Paris Olympics in 1924 set stage for Hollywood endings
There was a soon-to-be Hollywood star in the pool, and a soon-to-be Hollywood ending on the track at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Johnny Weissmuller, the American swimmer who went on to star as Tarzan in a dozen films, won three swimming gold medals at the Paris Games and also earned a bronze medal in water polo.
Weissmuller won the 100-meter freestyle, 400 free and 4x200 free.
In the 100 free sprint Weissmuller edged American teammate Duke Kahanamoku, the two-time defending champion in the event who is also the father of modern surfing. Kahanamoku won his golds in the 100 free in 1912 and 1920. The 1916 Games were canceled because of World War I.
After winning two more gold medals in 1928, Weissmuller became a model and eventually started working as an actor. He starred as Tarzan in 12 feature films.
“I went to the back lot at MGM, they gave me a G-string and said, ‘Can you climb a tree? Can you pick up that girl?’ I could do all that, and I did all my own swinging because I had been a YMCA champion on the rings,” Weissmuller was quoted as saying in his Associated Press obituary from 1984.
The other story that made its way into movie theaters came in the form of the Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire.” The movie about two British sprinters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, centers around their gold-medal performances at the Paris Olympics.
Abrahams won the 100 meters, upsetting a group of Americans in the final, including defending champion Charley Paddock — the first person to be known as “the fastest man alive” after his gold-medal performance four years earlier in Antwerp. Paddock finished fifth in the 1924 final.
Liddell, who also played international rugby for Scotland, was a 100-meter runner as well. But because of his deep Christian beliefs, he dropped out of that event when he learned he would have to run in the heats on a Sunday.
Instead, he won the gold medal in the 400 meters.
FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER
The 1924 Games, the second to be held in Paris, were the first to adopt the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” or “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” It was also the first to raise three flags at the closing ceremony, one for the International Olympic Committee, one for the host country, and one for the future host country. It was also the first games to house athletes in an Olympic Village.
There was a gold medalist in the pool who made more of a name for herself in salt water two years later. Gertrude Ederle won gold in the 4x100 freestyle as well as bronze medals in the 100 free and 400 free. But she achieved international acclaim in 1926 when she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
The “Flying Finns,” led by Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola, dominated the distance events on the track. Nurmi won the 1,500 meters and the 5,000 meters on the same day, and added another gold in cross-country. Ritola won the 10,000 meters and the steeplechase, as well as finishing second to Nurmi in the 5,000 and in the cross-country event. Nurmi and Ritola combined to help Finland win more gold in the 3,000-meter and cross-country team events.
JUMPING INTO HISTORY
DeHart Hubbard of the United States became the first Black athlete to win an individual event at the Olympics, taking gold in the long jump. However, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Hubbard’s feat was overshadowed by teammate Robert Legendre, who had failed to qualify for the U.S. team in the long jump but set a world record in the event during the pentathlon a day earlier.
The United States won the gold medal in rugby union, beating France in the final. It was the last time the 15-per-side sport was played at the Olympics. Rugby Sevens, however, was added to the program for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
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