Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the Olympics and Olympians and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Olympic urban legends featured so far.
OLYMPIC URBAN 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)?
The legend is…
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