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Olympics moment: James Connolly becomes first Olympic gold winner

A 27-year-old Harvard freshman, James Connolly, turned up at Athens in 1896 as the American record holder in the triple jump.

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A 27-year-old Harvard freshman, James Connolly, turned up at Athens in 1896 as the American record holder in the triple jump. Born into a down-at-heel Irish-American family, his request for leave of absence from Harvard was considered, and declined.

Not to be put off, he stood down from the university, teaming up with the United States’ ten-man delegation. The 17-day journey to Athens offered him crucial time to recover from a back injury picked up on the eve of his departure for Greece.

He was to suffer further problems, being relieved of his wallet in Naples and learning upon his arrival in Athens that the Games was beginning the following morning and not, as he thought, 12 days later. Despite further trouble with the change of the hop-skip-and-jump to the hop-hop-and-jump, something he had not performed since his schooldays, Connolly outperformed his nearest rival, Alexandre Tuffere of France, by over a yard. Connolly secured his place in Olympic history on April 6, 1896 when his leap of 13.71 metres in the triple jump secured him gold in Athens.

Connolly returned to the Olympics four years later in Paris to defend his triple jump title, but he could only manage silver. It also started a tradition of Harvard students representing America at every Games since 1896. In 1948 Harvard offered him an honorary degree, which he politely declined.

Following his athletics career Connolly became a well-known journalist and war correspondent, and wrote a novel, “The Gloucestermen”. He died on January 20, 1957, .

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