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slides: A Look Back at Rhode Island’s Greatest Olympic Athletes

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Rhode Island has a rich and proud history of Olympic competition. The Ocean State has been home to some of the world’s greatest athletes, spanning a variety of events from swimming, to sailing, track & field, gymnastics, rowing, judo and others.

With the London opening ceremonies in just a few weeks away, we’re going all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century to take a look at some of the greatest Olympians to call Rhode Island home.

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Elizabeth Beisel

Women's Swimming -- A native of Saunderstown, Rhode Island, Beisel has been a member of the U.S. National Team since the age of 13. She competed in her first Olympics in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 15, placing fourth in the 400-meter individual medley and fifth in the 200-meter backstroke.

Beisel currently swims for the University of Florida in Gainsville, Florida. As a Gator, she won five Southeastern Conference (SEC) individual championships, and was honored as SEC Female Swimmer of the Year in 2012.

Beisel earned a spot to compete in her second Olympics this year in London, winning 400-meter individual medley qualifier and nearly setting an American record with an overall time of 4:31.74.

(Image courtesy of Florida UAA Communications)

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Ellison "Tarzan" Brown

Men's Marathon -- Brown, known as “Deerfoot” among his native Narragansett tribe, was a popular and highly-accomplished distance runner during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Brown competed in the marathon in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and would have competed in the 1940 Olympics in Helsinki were it not cancelled due to World War II. But his greatest exploits were during the Boston Marathon. In the 1936 marathon, Brown took off so fast that the press chose instead to follow the number two runner, John Kelley. Eventually the two ended up neck-in-neck, but Brown “broke Kelley’s heart” to take the final lead on the last hill in Newton, inspiring reporter Jerry Nason to coin the term “heartbreak hill.”

Brown was raised in poverty on a Narragansett reservation in Charlestown. He worked as a stonemason and shellfisherman until he was run over and killed by a van in 1975.  There is a road race named after him in Mystic, Connecticut.     

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Fritz Pollard Jr.

Men's Athletics -- Pollard was a multi-threat athlete who won the bronze medal in the 110-meter high hurdles in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Pollard attended Brown University for three semesters, where his father, Fritz Pollard Sr., had been a football star and All-American in 1916. Pollard Sr. also carried the distinction of being the first African-American head coach in the NFL. Pollard Jr. was a star football player himself. After three semesters at Brown University, he transferred to the University of North Dakota, where he was a Little All-American selection in 1938.

After college, Pollard attended law school in Chicago and was a special forces officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. From the mid 1960’s until his retirement, he worked for the State Department in Washington D.C. He died in 2003 at the age of 87.

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David C. Hall

Men's Athletics -- A bronze medalist in the 800-meter run at the 1900 Paris Olympics, Hall was Rhode Island’s first Olympic medalist. 

During his trial heat in Paris, Hall set an Olympic 800-meter record time of 1:56.2, but he ended up missing the gold in finals when a competitor stepped on his heel, causing him to lose a shoe. He finished third, despite the handicap. The winning time in that final heat was a full five seconds slower than Hall’s qualifying pace.

After graduating from Brown University in 1901, Hall earned a doctorate in medicine at the University of Chicago, going on to teach as a professor at the University of Washington. He would interrupt his teaching career to serve as Lt. Colonel in World War I, where he was highly decorated by the nation of Italy for his service. Hall died in Seattle in 1972, at the age of 97.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Alicia Sacramone

Women's Gymnastics -- With nine gold medals in her professional career, Sacramone is one of the most accomplished artistic gymnasts in U.S. history. From 2004 to 2008, she won twelve medals, including four golds on the vaults and two golds on the floor exercise.

Sacramone was subject to intense criticism after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where her two stumbles in the beam and floor exercises led many to hold her responsible for the U.S. team’s second place finish. A sophomore at Brown University at the time, she put the blame on herself, despite receiving ample support from her coaches and teammates.

Sacramone has appeared in multiple commercials, and recently appeared nude in ESPN’s 2011 “Body Issue.” She is currently competing for a spot on the U.S. team in London, despite coming off surgery for a torn Achilles tendon.

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Norman Stephen Taber

Men's Athletics -- Taber, born in 1891, was a middle distance runner and Brown University alumnus.

A favorite to win the 1500-meter race in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Taber ended up finishing a disappointing third in a nail-biting finish. Nonetheless, he still earned a gold in the 3,000-meter team race.

In 1915, Taber made a run not just for the amateur world record, but also the professional record, which had been set by Walter George nearly 30 years before. During the event, held at the Harvard track in Allston, MA, Taber surpassed George�s record by a fraction of a second. His record held until 1923.

