7 Stories You Haven't Heard About the Olympics

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When it comes to the Olympics, our good friend Justin Feinstein is a wealth of information. He has agreed to share his seven favorite stories with us today.

7 Stories You Haven't Heard About The Olympics

by Justin Feinstein

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1. Perfect 10s All Around!

Scoring a perfect 10 is the dream of every Olympic gymnast. In 1924, 22 male gymnasts made this dream a reality in the same event. But this wasn't due to some freak occurrence or heightened level of competition "“ the event was rope climbing, which has since been discontinued.

2. Basketball Gets Dragged Through the Mud

Basketball's debut at the 1936 Olympics was nothing short of a disaster. Not only were the finals a low scoring affair (the United States snagged gold from Canada in a yawn-inducing 19-8 game), but the conditions were a mess. Part of the problem was Germany's venue: the game was played outdoors. On a dirt court. In the pouring rain! Playing on mud made dribbling and bounce-passes impossible. Things weren't much easier for the fans. A lack of seating forced all (approximately 1,000) spectators to stand and watch in the rain.

3. Paris takes Games to a New Low

As bad as Germany's basketball planning was, the event barely holds a candle to the 1900 Paris Olympics, which were held in conjunction with the World's Fair and spread out over five months. Take the marathon, for instance, which was rife with logistical nightmares. The event was run through the city's active streets, complete with pedestrians and bicyclists. Worse still, several competitors got lost because the course was so poorly marked. Of course, the long race was just one of the many memorable events, including several that would never be seen again. The 1900 Olympics were the only Games to feature such time-wasters as pigeon shooting and swimming through an obstacle course "“ which included swimming under boats.

4. John Boland wins an Audience Participation Award

The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 and yielded perhaps the most unlikely champion in Olympic history. A student at Oxford, John Boland traveled to Greece as a spectator to take in the excitement. But a friend on the Olympic Committee had signed him up for the tennis competition. Despite a lack of proper attire, the plucky Boland decided to go ahead and play (in his dress shoes, no less) and actually won.

5. Golfer Brings Home Gold (without ever knowing it?!)

Margaret Ives Abbott was the first American woman to win a gold medal. Unfortunately, she lived her entire life without ever knowing what she had accomplished. Since the aforementioned 1900 Paris events were spread out informally over several months, de-emphasizing their Olympic status, she simply thought she had won a nine-hole golf tournament in Paris.

6. The Only Case where "Slow and Steady" Actually Worked

The 1904 Olympic Marathon in St. Louis was perhaps the most brutal event in Olympic history. On a sweltering hot summer day, marathon runners took off on an unpaved dusty course, following pace cars and inhaling exhaust. Many runners had to withdraw to receive medical attention, and even the winner, American Thomas Hicks, needed repeated medical care both during and after the race. And by "medical care," we mean strychnine and brandy. Of course, our favorite tale from the Games is that of Felix Carvajal, a Cuban who took "The Tortoise" approach to running the race. Despite stopping to chat with spectators and breaking to pick and eat fruit from an orchard (which made him sick), Carvajal still managed to finish in fourth place.

7. And just a word on the Games' (harsh) origins

The ancient Olympic Games served as the basis for our modern Olympics, and fortunately the whole "competing in the nude" thing wasn't the only custom left to history. Athletes that arrived late to compete were fined, with the only acceptable excuses being shipwreck, weather or pirates. Athletes that were caught cheating were also fined, but were allowed to keep their winnings. But married women caught watching the Games got it the worst: they were executed. Of course, that probably had something to do with the whole competing in the nude thing.

And let's not forget three of our favorite Olympic athletes. Swede Oscar Swahn won a silver medal in a deer-shooting event at the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72! In 1904, American gymnast George Eyser won six medals (three gold) despite having a wooden left leg, which is even more amazing. But Hungarian pistol shooter Karoly Takacs taught himself how to shoot left-handed after his right (shooting) hand was shattered by a grenade, and then went on to win the rapid-fire shooting event at the 1948 Olympics. He gets our gold.

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Justin Feinstein is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Besides the Olympics, he also knows a lot about weird medical conditions, New York restaurants and keeping infants entertained. You should read his blog: Guardedly Optimistic.

December 3, 2007 - 4:17am
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