The Men Behind the First Olympic Team

Mocked by their peers and kicked out of Harvard, the pioneering athletes were ahead of their time... and their competition in Athens

The B.A.A. team in the stadium in Athens. (Image courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association)

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The BAA athletes dominated the first Olympic Games, winning six of the 11 first-place track-and-field medals accrued by the U.S. team (there was no “going for the gold” in the first Olympics; winners received silver medals). The crusty Connolly—technically not an Association member, but part of the Boston contingent, nonetheless—had the distinction of being the first man in the Modern Olympics to win an event, as the hop, step and jump was held early in the program.

In addition to their “athletics” (track–and-field) teammates, BAA members John and Sumner Paine each won first-place medals in the shooting events.

The fresh-faced, young BAA team was also a big hit with the Athenians, who imitated their “rah rah” college-type cheers; and feted and celebrated them throughout the time they were there.

Perhaps their most lasting contribution, however, was what the team brought back. The entire squad was in the Olympic stadium to watch the finish of the marathon, the final event of the 1896 Games, which was won by a Greek. They were so impressed by the drama of this event they came home with the idea of staging a similar long-distance running race in the U.S. The BAA coach Graham and Tom Burke, who had won two events, the 100 and the 400 meters, in Athens, spearheaded the effort. A year later, in April 1897, the first BAA Marathon was held. Now known as the Boston Marathon, the race attracts 25,000 participants a year and is one of the country’s longest-running annual sports events.

Excerpted from: “The BAA at 125: The Colorful, 125-Year History of the Boston Athletic Association” by John Hanc, to be published later this year by Skyhorse Publishing. For more information or to reserve a copy, visit


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