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MIT Olympians by Matt McGann '00

How many MIT graduates have been in the Olympics? No, not the Science Olympiad...

Since everyone seems to have Olympic fever these days (Michael Phelps! Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh! Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin!), I thought I’d take a look back at MIT athletes who have participated in the Olympics.

Now I know that many of you may be thinking that MIT is more likely to be in the Science Olympiad or the International Math Olympiad than the actual Olympics, but here’s the official tally:

  • 22 MIT alumni
  • representing 8 different countries
  • have competed in 27 Olympic Games
  • in 9 different sports
  • and have won 4 medals
  • including 2 Gold Medals

Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than half of the competitors, and all but one of the medals, have come from the “pirate sports” of rowing, sailing, fencing and rifle. We’re pretty good at the pirate sports: rowing and fencing are Division I sports; we are the birthplace of intercollegiate sailing; and we’re really good at shooting (we’ve won the national championship in pistol 2 of the last 4 years).

Here’s the rundown by sport:

  • Rowing: 7 MIT rowers, 10 Olympic Games
  • Sailing: 6 MIT sailors, 7 Olympic Games, 1 medal
  • Fencing: 2 MIT fencers, 2 medals
  • Track and Field: 2 MIT athletes, 1 medal
  • Skiing: 1 MIT skier, 2 Olympic Games
  • Rifle: 1 MIT marksman
  • Skeleton: 1 MIT slider
  • Tae Kwon Do: 1 MIT Taekwondoist
  • Wrestling: 1 MIT wrestler

Two interesting stories come from our track and field athletes.

Thomas Pelham Curtis, MIT Class of 1894, won the Gold Medal in the 110 meter hurdles (Liu Xiang‘s event) at the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896. His time was 17.6 seconds. By comparison, Liu’s world record time recorded 110 (!) years later was 12.88 seconds. You can read Curtis’s account of the 1896 Olympics in a column he wrote for MIT’s alumni magazine, Technology Review.

Some quick, fun facts about Curtis’s participation:

  • He traveled to Europe from the US by steamship
  • Times in running events were relatively slow, since the track was soft since the Stadium had not been fully completed
  • He was given the Gold Medal by the King of Greece himself

The other MIT track and field Olympian was Henry Steinbrenner ’27. The surname “Steinbrenner” is quite familiar to baseball fans: George Steinbrenner, and his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, has owned the New York Yankees since 1973. Where do you think George got the money to buy the team? Well, Henry used his MIT education in marine engineering to run the very successful Kinsman Marine Transit Company. Later, George took over and used the some of the business fortune to purchase the Yankees.

Henry Steinbrenner made such an impact on MIT athletics that MIT’s football and track & field stadium is named for him: Henry G. Steinbrenner Stadium.

The most recent Olympian was Pat Antaki ’84, who competed in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. Sadly, there are no MIT people in the 2008 Summer Games, but we had 3 representatives in the 2004 Summer Games. What will happen in the 2010 and 2012 Games? Stay tuned…

19 responses to “MIT Olympians”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry about the firsting.

    When it comes to “pirate sports”, do most MIT students start doing them in college, or are most athletes pros by the time they set foot on the college scene?

    Hmm, Taekwondoist is a word.

  2. madmatt says:

    Former top MIT pistoler Diana Nee ’07 picked up pistol in her sophomore year at MIT.

  3. Snively says:

    @madmatt
    And she’s a SCARY good shot.

  4. Carmen says:

    wow!! people in MIT are so amazing!! I really like Tae Kwon Do and that thing about it in MIT shocked me (in the good way). Congratulations MIT students!!

  5. RobotGrrl says:

    Wow! That’s a cool story about Thomas Pelham Curtis :o I wonder if his spikes were not aerodynamic enough, haha!
    How do Track athletes at MIT train normally?

  6. also, i have a theory that people from Boston can’t become pirates.
    simply because they can’t pronounce the r’s in “ARRRRR!”

    like Harvard is to Hahvahd, “ARRR!” is to “AHHH!”

    is this at least partly true?

  7. Gooooooo MIT Sailing! The team is pretty awesome and the Sailing Pavilion’s RIGHT ON CAMPUS. No excuse not to learn!
    http://sailing.mit.edu

  8. Steph says:

    That’s great. I wondered if there were any MIT Olympians. I know that Doria Holbrook (MIT guest blog url: http://scripts.mit.edu/~newsoffice/stringers/ ) was trying to qualify for the Olympics this year in diving but didn’t quite make it in.

  9. Omar says:

    Math olympiad plus chem, computing, and bio olympiads haha. There’s most definitely hundreds of those :D.

    I saw a random MIT sailboat out in the middle of Charles by the bridge at like 10:30 pm. They were waving and laughing until I yelled that we were prefrosh at which point they all fell silent and quickly sailed away. Yea off topic. Sue me :p

  10. Anonymous says:

    I like the pirate =/= Bostonian theory.

    Haaaahhhhheerrrverd.

  11. intleyes says:

    All MIT students can clearly pronounce nerd. The r is not dropped.
    Mom of ’09

  12. i wonder how many people walk into the shooting arena and think “lets see if im the next pistol olympian”

    anyways, wow, 2 gold medals
    smile

  13. Ehsan says:

    hmmmm….
    Chess is also at the olympics. And not trying to brag but I’m pretty good. Its a scholastic event so I was wondering if it counts for MIT admissions. Oh btw I’m a Canadian student.

  14. Ehsan says:

    hmmmm….
    Chess is also at the olympics. And not trying to brag but I’m pretty good. Its a scholastic event so I was wondering if it counts for MIT admissions. Oh btw I’m a Canadian student.

  15. '12 Parent says:

    My son (2012) has already told the entire family that he plans to graduate with a “Pirate Patch” attached to his diploma. NOW I UNDERSTAND!

  16. Yangrui Guo says:

    I guess the science olympians may win the athletic medals by planting supercomputer chips into their brains raspberry

    My virtual wind-tunnel program is nearly done.
    I guess it is more powerful than the one on the MIT’s web because mine calculates the viscous fluid equations.
    I’ll submit my program as supplementary material!

  17. Helen '15 says:

    Smart AND athletic.
    What can’t MIT students do? =P

    I have met one Olympian before, Ryan Bayley, who was a gold and silver medallist in Athens.
    He lives in my suburb, and went to my primary and seconday school.
    A few of my former and current teachers also taught him.

  18. Enas'12 says:

    I was telling my dad how I want to join the Pistol Olympics..,. That would be awesome!!!