The Olympics return to London for the first time since 1948 and for the third time overall, as London also played host to the Summer Games in 1908. In 1948, Ivy athletes combined to win 19 medals, including eight golds, three silvers and eight bronzes. In 1908, 12 medals were earned by Ivy athletes, including six golds, three silvers and three bronzes.
Complete 1908 Recap
Originally scheduled to take place in Rome, the Italian government gave up the right to host the 1908 Games when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 1906. Marching with the United States was John Baxter Taylor (Penn ’08). Taylor would become the first African-American to win a gold medal. His Olympic experience started with what was one of the most controversial events in Olympic history – the 1908 400-meter race.
The 400-meter final included four men: Wyndham Halswelle of Great Britain, and Americans William Robbins, John C. Carpenter (Cornell ’07), and Taylor. In the homestretch, the race came down to Halswelle and Carpenter. Officials contended that Carpenter obstructed Halswelle’s pursuit to take the lead and ripped the finish line tape before the race finished. The race was to be re-run without Carpenter two days later. In a show of solidarity, Taylor and Robbins refused to participate, leaving Halswelle to walk around the track to earn the gold medal.
Taylor would later win his gold medal in the sprint medley relay, the first relay race in Olympic history. The team, which also included Taylor’s Penn teammate and two-time Olympian Nathaniel J. Cartmell, won the race by three seconds, making Taylor the first African-American to win a gold medal. Taylor tragically passed away in December 1908, at the age of 26, from typhoid.
Complete 1948 Recap
After a 12-year absence due to World War II, the Games returned to London in 1948.
Fencer Norman Armitage (Columbia), competing in his fourth of six Olympics, led the U.S. sabre team to a bronze medal. He also won the ‘Friendship Trophy’ as the most outstanding American fencer. Armitage went on to be selected at the only U.S. flag bearer at the 1952 and 1956 Games.
Yachting proved to be a fertile medal ground for the Ivies in 1948. Crimson father and son Paul Smart and Hilary Smart ’47 won the gold medal in the Star class (a 6.9-meterlong shallow keelboat). While at Harvard, Paul Smart was a pole vaulter and a member of the ice hockey and soccer teams. The United States 6-meter boat won gold with three Crimson sailors on the five-man team including Alfred E. Loomis ’50, James H. Smith, Jr. ’48, and James H. Weekes. The Swallow (a boat similar to the Star but with a smaller sailing area), was part of Olympic yachting only for the 1948 Games and Owen C. Torrey, Jr. (Harvard ’47) won the bronze medal with fellow sailor Lockwood Pine.
Yale rower Stu Griffing, who won a bronze medal in the coxless fours at the 1948 Games, was recently featured in The New York Times:
Their Golden Years