Are you Games for a laugh?

Jonathan deBurca Butler compiles 10 things you never knew about the Olympics, from medals for art and ‘gold’ that was silver

WITH such an array of nations and peoples, the Olympic Games throw up strange stories.

Paddy First

James Brendan Connolly, (inset), whose parents hailed from the Aran Islands, won the first Olympic medal of the modern era, in the hop, skip and jump in Athens in 1894. Getting there had been tough. Connolly, who was a student at Harvard, had asked for a leave of absence. When he was turned down, he quit and travelled to Europe. In Italy, his ticket to Greece was stolen, but he retrieved it. When he finally got to Athens and won his event, he was ‘only’ given silver. Back then — and here’s one for the quiz masters — that’s what you got for coming first.


This will be the third time London has hosted the Olympics. It will be the only city to have done so, when the games start on Jul 27. So far, the British capital, and Los Angeles, Athens and Paris are the only cities to have hosted the games twice.

The Irish Whales

Between 1896 and 1924 a group of Irishmen represented the United States in a range of Olympic throwing events.

John Flanagan and Paddy Ryan, from Limerick, James Mitchell and Matt McGrath, from Tipperary, Pat McDonald, from Clare, and Martin Sheridan, from Bohola, Co Mayo, were known collectively as The Irish Whales.

Another ‘whale’, representing Canada, was Con Walsh, from Cork. Between them they won 23 medals, which is equivalent to the total Irish haul from 1924 to now. With nine medals, five of which were gold, Sheridan was the most successful of the ‘whales’.

He won medals in shot putt, discus, long jump and high jump between 1904 and 1908. He died of flu aged 37.

Five is the Magic Number

For all its talk of harmony and the bringing together of nations, only five countries have had competitors at all the modern, summer Olympic Games — and we choose our words carefully. Britain, France, Greece, Australia and Switzerland are the nations that everyone loves.

A slight hiccup

The first Olympic champion to be stripped of a medal for substance abuse was Hans Gunner Lijenwall. The Swede was part of a team that came third in the pentathlon at the 1968 Games in Mexico.

Both he and his teammates were stripped of their medals, however, when alcohol was discovered in his blood. He later explained that he had two beers, before the pistol shooting, to calm his nerves.

Olympic Queen

Russian Larisa Latynina holds the record for winning the most Olympic medals. The gymnast competed in just three games, from 1956 to 1964, and won 18 medals, nine of which were gold. Swimmer Michael Phelps holds the record for most golds, with 14.

And the gold for Misogyny goes to…

There are still three countries that have yet to send a woman to represent them at the Olympics.

Baharin and Qatar have said they intend to right that situation this year, while Saudi Arabia is still unsure what to do.

Latest reports suggest that the Saudi Olympic Committee will allow women to participate, but not as representatives of the country.

Not exactly a massive vote of confidence.

Women have competed in the Olympics since Paris, 1900. At that Olympics, 22 women competed and 975 men.

Qui est the unknown Champion?

In Paris, 1900, the Dutch coxed pair of Francois Brandt and Roloef Brandt dumped their chubby cox and found themselves a shorter, and apparently lighter one, in the shape of a young local. The French boy guided the Dutch pair to victory and was even photographed with them after the race. Then, he disappeared and to this day nobody knows who he is.

An athlete for all seasons

Only four people have won medals at both the summer and winter Olympics.

Eddie Eagan won the light heavyweight boxing gold in 1920, and a gold for his part in the four-man bobsled in 1932. Although his middle names, Francis and Patrick, are suspiciously Irish-sounding, Eagan represented America and hailed from Denver. Jacob Tullin Thams, from Norway, took the ski-jumping gold in 1924 and an eight-metre yachting silver in 1936, while Clara Hughes, from Canada, claimed bronze in both the individual road-race cycling and individual time-trial cycling events in 1996, and a 5,000m speed-skating bronze in 2002.

But the achievement of Christa Luding-Rothenburger, from East Germany (and, later, Germany), is perhaps the most remarkable.

Luding-Rothenburger won speed-skating gold at 500m in 1984. In Calgary, in 1988, she took gold in the 1,000m and silver in the 500m.

Seven months later, she took silver in match-sprint cycling in Seoul, making her the only athlete to win medals in both winter and summer games in the same year.

Brushstrokes not breaststroke

The Olympics are, of course, synonymous with sport, but seven Olympiads between 1912 and 1948 also included competitions for art, literature, architecture, sculpture and music.

And yep, you guessed it, we did quite well.

In 1924, Jack B Yeats won silver for the now well-known Liffey Swim, while in literature Oliver St John Gogarty won a bronze medal for his poem Ode to the Tailteann Games.

We had to wait until 1948 to feature again, when Letitia Hamilton won bronze for her painting Meath Hunt Point-to-Point Races.

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