Five games and two medals for Irishman

John Pius Boland was a member of the Dublin milling family.

After his parents died, he, his five sisters and one brother were reared by their maternal uncle, Dr Nicholas Donnelly, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, along with the help of his housekeeper.

The two boys were sent to the Oratory in Birmingham, where Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was the headmaster. John Pius Boland went on to study law at Oxford.

During his final year of university, he became interested in the revival of the Olympic movement. In 1895, Boland met Konstantinos Manos, a secretary with the Athens organising committee.

The following year when Boland went to Greece to witness the revival of games, Manos “made things smooth” for him to take part in the singles and doubles at lawn tennis. There were only 13 tennis entrants. Six of those were from Greece, where tennis had been practically unknown before the Athens Lawn Tennis Club was set up in 1895.

There were no distinguished tennis players in the tournament. “I should not have dared to enter for the most modest tournament at home,” George Robertson, another student from Oxford, explained.

Edwin Flack of Australia was there as an athlete. He actually won the 800m and the 1,500m, while Fredrich Traun of Germany was there as a sprinter.

After getting a bye in the first round and then defeating Traun to qualify for the semi-final, Boland paired with Traun in the doubles, in which there were only six teams.

They got a bye in the first round, which meant that their first match was the semi-final.

Boland defeated one of the Greeks to reach the single’s final, and he and Traun defeated a Greek pair to reach the doubles final. The two tennis finals were held on the last afternoon of Olympic competition.

Boland defeated the Egyptian-based Greek, Dionysios Kasdaglis, in the final of the singles by 6-3, 6-1. He and Traun then defeated Kasdaglis and a Greek colleague in the doubles by 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

Thus, Boland and his partner had the distinction of being the first multi-nation team to win an Olympic event.

The silver medals for the winners were presented on the final day. When they ran up the Union Jack for Boland in the singles, he objected that there should be an Irish flag of a gold harp on a green background. The Greeks did not have such a flag and it was too late to procure one.

In 1900, Boland was elected from Kerry South to the British Parliament, where he served for 18 years, but is most remembered for his Olympic wins. He died in 1958, aged 87.

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