After graduating from Brown University, Taber became a Rhodes Scholar and executive director of the International Chamber of Commerce.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Lloyd Hahn

Men's Athletics -- Hahn was a track and field runner, born in Falls City, Nebraska in 1898. An accomplished runner, he earned sixth place in the 1500-meter race in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and competed again in both the 1500- and 800-meter races in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

Hahn ran for the Boston Athletic Association for much of his career, competing on the 4x880-yard relay team that broke the world record. He was also an Association of American Universities (AAU) champion in the mile in 1926, and indoors in the 1,000-yard in 1925 and 1927. During the 1928 Olympic trials, Hahn won the 800-meter race, setting a world record time of 1:51.4. However, that record was never ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Hahn attended Brown University but left after his freshman year. He coached Gil Dodds, the American world record holder in the mile run, in the 1940s.

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John Spellman

Men's Wrestling -- Spellman competed in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, where he won a gold medal in the freestyle light heavyweight competition.

A student at Brown University, Spellman was unable to get permission from the dean of students to participate in the Olympic trials.  So he went anyway, and as a result wasn’t allowed to graduate with his class.

In addition to being a world champion wrestler, Spellman was captain of the Brown football team. Following his amateur wrestling career, he went on to play for eight years in the NFL for the Providence Steamrollers. After retiring from football in 1932, Spellman coached in the NFL for the Boston Redskins for several years. In 1936, he went on a world tour with his wrestling troupe, but he would eventually get stuck in Africa due to the outbreak of World War II. He ended up living the rest of his life in Africa as a mining engineer.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Kevin Burnham


Men's Sailing -- Burnham is a prolific sailor who specialized in the 15-foot 470 class. He participated in every Olympic trial for team U.S.A between the years of 1984 and 2004, although his Olympic career didn’t truly begin until 1992, when he won the silver medal. He later became the oldest gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens at the age of 47, winning the 470 class alongside teammate Paul Foerster.

Burnham is perhaps best known for his spontaneous and unusual form of celebration at the 2004 games. After winning the gold, he surprised even his teammate by doing a backflip off the side of his boat (pictured).

Burnham went on to become a sailing coach for various international teams. He also owns a company, Kevin Burnham LLC, which is based in Newport, Rhode Island and offers a variety of corporate team building and motivational services.

(Image courtesy of Daniel Forster Photography, www.DanielForster.com)

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John Collier

Men's Athletics -- Collier was an American hurdler who competed in the 110-meter hurdles in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.

In the final heat of the hurdles, Collier lined up against George Weightman-Smith, a South African who broke the world record in the semi-finals, Sydney Atkinson, another South African athlete, and teammate Steve Anderson. Collier came off the line with the fastest start, but was caught by Atkinson and Anderson early on, the three runners coming through the finish line together. Atkinson ended up winning by mere inches, with Anderson and Collier earning second and third respectively.

Collier attended Brown University, where his father, Professor Theodore Collier, was chairman of the history department. After his running career, he became a teacher like his father, working for many years as a science master and track coach at St. Paul’s School.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Albina Osipowich

Women's Swimming -- Osipowich was an American swimmer of Lithuanian and Belarusian descent. She competed for team U.S.A in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, where she earned gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle (setting a new world record) and 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

After the Olympics, she attended Pembroke College of Brown University, where she played field hockey and swam as a hobby.

Osipowich went on to work as a buyer for a department store, and married Brown basketball star Harrison Van Aken.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Anna Pierce (Willard)

Women's Athletics -- Pierce grew up on a farm in Greenwood, Maine. She took up running as a high school student, and went on to compete as an undergraduate at Brown University and later as a graduate at University of Michigan.

Pierce set a women’s record time of 9:27.56 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Olympic trials in 2008, but went on to finish a disappointing tenth in the finals in Beijing. She met her current husband, Jonathan Pierce, at the 2008 Olympic trials.

During her career, Pierce has become known for dying her hair outrageous colors. Her hair was blonde with pink streaks at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials, and purple just before the 2008 Olympics.

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Doris Brennan (Weir)

Women's Swimming -- A native of Providence, Brennan dominated the swimming scene in the late 1930’s and 1940’s, holding twenty national and world records. Unfortunately, though, she would never get to realize her Olympic dream. After just missing the U.S. team in 1936, she earned a spot to compete in the Helsinki Olympics in 1940, but they were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

Brennan graduated from Boston University’s Sargent College in 1942, later earning a spot in the University’s Hall of Fame in 1989.

After college, she went on to work with multiple youth clubs, and was instrumental in the construction of swimming facilities in Warwick.

(Image courtesy of Boston University's Department of Athletics)

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Robert Bennett

Men's Athletics -- Bennett, born 1919, was a Brown University alumnus who won the bronze medal in the hammer throw in the 1948 Olympics in London.

Bennett set a collegiate record in 1940 while at the University of Maine, but missed the next five seasons due to the war. He made his comeback in 1946 and 1947 while attending Brown, ranking as the top thrower in the U.S. during those years. At the London Olympics, Bennett edged fourth place competitor Sam Felton – a Harvard graduate – by a mere three inches.

Following the Olympics, Bennett coached at West Point for several years before returning to Brown in 1954 as an assistant track coach.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Helen Johns (Carroll)

Women's Swimming -- Johns competed for the U.S. team at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, earning a gold medal in the women’s 400-meter freestyle relay in a world record time of 4:38.

