Rising to the Challenge
Stunning Upsets. Memorable Moments. Unlikely Heroes.
A 100-year panorama of Stanford at the Olympics.
By Kevin Cool and Sam Scott
One hundred years ago a Stanford junior named George Horine won a bronze medal in the high jump at the Olympic Games in Stockholm. Stanford has been represented on the medal stand in every Summer Olympiad since.
Over that span, Stanford-affiliated athletes have won 225 medals. Occasionally, they have outperformed entire continents. In the 1996 Games in Atlanta, "Stanford" won more gold medals (17) than all but three countries that competed. More than China. More than France. Sixteen more than Great Britain. (Sorry, just saying.)
We have compiled highlights from this century of success, including a few you probably have never heard of. Imagine how you can impress your Stanford friends by knowing about George Horine, or how a Stanford diver is connected to Tarzan, or where a gravely ill swimmer at the Tokyo Games found the inspiration to win his event in world record time.
The tradition will continue in London this summer as a new contingent of Stanford performers competes. You can follow their progress here.
The world record holder in the high jump at 6 feet, 7 inches entering the Games, George Horine, Class of 1913, failed to match his personal best but still became the first Stanford athlete to medal in an Olympics. He was the second competitor with a Stanford connection; pole vaulter Sam Bellah, Class of 1911, competed in the 1908 Games.
In the history of the Olympics, only four athletes have won gold medals in two different sports. One of them was Morris Kirksey, 1918.
After being nosed out by world record holder Charles Paddock in the 100-meter race, Kirskey anchored the American team that won the 400-meter relay. Then Kirksey traded in his running togs for a rugby uniform and helped the U.S. team defeat France in the championship game, 8-0.
Ragtag Rugby Lot Takes Down French
Four years after Stanford's Al White, '24, became the first person to win gold medals in both springboard and platform diving, Pete DesJardins, '32, repeated the feat. (It would not be accomplished again until Greg Louganis earned gold in both events in 1984.) After graduating, DesJardins appeared in a sports water show in his hometown of Miami alongside Olympic champion swimmer and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller.
1932 LOS ANGELES
Bill Miller entered the 1932 Games having never won a pole vault event. He finished with a gold medal and a world record. Miller, '26, whose previous best finish was a three-way tie for first in the intercollegiate championships earlier in the year, cleared 14 feet, 1¾ inches to snare the gold.
Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Gestring took first in springboard diving. She remains the youngest person ever to win an Olympic gold medal. (Subsequent rule changes established age minimums in several sports; 13-year-olds can no longer compete.) The U.S. Olympic Committee, convinced that Gestring, '45, would have won another gold medal, gave her an honorary gold when World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Games. The 1944 Games also were canceled, and in 1948 Gestring attempted a comeback at age 25 but finished fourth at the U.S. trials and missed making the team.
Fresno Teenager Best in the World
Talk about domination. The U.S. men's basketball team breezed to the gold medal, winning its eight games by an average margin of 53 points. Two Stanford players, Ron Tomsic, '55, and Jim Walsh, '52, were among the leading scorers on the squad, which also featured future Boston Celtics greats Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. At the time, Tomsic was Stanford's all-time leading scorer, having eclipsed the great Hank Luisetti, '38, with 1,416 points.
When swimmer Chris Von Saltza, '65, won three golds and a silver in the Rome Olympics, nobody was surprised. The 16-year-old sensation held the world record in the 400-meter freestyle and weeks earlier had become the first American woman to break the five-minute barrier in that event, shattering the old mark by more than 15 seconds.
1968 MEXICO CITY
Coached by Stanford's head track coach Payton Jordan, the 1968 American track and field team remains one of the most successful in Olympic history. Bob Beamon won the long jump with an astonishing leap of 29 feet, 2½ inches; Al Oerter won his fourth straight gold in the discus; Jimmy Hines, Tommie Smith and Lee Evans swept the sprinting events, winning golds in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, respectively; and Dick Fosbury won the high jump, popularizing a new style that became known as the Fosbury Flop. Bill Toomey, MA '64, won the decathlon.
John Hencken took up swimming not to compete but to help recover from a childhood operation that removed a growth behind his knee. That therapy regimen led to one of the most decorated careers in Stanford swimming history. Hencken, '77, set 12 world records in breaststroke—seven in the 100 meters and five in the 200 meters—and won five Olympic medals, including a gold and bronze in Munich. After a stellar college career that included five NCAA championships, Hencken won two more golds and a silver in the 1976 Montreal Games.
1984 LOS ANGELES
Olympic success was only the beginning for swimmer Jenna Johnson, '89. A high schooler when she competed in Los Angeles, winning two golds and a silver, Johnson was a six-time NCAA champion while at Stanford and helped the Cardinal to its second national title.
Janet Evans, '93, won three gold medals and America's hearts with her performance and warm, engaging personality. She placed first in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle, and anchored the gold-medal-winning American individual medley relay. In two seasons on the Farm, Evans won five NCAA individual events and set two American records. She returned to compete in the 1992 Games, earning one gold and one silver.
One Last Try to Win the 'Fly
OMG! A Shocker from Down Under
Competing in her second Olympics, Kerri Walsh, '00, along with playing partner Misty May, won all seven matches en route to the gold medal in women's beach volleyball. Walsh and May, who successfully defended their gold medal at the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing, did not lose a single game in Athens.
The crew program on the Farm has featured some of the world's top rowers in recent years, none more accomplished than Elle Logan. A 20-year-old sophomore at the time, Logan helped the women's eight win gold in Beijing, ending a 24-year drought for the Americans in that event. Logan, '10, will be in the eights boat again in London, hoping to keep the gold medal title.
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- 1924 PARIS: Ragtag Rugby Lot Takes Down French
- 1948 LONDON: Fresno Teenager Best in the World
- 1964 TOKYO: Surgery-Bound Swimmer to Docs: "I Want to Race"
- 1992 BARCELONA: One Last Try to Win the 'Fly
- 1984 LOS ANGELES: Injury Robs Golden Chance
- 1996 ATLANTA: Women's Soccer Steals the Show
- 1996 ATLANTA: Stuck in Our Memory
- 2000 SYDNEY: OMG! A Shocker from Down Under
The Effort Effect
Let Me Introduce Myself
Seeing at the Speed of Sound
Dunder Mifflin Going Out of Business
Data is from the past two weeks.