This is the fourth in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.
OLYMPIC LEGEND: A Jewish Olympic athlete lost the Gold medal in the long jump by a centimeter because a fellow athlete competed on the Sabbath when the Jewish athlete would not be able to.
Myer Prinstein and Alvin Kraenzlein were both teammates on the American Olympic track and field team for the 1900 Olympics.
And here’s Kraenzlein…
Prinstein ended up winning a Gold Medal in the triple jump
and Kraenzlein ended up winning three Gold Medals in the 60 metre hurdles, the 110 meter hurdles and the 200 meter hurdles.
However, there was a major controversy in the first Medal event the two competed in, the long jump.
The qualifying round of the Long Jump was on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and the final round was on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath.
Although, Prinstein was Jewish, he still competed in the qualifying round. In the qualifying rounds for the Long Jump, Prinstein’s jump was much further than everyone else, so he was in a very good position to win the event even if he did not compete in the Finals.
However, here’s the thing that people seem to miss – the reason the Sabbath was blocked out had nothing to do with Prinstein personally. Prinstein played for Syracuse, and Syracuse, among a bunch of other colleges, were outraged at the notion of the Olympic officials having athletes competing on the Christian Sabbath, so a large group of colleges got together and agreed to skip the events on Sunday. So Prinstein was forced by his college not to play the event. It was NOT his idea, as it commonly reported.
Guess what college did NOT ban its athletes from competing on Sunday?
The University of Pennsylvania, where Alvin Kraenzlein attended.
Prinstein asked his “teammate” (in name only, really, as the two were pretty big rivals at the time) to skip the Finals, as well, as a show of solidarity or really, just as a matter of fairness, because everyone else was skipping the event.
Obviously, there is a dispute over what was said between the two men, but Prinstein seemed pretty sure that he had achieved a positive response from Kraenzlein, so he was quite irate when, the next day, Kraenzlein competed.
Not only did he compete, but he ended up eclipsing Prinstein on the last of his three attempts, by a single lone centimeter!!
Kraenzlein was the Gold Medal winner and Prinstein the Silver.
Prinstein, as you might imagine, was not pleased.
He went to go punch Kraenzlein, but the two were broken up by people nearby. It’s disputed whether Prinstein actually landed a blow on Kraenzlein, but he definitely tried.
Not exactly the spirt of the Olympics, eh (granted, it was only the second Modern Olympics)?
OLYMPIC LEGEND: The Chinese Table Tennis team cut four players for “falling in love.”
STATUS: Essentially True
As you may or may not know, Table Tennis is a wildly popular sport in China.
In the 2008 Summer Olympics, all three of the Singles Table Tennis medals were won by Chinese players in both the Men’s and the Women’s competition. In addition, both the Men’s and Women’s team won the Gold Medal for team play (and if each country were allowed to enter more than one team in competition, China likely would have won those medals, as well).
In 2004, the world saw just how serious China was taking their chances at the 2004 Summer Olympics when Coach Cai Zhenhua made a pronouncement.
He had banned “falling in love,” and as a result, he was kicking four players off of the team for violating that rule. As he noted, “This year is an Olympic year. As athletes, you have to make every sacrifice that is required for your team.”
Among the removed players were Bai Ying, 19, girlfriend of China’s world No.1 player Ma Lin….(here’s Lin…)
and Fan Ying, 17, girlfriend of world No. 3 Wang Hao (here’s Hao…)
A male-female couple also were both kicked off.
Amusingly enough, at the 2004 Summer Olympics, China failed to win the Gold Medal in Men’s Singles for the first time since 1992!!
Lin failed to even medal in singles (he did win the Gold in Men’s Doubles)!!
I guess that unlike tennis, in table tennis, love stands for more than nothing.
OLYMPIC LEGEND: A gymnast won six medals at an Olympics…with only one leg!
In 1904, gymnast George Eyser was 33 years old, competing in his first and last Olympics for the United States (Eyser came to America from Germany as a young teen – he became a citizen in 1894).
He went home with a staggering SIX medals, including THREE Gold Medals!
He won the Gold Medal in Parallel Bars, Long Horse Vault and Rope Climbing. He won the Silver Medal in the Pommel Horse and the Combined Competition. He won the Bronze Medal in the Horizontal Bar.
That’s an impressive enough feat for ANY Olympian, but, naturally, Eyser was a bit more special than that (obviously, as why else would I be featuring him here?).
You see, Eyser had lost his left leg in a train accident years earlier!!!
Yep, he won all these medals competing with a wooden leg!
Here is the leg in question…
Eyser was the last athlete to compete with a prosthetic in the Olympics until just over a hundred years later, in the 2008 Summer Olympics, South African swimmer Natalie du Toit competed with a prosthetic (after her left leg was amputated after a car accident back in 2001).
Both remarkable examples of the competitive drive taking you further than you ever thought you could go.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org