropped from the 1912 programme following protests by Scandinavian nations who wished to promote their own Nordic Games. Figure skating returned in 1920 alongside the new sport of ice hockey and this paved the way for the Chamonix Winter Olympics of 1924 to happen.
But who were those first figure skating champions of 1908? Take a look at their biographies below.
Full results from the 1908 Olympic figure skating tournament can be found at

Ulrich Salchow (SWE)
Olympic champion – men

Ulrich Salchow was one of the most successful figure skaters of all-time and dominated figure skating in the early 1900s. His name was given to the figure skating jump “Salchow” that he performed for the first time in 1909. He was a specialist of the now defunct compulsories, which accounted for a large percentage of the total marks.
Salchow won 10 World Championships, 1901-05 and 1907-11. He did not compete in the 1906 World Championships that were held in Munich, as he feared that he would not be judged fairly against Gilbert Fuchs of Germany. His 10 titles are still a record, which he shares with Sonja Henie and Irina Rodnina. When figure skating was first contested at the Summer Olympics in London in 1908, Salchow won the title with ease. In addition, Salchow won the European Championships a record nine times (1898-1900, 1904, 1906-07, 1909-10, 1913), placed second in the World Championships three times (1897, 1899-1900) and once at the European Championships (1901). In his early career he was Swedish national champion in 1895-97. In 1976, he was inducted into the Figure Skating World Hall of Fame.
Salchow could not defend his Olympic gold medal at Stockholm in 1912 because organizers opted out of holding skating contests. When he made one last attempt at the Olympics in 1920, it ended in a fall, ironically while attempting his own jump, the Salchow. Despite this, the then 42-year-old managed to place fourth. In 1906, he published a handbook of skating, which was translated into several languages. He was also active in other sports, including cycling and bobsledding.
After his active career Salchow was President of the International Skating Union from 1925-37 and Chairman of the AIK in Stockholm from 1928-39. He was also chairman of the Swedish Cycling Association (1904-07), Swedish Skating Association (1917-20, 1923-32, 1935-38), and helped to found the Swedish Boxing Federation, where he was chairman from 1919-32, and he was a member of the board of the National Sports Confederation (1911-28).
Salchow was an active yachtsman and worked for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter and Associated Press as a journalist. He was on the board of the Swedish Radio and a successful merchant and radio pioneer.

Nikolay Panin (Kolomenkin) (RUS)
Olympic champion – men’s special figures

As a youth Nikolay Kolomenkin did rowing, cycling, athletics and gymnastics and was introduced to figure skating after 1893, when he enrolled at St. Petersburg University (now St. Petersburg State University). Kolomenkin was fascinated by this new sport and soon became the top Russian figure skater at the turn of 20th century. But for fear of fellow student’s mocking him, Kolomenkin competed in figure skating under the pseudonym Nikolay Panin and used this name throughout his competitive figure skating career.

In 1908 Kolomenkin became the first Russian Olympic winner when he won the special figures event at the London Olympics. Kolomenkin also won silver at the 1903 World Championships in singles, another silver at the 1908 European Championships, and bronze at the 1904 European Championships. He also won the Russian singles title from 1901-05 and 1907. While studying at university, Kolomenkin was an all-around athlete, competing in cycling, rowing, athletics, swimming, skiing and played football and hockey.

After graduating university with a mathematics degree in 1898, Kolomenkin became a competent sports shooter, winning 23 Russian titles in pistol shooting (1906-17). He also competed at the 1912 Olympics as a shooter, finishing eighth in individual free pistol and fourth in team pistol. After winning his Olympic title, Kolomenkin retired from competitive figure skating and worked as a figure skating coach. From 1915-17 Kolomenkin was general secretary of the Russian Olympic Committee and from 1919-30 worked in various financial positions with the Petrograd (later Leningrad) province and oblast governments. From 1933 until his death, Kolomenkin worked as head of the figure skating department at the Lesgaft State Institute of Physical Culture (now Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health).

