Ever since a Bostonian won the first event in the first modern Olympics, New England has sent more than its share of Olympians to compete for athletic glory.
New England Olympians have done especially well in the winter Olympics, winning a share of gold medals disproportionate to their states’ populations.
Tiny Vermont can claim four Winter Olympics gold medals. New Hampshire has six, Connecticut has five and Massachusetts has 16 – third most in the country, despite ranking 14th in population. Even Rhode Island can boast a Winter Olympics gold. The only New England state without a gold medal in the Winter Olympics is Maine.
Here, then, are eight facts about New England Olympians you may not know.
New England Olympians
- The town of Norwich, Vt., with 3,000 residents, produced 11 Olympians and accounted for three Olympic medals. Nine of its Olympians competed in the winter Olympics, including ski jumpers Mike Holland and Jeff Hastings and skiers Hannah Kearney, Betsy Snite and Tim Tetreault.
- Penny Pitou is a well-known name in New Hampshire for her eponymous travel agency, but she is also the first American skier to win a medal in the Olympic downhill She won silver medalsin both the downhill and giant slalom events at the 1960 Olympics. Pitou grew up in Center Harbor, N.H., but moved to Laconia with her family at 15. As a freshman at Laconia High in 1953, she hid her hair under her hat and competed on the boys’ ski team.
- Nine of the 14 Americans who competed in the first modern Olympics in history came from the Boston Athletic Association or the Suffolk Athletic Club of South Boston. James B. Connolly, born in South Boston to poor Irish immigrants, won the first event– the triple jump — in the 1896 Olympics in Athens. He took home a silver medal (gold medals weren’t issued then) and an olive laurel wreath. He almost didn’t make it because a thief stole his wallet on the way to the games.
- Many people know four players from the ‘Miracle on Ice’ hockey team of 1980 all attended Boston University and all came from Massachusetts. They included team captain Mike Eruzione, starters Dave Silk and Jim Craigand Jack O’Callahan. But few people remember the five Massachusetts players from the 1924 U.S. hockey team, which won the silver medal: Irving Small, Willard Rice, Justin McCarthy, John Lyons and John Langley.
- New Haven native Dr. Benjamin Spock won a gold medal for rowing in the 1924 Olympics as a member of the Yale University rowing team. Later, as America’s most famous baby doctor, he warned against putting young children into ‘excessive competition.’
- The Boston Skating Club has produced more national championsthan any skating club in the country, including Olympics medal winners Dick Button, Nancy Kerrigan and Tenley Albright.
- Two-time Olympic skier Tom Corcoran was born in Japan and spent his childhood in Quebec, but he spent most of the rest of his time in New Hampshire. He attended the Emerson School, Philips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College. In 1965 he founded the Waterville Company and began developing the Waterville Valley Ski Resort, which he ran until 1990.
- Figure skater Dorothy Hamill grew up in Greenwich, Conn., She made her mark in the 1976 Winter Olympics when she took a gold medal in the ladies’ singles competition – and started a fashion trend with her sassy bobbed hair and large glasses. The media dubbed her ‘America’s sweetheart.’ She also invented a skating move known as the ‘Hamill Camel. She later married, and divorced, Dean Paul Martin, the son of entertainer Dean Martin.
I enjoy your quirky stories of the happenings in New England.
If you’ve included people who are not natives of New England, why not include Seth Wescott of Maine?
Homework assignment for NEHS: How many Massachusetts natives (including the coach) were on the gold medal winning USA Hockey Team in the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley?
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