Our First Olympics

A CENTURY AGO a tiny American team arrived in Athens drained from an awful journey and proposing to take on the champions of Europe with—among other handicaps —a discus thrower who had never seen a real discus

THERE WERE SURELY MOMENTS DUR- ing the long journey to Greece when James Connolly was seized with foreboding, convinced this antic venture was doomed to failure. Connolly and a dozen countrymen, who constituted America’s first Olympic team, certainly had cause for misgivings as they sailed toward Athens and the revival of the long-dormant Games in 1896. These thirteen competitors—an unlucky thirteen, it seemed—had received no financial support from the nation they were to represent.

 
 
Read more »

The Road To Modern Atlanta

THE VISITORS WHO COME HERE FOR THE OLYMPICS this summer won’t find Tara. What they will find is a city facing an unusual—and sometimes painful—past with clarity of vision and generosity of spirit.

 

When the olympians fly into Atlanta, the first sign of the city they will see from the air is not the skyline of proud towers, shimmering in the humidity, but Stone Mountain, the immense dome of granite sixteen miles to the east. Even from a mile in the air they will be able to see clearly the three huge figures carved into the face of the rock: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. Read more »

The Greatest Athlete In The World

That’s what everyone agreed. Jim Thorpe was at the 1912 Olympics, but legend had to make him even more—and draconian rules had to take it all away

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden

Jim Thorpe throws the discus at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, where he was awarded the gold medal in the decathlon.

Americans have always demanded that their heroes be more than human. George Washington had to have thrown the dollar across the Potomac, Davy Crockett had to have wrestled a grizzly, Babe Ruth had to have come through for a dying boy with a promised home run. We all know that these stories are Sunday truths, but somehow the men wouldn’t be the same without them.

An American Coup in Paris

Remember the excitement of the 1924 Olympics in Chariots of Fire? That was nothing compared with what the U.S. rugby team did to the French at those games.

It is springtime in post-World War I Paris, the final day of the rugby tournament at the VIII Olympiad, to be exact, and fifty thousand Frenchmen are filing into Colombes Stadium to watch the mighty French national rugby team win the first gold medal of the 1924 Olympics. Their opponents? A ragtag band of California college kids calling themselves the USA Olympic rugby team. Barely two hours later the novice American rugby team has pulled off what the United Press sports editor Henry L.Read more »

The First American Olympics

In 1904 the Olympics took place for only the third time in the modern era. The place was St. Louis, where a world’s fair was providing all the glamour and glitter and excitement anyone could ask. The Games, on the other hand, were something else.

The most arresting figure in the 1904 Olympic Games was a Cuban mailman named Félix Carvajal. Upon hearing that the third modern Olympic Games were to be held in the United States, Carvajal, although he knew nothing about track or field, decided he would represent Cuba in the marathon. He raised money by running around a public square in Havana, drawing a crowd, and then begging for cash to get him on a boat. Arriving in New Orleans, he promptly lost his stake in a dice game and had to make his way to St. Louis by hitchhiking and working at odd jobs along the way.Read more »

The Olympics That Almost Wasn’t

In 1984 Los Angeles will once again play host to the Summer Olympics. It’s got to be easier that the first time. That was just fifty years ago, when, in the teeth of the Great Depression, a group of local boosters boldly set about planning

March 1925. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, president of the Comité International Olympique, in a confidential letter from Paris to William May Garland, president of the California Olympiad committee: “In case of Holland failing to fulfill her engagements … in the IX Olympiad … would Los Angeles be willing or not to take up 1928 instead of 1932? An answer must be given immediately. Therefore we beg that you shall consult without delay upon receiving this letter with the mayor of Los Angeles and the organizing committee.Read more »