Part One - The First Olympic Team
Through the summer and autumn of 1895 the newspapers from time to time would speak of the project, then on foot, for revival of the Olympic games at Athens in the spring of the following year.
And yet rather curiously, it seems to us now, in view of the excessive excitement of recent years, there was little interest in America over the plan, and it was not until the winter that the Boston Athletic Association decided to send a team to the games.
The whole idea sprang from a chance remark, uttered in jest. At the club's annual games, in January, Arthur Blake, our best distance runner, won the thousand yards, after a spectacular finish, and in a very good time. After the race, Mr. Burnham, one of Blake's friends, and a prominent member of the club, was congratulating him on his showing, and Blake laughingly answered, "Oh, I'm too good for Boston. I ought to go over and run the Marathon at Athens, in the Olympic games."
Mr. Burnham looked at him for a moment in silence and then asked, "Would you really go, if you had the chance?"
"Would I!" Blake returned, with emphasis; and from that moment Mr. Burnham made up his mind, if it could be brought about, that the Boston Athletic Association should send a team to the games.
A month later everything was definitely decided upon. The team was to consist of five men, T. E. Burke for the hundred- and four-hundred-meter runs, Blake for the mile and the Marathon, W. W. Hoyt for the pole vault, T. P. Curtis for the hundred meters and the hurdles, and myself for the high and broad jumps. John Graham, the Boston Athletic Association trainer, was to be in charge of the team.
In the meantime, Princeton University had decided to send a team of four men, - Garrett, Tyler, Lane and Jamison, - and James B. Connelly, now widely known as a writer, took the trip upon his own account, representing the Suffolk Athletic Club, and travelling in company with the team from the Boston Athletic Association.
There remained for me one obstacle to be overcome. The others were their own masters, but I was still in college, in my senior year, and my going was wholly dependent upon the consent of the authorities. I went to see the dean at once, and pleaded my case with what eloquence I possessed. He was pleasant and fair about the whole matter, and took the case under advisement. Two or three days later I had a letter from him. The first sentence was enough. "After careful deliberation, I have decided to let you go to Greece."
On March 20th, with a few friends at the station to bid us farewell, we left for New York, not one of us, it is safe to say, even dreaming of the sight that same station would present some two months later upon our return. At ten o'clock the next morning we embarked upon the Fulda.
Our first thought, of course, was to keep in good condition during the voyage, and to accomplish this we cast about us for the best means of getting our daily exercise. The captain, after a single glance at our spiked shoes, promptly forbade their use upon his much-prized decks. Yet rubber-soled shoes did nearly as well, and every afternoon we put on our running-clothes and practiced sprinting, hurdling and jumping on the lower deck.
My own specialty, the high jump, was rendered especially interesting by the pitching and rolling of the vessel. It all depended upon whether you left the deck at the moment the vessel was bound up or down. If the deck was going up, about two feet was the limit which you might attain; if down, there came the glorious sensation of flying through space. A world's record appeared to be surpassed with ease; and your only fear was of overstaying your time in the air, and landing, not upon the decks again, but in the wake astern.
The best of weather favored us; each day the air grew more balmy; upon March 30th we landed at Gibraltar. After our days on shipboard, there was much to see. But ours was no mere pleasure trip; so we made our way out to a race-track a little beyond the town, and there put on our spikes and did our first real work since leaving home.
The hardest work, of course, fell upon Blake, who had his long "grind" of twenty-five miles always before him. After the rest of us had taken our seats in our carriages for a drive around the town, Blake, to test his wind and stamina, elected to run behind.
Nor did he take his pleasure sadly. From time to time, as we would pass groups of small ragamuffins, standing beside the road, Blake would stoop and pretend to pick coins from the dust behind our carriages, shouting delightedly the while. The small boys were easy victims. We, from the carriages, did our best to encourage the deception, and Blake, pursued by the barefooted hunt, came gloriously along in our rear.
We left the steamer at Naples, and then began a tiresome journey. Across Italy to Brindisi, thence by boat to Patras, then another long days journey by rail - finally, on the evening of April 5th, we caught our first glimpse of the Acropolis, and knew that our journey eastward was at an end.
Ellery Harding Clark A.B., LL.B. (Harvard). Lawyer; formerly a member of the Boston school board and of the Boston board of aldermen. For four years a member of the Harvard track team; represented the United States at the Olympic Games at Athens, 1896, winning high and broad jumps; all-round athletic champion of New England, 1896, 1897, 1909; all-round athletic champion of America, 1897, 1903; author of law treatises, novels and books on athletics.
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