Wednesday, August 24, 2016

First Modern Olympics included Guns and Whiskey, but no Gold

The Gun that Won the West…

With the capture of the Wild Bunch in 1896, gunfights in the Old West were winding down just as a different type of gun battle was heating up.  For that was the year the first modern Olympics was held in Athens, following a 1502 year hiatus.
There was no official U.S. Olympic team in 1896 and, indeed, the thought of Americans participating in the Olympics was frowned upon by many including the New York Times: “The American amateur sportsman in general should know that in going to Athens he is taking an expensive journey to a third rate capital where he will be devoured by fleas.”
Some members of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) disagreed. They saw the Olympics as a chance to do something significant, maybe even historic, and an all-star track team was selected.
U.S. Olympic team 1896
When BAA member John Paine heard about the Olympic team, he convinced his gunsmith brother Sumner to enter the shooting competition with him. The two brothers landed in Greece armed with an arsenal of weapons, including a colt revolver and more than three thousand rounds of ammunition. 
Like all the other American athletes, they were in for a shock.  Greece went by the Orthodox calendar which meant it was April 5th in Greece and only March 25th in America. Instead of having two weeks to prepare for competition, as planned, American athletes had only eight hours. Fortunately, that was all John and Sumner needed.  

…Also Won the Crown

When the brothers were told that their Stevens 22s were "not usual" and inadmissible, the brothers switched to Colts 45s.
John easily won the military gun contest with his Colt.  Thinking it unsporting to continue, he withdrew from the other events so as not to embarrass the host. (Can you imagine anything like that happening today?) Sumner easily won the free pistol event, making the brothers the first siblings to win medals in an Olympic event.

The brothers’ shooting skills were given less credit than the whiskey they sipped between rounds to relieve tension. Thinking booze would give them the winning edge, other marksmen started sporting flasks, too.
1896 Medals
Since gold was considered “crass,” first place winners went home with a silver medal and crown of olive leaves.  I don’t know what the two brothers did with the crowns, but one medal came in handy.
Several years later in 1901, Sumner found his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher.   He chased the man away with four pistols shots and was arrested for assault.  When the police learned he won an Olympic medal for shooting, they decided he must have missed on purpose and released him. 

 Did you watch the Olympics?  If so, what was your favorite sport?

Coming in November... 

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And a single marriage can unite a feuding town
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  1. Great post! I love the archery and gymnastics.

  2. Hi Linda, I loved the gymnastics, too. What a team we had! I also enjoyed the diving.

  3. That's a funny story about John missing that guy on purpose. I had wanted to watch more of the shooting and archery this year, but I missed out again. I did see the gymnastics. Our women were great! I enjoyed this post about the Paine brothers. I bet the other Olympians thought they were a pain. :)

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    2. Ha,ha, Vickie. Very punny. I missed out on the shooting and archery, too. Every time I got interested in something, they switched to something else.

  4. I love the gymnastics events and I also enjoyed the swimming competition. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. Hi Connie, the swimming was great, though I did feel a bit waterlogged after it was over.

  5. Always watching the gymnastics although it makes my body hurt. :) Enjoy the swimming and some of the track and field as well. Thanks for a interesting post to take us back in time.

  6. Hi Martha, I know what you mean about gymnastics making your body hurt. Those girls must have rubber bones.

  7. I always love watching the Olympics. I wish they gave more attention to the shooting games since I have a grandson who is a Cracker Jack shot. I love the pairs beach volleyball, gymnastics, and swimming to name just a few. Thank you for your great post, Margaret!

  8. Gymnastics was it for me-the USA gals were amazing. This was a fantastic and informative post, Margaret. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I love watching the Olympics! A few of the Final Five gals are from the Houston, TX area which is not far from me. I also enjoy watching the swimming and beach volleyball. Margaret, thank you for this fascinating post.

  10. Great post, Margaret! I loved the gymnastics, as always.