Olympic Fun Facts
Poland's "Stella the Fella" and other amazing trivia
by Mike Morrison
American Myer Prinstein finished runner-up in the 1900 long jump in Paris, despite not even showing up for the finals. Prinstein, a Syracuse University student who was in fact Jewish, agreed along with several other American athletes not to compete in the finals on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Qualifying jumps counted back then, and that's what earned him second place. As legend has it, he was so angry at eventual gold-medal winning jumper Alvin Kraenzlein for competing in the finals that he punched him in the face.
The 1912 Greco-Roman wrestling match in Stockholm between Finn Alfred Asikainen and Russian Martin Klein lasted more than 11 hours. Klein eventually won but was too exhausted to participate in the championship match, so he settled for the silver.
Did you ever wonder why the official distance of a marathon is exactly 26 miles, 385 yards? In 1908, the marathon standard had been set at exactly 26 miles. However, at the Olympic marathon in London, it was decided that the royal family needed a better view of the finish line. Organizers added an extra 385 yards to the race so that the finish line would be in front of the royal box. It's been that length ever since.
The five interlocking rings of the Olympic flag symbolize the five continents of the world (Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas) "linked together in friendship." Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin claimed that at least one of the rings' colors (blue, yellow, black, green, and red, along with the white background) was present in each country's national flag.
World record, but no gold medal: In 1924, American Robert LeGendre shattered the world long jump record with a leap of 25 feet, 4 inches. However, the jump was part of the pentathlon competition and LeGendre could muster only a third-place finish overall. The actual long jump competition was won with a jump of 24 feet, 5 inches.
Stella the Fella—Poland's Stella Walsh (Stanislawa Walasiewicz)—won the women's 100-meter race at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, becoming the first woman to break the 12-second barrier. When she was killed in 1980 as an innocent victim in a robbery attempt, an autopsy declared her to be a male.
Danish rider Lis Hartel won the silver medal in the 1952 equestrian dressage event in Helsinki. Hartel suffered from an inflammation of the spinal cord known as poliomyelitis, which required her to be lifted on and off her horse each time.
Before there was Kerri Strug, there was Japan's Shun Fujimoto. In the men's team gymnastics competition in 1976, he actually broke his kneecap while performing in the floor exercise. The following day, however, he needed a top-notch performance in the rings for Japan to secure the gold. With no pain killers, he performed a near flawless routine and stuck the landing, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on his injured knee. He grimaced in pain as he held his position for the judges, then finally collapsed in agony. Japan won the team gold by just four tenths of a point over the Soviet Union.
And you thought they just used a match. Did you know that traditionally the Olympic flame in Olympia, Greece, is rekindled every two years using the sun's rays and a concave reflective mirror?
In 1928, six of the eight entrants in the women's 800-meter race reportedly collapsed at the finish line in an "exhausted state." Poor training methods and the brutal Amsterdam sun were the two major causes of distress. That event was subsequently cancelled until 1960.