Madge Syers (GBR)
Olympic champion – women

Florence Madeline Cave, known to her friends “Madge” was one of fifteen children of Edward Jarvis Cave, a gentleman of independent means. Like many young girls in her position, she joined fashionable London Society at the Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge, but unlike most of her contemporaries, Madge took her skating seriously and it was through the sport that she met her future husband, Edgar Syers. Syers, who was 19 years her senior, wielded a considerable influence on Madge Caves development as a skater. He encouraged her to forsake the outdated “English” style with its minimal body movement, and in which she had won the 1899 Challenge Shield, and adopt the free and flowing “International’ style of skating. Madge Caves soon became the world’s leading woman skater. She won the first British pairs competition in 1899 with her future husband. The following year Madge and Edgar Syers were married and soon afterwards they finished second in one of the first international pairs competitions in Berlin.
Although the newly married couple was a formidable combination in pairs competitions, it was in individual events that Madge Syers really shone. As there was no rule prohibiting women from competing, she created a sensation by entering the World Championships in 1902 where – even more sensationally – she finished second to the great Ulrich Salchow of Sweden. The authorities immediately barred women from the championships, but in 1905 the ban was rescinded and the following year a separate ladies’ event was introduced at the world championships. Madge easily won this event in 1906 and 1907, but it was not until 1920 that these events were retroactively recognized as official world championships. She also won the first British singles championship in 1903, finishing ahead of Horatio Torromé, and in 1904 she defeated her husband to retain the title. With this record, Madge Syers was a clear favorite for the 1908 Olympic women’s singles and with all five judges placing her a clear first in both the compulsory figures and the free skating, she was an undisputed winner of the gold medal. She also won a bronze medal partnering her husband in the pairs event. After the 1908 Olympics, Madge Syers, who was also a prize winning swimmer and equestrienne, retired because of ill health and she died at the early age of 35.

Annie Hübler and Heinrich Burger (GER)
Olympic champion – pairs

In 1908 Annie Hübler and Heinrich Burger were the first Germans to won the pairs World Championship and they were the first German winter-sport Olympic Champions. They repeated as World Champions in 1910, and won German titles in 1907 and 1909.
Burger was also successful as a singles skater, winning three German Championships in 1904, and 1906-07. He was also runner-up at the World Championships in 1904 and 1906, and third in 1908. In 1905 he was runner-up at the European Championships. Burger later became a figure skating judge, serving on the jury at the 1928 Winter Olympics. He was a lawyer by profession.
Hübler later became an actress and a singer at the Bremen Town Theatre and the München Chamber Theatre. After her marriage to Ernst Horn, she managed the major department store “Horn” in München at the famous town square “Stachus”, which, with more than 1,000 employees, was the third largest catalogue company in Germany in that era. In 1969 she was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Oldest Winter Olympians sport by sport

If all goes to plan a 55-year-old skier will line up in a few weeks time at the Sochi Winter Olympics – but who are the other “Golden Oldies” who have graced the Winter Games?

These are the oldest competitors to have appeared in each sport currently on the Olympic programme.

Alpine Skiing

Hubertus von Fürstenberg-von Hohenlohe (MEX)

51 years, 26 days at Vancouver 2010

You can say many things about Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg but you can never, ever, say he has a dull biography.  An aristocrat with roots deep in European nobility, he has been a pop singer, professional photographer and businessman at various points in his life. In 1981 he founded the Mexican Skiing Federation in an attempt to participate in international competition. Since then he has competed at 15 World Championships and 5 Winter Olympics and, most recently, placed 56th in the slalom at the 2013 World Championships. Barring illness or injury he will return for one more Olympic appearance in Sochi.


Thanasis Tsakiris (GRE)

45 years, 34 days at Vancouver 2010

After a gap of 12 years Thanasis Tsakiris reappeared on the Olympic stage in 2010 at the age of 45. Originally a cross-country skier, he switched to biathlon in the late 80s and stayed in the sport long enough to compete in the same Olympic team as his daughter. He still competes, albeit at a lower level and has won national titles every year for the last 28 years.

Cross-country skiing

Arturo Kinch (CRC)

49 years, 309 days at Turin 2006

Born to parents who were Protestant missionaries in Costa Rica, Arturo Kinch took up ski racing whilst on a soccer scholarship at a Colorado college. He first competed at the Winter Games as an Alpine skier at Lake Placid in 1980 then returned in 1984 as the first man for over 30 years to compete at both alpine and cross-country at the same Olympics. After a 12-year gap he returned to the Olympic arena in 2006 and finally brought the curtain down on his career in Turin when two months shy of his 50th birthday.


