Thursday, August 26, 2004

Modern Olympics: First Gold Medalist

The Romans abolished the Games in A.D. 394. Then in 1896, they started up again. A young man - the son of Irish immigrants - decided he was going to compete. His name was James Brendan Connolly. His is a success story all on its own:

He was raised in the tough South End of Boston. Forced to leave school in the early grades, he worked at various jobs, educated himself, & was admitted to Harvard in 1895 at the age of 27. When he asked Harvard for a leave to compete in the Games, they refused. So he packed up & left for Athens anyway, paying his own expenses. His event was the triple jump. In those days, they called it the "hop, step, & jump". It was the first event on the Olympic schedule -- set for the opening day. Unfortunately, the Americans had not realized that the Greeks used the Hellenic calendar; so the team wound up arriving just hours before the opening ceremony as opposed to 12 days before the Games.

Connolly was out of shape - 12 lbs. overweight - and tired. However, he received the first Olympic prize to be awarded in more than 1,500 years when he cleared 45 feet. He was the last to jump & outdistanced his closest competitor by more than a yard.

Harvard had offered him an honorary degree, but he rejected it. He wound up becoming a prolific journalist & author, writing 25 novels. He did choose to accept an invitation to lecture on literature at Harvard. At his 50th class reunion, the college awarded him a Harvard "H" in track.

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