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7 Stories You Haven't Heard About the Olympics

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.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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