Carl August Kronlund (SWE)

58 years, 155 days at Chamonix 1924

Oldest competitor at any Olympic Winter Games.

At 58 years of age, Carl August Kronlund was not only the oldest competitor at the inaugural Winter Olympics but also the oldest medal winner. Kronlund, a Stockholm businessman, played in Sweden’s victory over France and received a silver medal for his exploits. For many years it was incorrectly thought that the curling tournament in 1924 was only a demonstration event but, at the start of the 21st century, the IOC confirmed that it was a full medal event.

Figure Skating

Joseph Savage (USA)

52 years, 267 days at Lake Placid 1932

Joseph Savage’s sporting career reads like it should have happened in reverse. A successful attorney with a New York law firm, he was a major figure in the administration on figure skating in America and served a term as the President of the Amateur Skating Union of the USA in 1929-30. Savage was also a relatively successful competitor who was a regular winner of Mid-Atlantic regional titles in the 1920s.  He was just short of 50 when he won his 1st medal at the US nationals and 52 when he and partner Gertrude Meredith qualified for the 1932 Olympics.  Amazingly his career did not end there and in 1936 he combined with Marjorie Parker Smith to win the inaugural US national title in ice dancing. He was still competing and winning medals at the US Championships aged 63.


Hubert Menten (NED)

54 years, 158 days at St. Moritz 1928

A businessman whose family made their fortune in the oil business, Hubert Menten was one of the founders of the Dutch bobsleigh club in Davos, Switzerland which was instrumental in getting the Dutch bob to the 1928 Olympics, and later coached the 1929 Dutch duo that won the European title. An avid art collector and dealer, he was also very much pro-Nazi in his political views and was investigated by the Allied powers for his dealings with Hermann Goering.

Freestyle Skiing

Clyde Getty (ARG)

44 years, 152 days at Turin 2006

Born and raised in North Carolina, Clyde Getty came through the US system before switching to Argentina, the land of the parents, which enabled him to compete at the 2006 Winter Olympics. He continues to compete at World Cup level, although now in his 50s, and has an outside shot at the Sochi Games.

Ice Hockey

Béla Ordódy (HUN)

48 years, 29 days at St.Moritz 1928

Béla Ordódy was a major figure in the early years of Hungarian soccer and played for the first ever Hungarian national team in 1901. He was even awarded a trophy for Hungary’s player of the year in 1902. A generation later Ordódy re-emerged as goaltender for the Hungarian national ice hockey team at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games. At the time there was a fair amount of crossover between the two sports particularly in continental Europe. He only conceded a single goal in his only Olympic appearance but the goal was enough to eliminate Hungary from the tournament.


Matiás Stinnes (ARG)

53 years, 217 days at Innsbruck 1964

When luge became an Olympic sport Argentina set up a team of six to provide competitors for the 1964 Winter Games. The only survivor of this programme was 53-year-old German born Matiás Stinnes.  Stinnes crashed out of the Innsbruck Games but appeared on the entry lists again at the 1968 Games at Grenoble though he withdrew before the competition began.

Nordic Combined

Anders Haugen (USA)

39 years, 115 days at St.Moritz 1928

Already a record holder as the oldest Olympian in his sport’s history, Anders Haugen was 86-years-old when he finally received his Olympic bronze medal. In 1974, at the 50th reunion of the 1924 Norwegian team, Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage was going over the results when he noticed an error. Haugen had correctly been given 17.916 points, but 3rd place finisher Thorleif Haug’s scores added up to 17.821, not the 18.000 with which he had been credited. The IOC was notified and at a special ceremony in Oslo, on 12 September 1974, Anders Haugen was given his bronze medal by Haug’s daughter – more than 50 years after the competition.

