With the Tokyo Olympics upon us, let’s take a look back at the Ephs who have won Olympic medals over the years.
While there were no Ephs among the 12 athletes representing the U.S. at the first Olympic Games in 1896, Williams quickly found its way to the podium the next go-round. John Bray, Class of 1900, won bronze in the 1500m at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Heading into the Olympics, Bray was the unofficial world record holder, but a new record was set in the Olympic race.
Robert G. Leavitt, Class of 1907, won gold in the 110m hurdles in 1906. Now you might be thinking, 1900 + 4 = 1904. 1906? The 1906 Intercalated Games, or 1906 Olympic Games, was held in Athens, Greece, and at the time considered to be Olympic Games. Essentially the plan was for Athens to host an intermediate games halfway between each Olympics. That plan lasted until… well, 1906 was the only one.
Anyway, Bob brought home the gold for the U.S. in the 110m hurdles, and his medal now lives in the Williams archives and special collections.
Horace Hallock "Hal" Brown, Class of 1919, won gold in the 3000m at the 1920 Olympics in Belgium. His time at Williams was interrupted when he went to France in 1917 to serve in World War I, but he later returned to Williams and graduated with the Class of 1920. He would go on to a career as a seismologist, and his Williams record in the two-mile would stand until 1973.
The U.S. won bronze in men's field hockey at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, featuring a roster loaded with Ephs: Henry “Heinie” Greer, Class of 1922; Mike O’Brien, Class of 1925; Harold Brewster, Class of 1926; plus two who made the team but did not play: Lanny Buck, Class of 1924; and Bob Pyle, Class of 1927.
Before you get too excited, you should know that the team won zero games and was on the losing end of what still holds the record for the biggest rout in an international hockey match. Unfortunately it was an Eph, Brewster, in goal for that 24-1 defeat. The one goal USA scored occurred when the Indian team decided to let the Americans have a run, only to realize their goalkeeper was signing autographs behind the goal.
But, since only three teams competed that year, the U.S. still took home the bronze!
Heinie Greer, Class of 1922, deserves an extra shout out here, as he was responsible for the U.S. having a field hockey team at the 1932 Olympics. He was the founder of the Field Hockey Association of the United States of America and served on the U.S. Olympic Committee for almost 30 years. To generations of Ephs he was best known as Mr. Music, serving as “master of ceremonies, banjo player and orchestra leader, and leader of enthusiastic singalongs” (fall 1978 Alumni Review) at Williams football games and reunions for more than 60 years as an active volunteer and member of the community.
Eph women would break through in 1984, with Leslie Milne, Class of 1979, winning bronze in women's field hockey at the Olympics in Los Angeles. Also on the team was longtime Williams women's field hockey and lacrosse coach Chris Mason. The two might have won even more medals if it weren’t for the boycott of the 1980 Olympics four years prior.
Good luck to the Ephs competing in Tokyo, including Kristi Kirshe ‘17 with USA Rugby, Joey Lye '09 with Team Canada Softball, Tala Abujbara '14 with Qatar Rowing, and Will Hardy ‘10 on the USA Basketball coaching staff! Read more about them here.
For a complete list of Williams people who have competed and coached in the Olympics, you can check out the Williams Athletic Department’s excellent list.