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James B. Connolly

The first medal-winner at the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896, was an American triple jumper, James B. Connolly. He was 27 years old and a freshman at Harvard University. He was the national record holder in the hop, step and jump. When the dean refused to allow him to join the 10-man contingent to Athens, Connolly withdrew from Harvard and sailed to Athens as a representative of the Suffolk Athletic Club.
When the team reached Athens, it got a rude shock — the Greek calendar was ahead of the Western calendar and the Games were scheduled to begin the very next morning and not 12 days later as the Americans had thought! Worse, Connolly realised that the triple jump was not the hop-step-and jump he was used to but the hop-hop-and-jump! He had not practised it since childhood. And there were no trials, only three jumps to decide the winner.
Connolly was the last competitor. He swaggered up to the starting point and tossed his cap a metre beyond the best effort of the other competitors. Then he shot down the run-up, hopped twice and jumped — and landed well beyond the cap. His effort of just under 13.5 m fell short of his personal best and the world record he set later that year, but it still outdistanced his nearest rival by more than a metre!
He was the first Olympic winner in 1500 years, but as there were no gold medals in those days, he got only a silver!


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