Sunday Monitor

America’s feat, a young medallist & wine story

BOOK EXCERPT

Princeton University student Robert Garrett had been designated to travel to Athens and participate in the shot-put event, a discipline in which he stood out as one of the bests in his country. But Garrett, a curious and restless guy, could not justify the very long trip to Greece to intervene exclusively in a single competition. For this reason, he asked his coaches to register him also in high jump, long jump and in an unknown event in the United States: discus throw. Garrett’s proposal was taken almost as a joke, because nobody had the fundamental element to practise that discipline: the disc. However, the determined athlete said he would make one to arrive in Athens well prepared. Based on illustrations and engravings of ancient vessels, the twenty-year-old boy designed the strange artifact and commissioned a blacksmith friend to make it in steel.
Following the same Hellenic drawings, he was rehearsing the appropriate movements to throw the instrument as far as possible. Thus, he practised for a week and embarked towards Greece. On 6 April, after the official opening of the Games, the discus throw was one of the first tests. When mixing with the other competitors, Garrett—the only American among three locals, two Danes, a British, a Swede and a Frenchman—discovered with surprise that the piece to throw was smaller and lighter than the one he had conceived: it was about 22 centimeters in diameter and 2 kilos of weight. Likewise, when he saw how his rivals practised, he felt ridiculous, since they all launched it from postures that imitated the classic sculpture Discobolus by the famous Athenian master Myron of Eleutherae. Far from being intimidated by so many ‘novelties’, including the rules he had to learn at the last minute, the American took his turn. His first two releases aroused laughter between his contestants and the public, for his clumsy movements and because the discus went anywhere. In fact, it almost caused a tragedy because it went close to falling among the spectators. However, on his third and final turn, Garrett turned himself on—in the style of the hammer throw—and threw the piece at 29 meters and 15 centimeters. His mark not only exceeded by 20 centimeters the best throw of his opponent, it also reached a world record. The day after his incredible feat, Garrett added another Olympic title in shot-put and went second in long jump. Four days later he would repeat the second place in high jump. With four medals, the improvised and surprising Discobolus returned home as the most successful American of the first edition of the modern Olympics.

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Dimitrios Loundras was only 10 years and 218 days old when he participated in the Games as a component of the Greek gymnastics team on parallel bars. Member of the Ethnikos Gymnastikos Syllogos, the boy stood out for his skill and remarkable technique. On 9 April, thanks to the contribution of the small Loundras, his team finished in third place, which in the current tradition represents the ‘bronze medal’. Since that day, Dimitrios, who died in 1970, remains the youngest medalist in the Games. Actually, he is the smallest of the ‘known’. In the following edition, Paris 1900, a boy who participated as a helmsman in a rowing event won the ‘gold medal’. However, his identity and his true age—it is believed that he was seven or eight years old—continue to be an absolute mystery since then. This allowed the Greek to retain this novel title until now.

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Albin Lermusiaux had never run a distance as huge as the one proposed by the marathon. But excited by his third place in the 1500 meters, the intrepid Frenchman signed up himself in the new race that on 10 April closed the athletic competition in Athens. Lermusiaux planned a quick start to take the vanguard from the first moment, and then regulate the forces to get a final sprint in the last meters. The test began and the Frenchman, as he had calculated, placed himself at the forefront. Slowly, the kilometers were left behind, always with the Frenchman in the lead. Only 8 kilometers from the stadium, the triumph of Lermusiaux seemed a fact. However, destroyed by fatigue and thirst, which had begun to affect his resistance, the runner who headed the race accepted a couple of glasses of wine offered by a spectator on the side of the road. The French drank with great content and returned to the competition, but immediately noticed that something was wrong: alcohol, quickly absorbed by his empty stomach, mixed with exhaustion in a lethal cocktail that exploded in his head. Lermusiaux collapsed and had to be helped by some of the neighbours who looked curiously at the corridors. Although he soon returned to himself, the Frenchman could not take another step. One of his assistants recalled an old sentence of the Greek poet Alcaeus of Mytilene: In the wine there is truth; but in the water, health.

(Excerpted from The Most Incredible Olympic Stories by Luciano Wernicke, Niyogi Books, with permission from the publisher)

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