Short Track Speed Skating

Cathy Turner (USA)

35 years, 314 days at Nagano 1998

A US champion as a teenager, Cathy Turner retired from the sport in 1980 and became a professional singer. A decade later, with short track now an Olympic sport, she returned and claimed victory in the 500 m at the Albertville Games.  Another short-lived retirement followed but she was back to retain her Olympic title in 1994. Known as a tough and ruthless skater, Turner bowed out of Olympic competition at the Nagano Olympics.


James Coates (GBR)

53 years, 295 days at St. Moritz 1948

The sport of skeleton has, like its sister sport bobsleigh, benefitted from the British aristocracy’s predilection to do stupid and dangerous things at high speeds. It seems fitting therefore that the oldest man to compete in Olympic skeleton is James Stuart Coates, 3rd Baronet Coates, of Auchendrane. Coates was a veteran of St. Moritz and once said of the Cresta Run “She is a powerful and attractive mistress. She will stand no nonsense when you are learning the ropes and many and severe are the rebuffs she will give to even her most ardent suitors”. A veteran of World War I, Coates was to be in charge of the operation to evacuate British royalty should German forces invade Britain during World War II.

Ski Jumping

Pál Ványa (HUN)

43 years, 239 days at St. Moritz 1948

From modern day Slovakia, Pál Ványa had been Hungarian champion as far back as 1931. His Olympic experience consisted of a single jump at the 1948 Olympics that ended in a fall on landing.


Sondra Van Ert (USA)

37 years, 342 days at Salt Lake City 2002

Originally an alpine skier at the University of Utah Sondra Van Ert was good enough to win silver in downhill when she represented the USA at the World University Games. A serious knee injury shortly before graduation seemed to end her racing career and she became the manager of a paint store in Idaho. She took up recreational snowboarding at the age of 26 and soon returned to the competitive side of sport. Van Ert won 6 US titles and 2 World Championship bronzes before retiring in 2004.

Speed Skating

Albert Tebbit (GBR)

52 years, 31 days at Chamonix 1924

It may seem incredible to today’s speed skating fans but once upon a time British skaters were amongst the best in the world. Unfortunately for Albert Tebbitt that time, which coincided with his prime as a skater, came 30 years before speed skating débuted at the Olympics. Tebbitt even broke a world record, the now unofficial hour record, but his best days were well behind him when he made his bow at Olympic level.

Malta joins the 49ers

Shortly before Christmas the French born Alpine skier Elise Pelegrin qualified for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but Pelegrin has Maltese ancestry and elected to compete for Malta at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season.  Out of 49  European nations currently affiliated with the IOC, Malta is the only one yet to make an appearance at the Winter Games. Barring unforeseen circumstances this will change in February and, for the first time, all the eligible European countries will be present in Sochi.

Of the 16 nations that competed at the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924 fourteen were European including powerhouse nations Austria and Norway but also lesser lights like Belgium and Hungary.

Germany, banned from the Games following World War I, debuted alongside the Netherlands in 1928 and more Mediterranean nations followed in 1936.  A slow trickle of new nations followed post-WW2 until the changes in Eastern Europe saw the emergence into Olympic competition of a flood of ex-Soviet and ex-Yugoslav nations from 1992 onwards.

European nations to compete at the Winter Olympics are, in order of debut;

1924 – Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia.

1928 – Estonia, Germany, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania

1936 – Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Liechtenstein, Turkey

1948 – Denmark, Iceland

1952 – Portugal

1956 – Soviet Union

1968 – West Germany, East Germany

1976 – Andorra, San Marino

1980 – Cyprus

1984 – Monaco

1992 – Croatia, Ireland, Slovenia

1994 – Armenia, Georgia, Czech Republic, Israel, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Bosnia

1998 – Azerbaijan, Serbia and Montenegro, FYR Macedonia,

2006 – Albania

2010 – Serbia, Montenegro

2014 –  Malta

Outside the mainstream nations cross-country skiers from Greenland regularly compete for Denmark and a snowboarder from the Isle of Man has represented Great Britain.

Will there be any additions to this list? That depends on politics. The next debutants might be Kosovo? Or Scotland? Perhaps the Basque Country or Catalonia? We’ll just have to wait and see – although the clever bet is that it might be a while before we see a snowboarder from the Vatican City nailing a Rippey flip at the Olympics.