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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Connolly’s departure from Harvard was on a much different note. “I went to see the chairman of the athletic committee about a leave of absence,” he recalled in his 1944 autobiography. “One peek at the chairman’s puss told me here was no friendly soul.”

The chairman questioned his motives for attending the games, implying that he was simply looking for an opportunity to gallivant through Europe. Connolly recounted the exchange:

You feel that you must go to Athens?”

“I feel just that way, yes, sir.”

“Then here is what you can do. You resign and on your return, you make reapplication to the college, and I will consider it.”

To that, I said: ‘I am not resigning and I’m not making application to re-enter. I’m through with Harvard right now. Good day!’

It was ten years before I again set foot in a Harvard building, and then it was as a guest speaker of the Harvard Union; and the occasion nourished my ego no end."

Just before the BAA members were set to depart for Athens, there was a crisis: Burnham’s efforts to raise money to pay for the trip had fallen short. The BAA’s politically connected and deep-pocketed membership saved the day. Former governor of Massachusetts Oliver Ames, a longtime BAA member, jumped in and managed to marshal the funds to cover the shortfall in three days.

As John Kieran and Arthur Daley wrote in their 1936 Story of the Olympic Games:

“With passage paid and enough money to provide board and lodging in Greece and return tickets to Boston, the little team started on what was to be a triumphal journey and the beginning of United States ascendancy in the modern Olympic Games.”


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