A student at the Pembroke College of Brown University, Johns was a member of the stacked 1932-33 team alongside fellow Olympian Albina Osipowich. She was also a proficient athlete in track. She graduated from Pembroke in 1936 with a dual major in psychology and economics.

After college, Johns moved to South Carolina, where she earned her Master’s Degree and became a teacher in special education. In 1996, at the age of 82, she carried the Olympic torch en route to the Atlanta Games.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Xeno Muller

Men's Rowing -- Muller (pictured middle) was a Swiss rower and two-time Olympian, earning gold and silver in the Single Scull at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics respectively.

Muller attended college at Brown University, where he helped lead the team to an undefeated season and national championship in the eight man boat in 1993.

Muller became an American citizen in 2004 and trained to join the U.S. team in the Athens Olympics. However, the trials were marred by the high-profile killings of foreigners in Iraq as a result of the Iraq War. The Americans were believed to be potential targets at the Olympics, causing Muller to pull out of trials.

Muller currently runs an indoor rowing studio called the Iron Oarsman in Orange County, California. He also produces a set of indoor rowing workout DVD’s.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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James "Jimmy" Pedro

Men's Judo -- Pedro, a native of Danvers, Massachusetts, is an incredibly prolific American judo competitor, appearing in four Olympic games throughout his career between the years of 1992 and 2004.

A graduate of Brown University, Pedro received a great deal of hype after finishing with the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games. He was favored to win gold in the 2000 tournament, but ended up finishing at a disappointing fifth. However, he would come back four years later to take home another bronze in his final Olympic appearance.

Following the Olympics, Pedro took a job with Monster.com, working on an online service to help connect employers with former Olympians looking for jobs. He currently coaches and teaches in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Janet Moreau (Stone)

Women's Athletics -- Moreau was born in Pawtucket, RI and later attended Boston University in 1952. At the time, women weren’t allowed to compete at Boston University, which ended up being too bad for the school. “I wish they had allowed women to compete,” said Doug Raymond, then head coach of the track team. “I clocked Janet more than once in the 100 [meter run] at 10 seconds. She was faster than most men in New England.”

Moreau competed for the U.S. team in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where she won the gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay with a world record team time of 45.9 seconds. She was also a national champion in the 50-yard dash, the 220-yard dash, the standing long jump, and the 4x100-meter relay.

A consummate athlete, Moreau even excelled at swimming. In 1948 she became the junior national swimming champion in the 100-yard freestyle. She was inducted into the Boston University Hall of Fame in 1978.

(Image courtesy of Boston University's Department of Athletics)

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Carol Newman Cronin


Women's Sailing -- Cronin was a member of the U.S. Sailing team from 2001-2007, competing in the women’s three-person keelboat event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She began sailing at a young age while growing up in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

After the Olympics, Cronin founded a graphic design company and became a fiction writer. Her most recent book, Game of Sails: An Olympic Love Story, tells the story of two sailors who develop a professional and romantic relationship en route to their Olympic dreams.

Cronin currently lives with her husband in Jamestown, RI.

(Image courtesy of Daniel Forster Photography, www.DanielForster.com)

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Ivan Fuqua

Men's Athletics -- Born in Decatur, Illinois, Fuqua was a multi-sport threat, excelling in football and track and field at his alma-mater, Indiana University. He competed for the U.S. team in the 1932 Olympics, where he won the gold on the 4x400-meter relay team with a world record time of 3:08.2.

Fuqua became a track coach at the University of Connecticut (then Connecticut State) after graduation, and later served in the Navy as a Lt. Commander in World War II. He eventually joined Brown University as a head coach from 1947-1973, later settling down to become the manager and co-owner of a beach club in Rhode Island.

Fuqua was inducted into the Brown University Hall of Fame in 1981. He died in Providence at the age of 84.

(Image courtesy of Brown University's Department of Athletics)

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Frederic Tootell

Men's Athletics -- Tootell was a track and field athlete who competed mainly in the hammer throw, winning the gold medal in that event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Although team U.S.A. had won that event in the past, Tootell was the first American-born athlete to do so; each of the previous winners were of Irish descent.

Tootell, who was introduced to the hammer throw while attending Bowdoin College, could have missed out on his Olympic dream due to a leg injury that required a cast. Instead, he dominated at the trials anyway. In fact, his cast wasn’t removed until the morning of his competition in Paris.

In 1925, shortly after the Olympics, Tootell began what would become a 32-year coaching career at Rhode Island State College. In 1936, he coached field events for the U.S. team at the Berlin Olympics. He eventually became the director of athletics at the University of Rhode Island, where the physical education center bears his name to this day.

(Image courtesy of Bowdoin College's Department of Athletics)

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Dawn Kane (Chuck)

Women's Swimming -- A native to Jamaica, Kane began competitive swimming at age six.  She was a member of Jamaica’s National Swimming Squad for eight years, during which time she competed in two Olympic competitions in 2000 and 2004.

Kane graduated with a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Brown University in 2002. She was a member of the 400- and 800-meter freestyle relay teams that set school records in 2001, and served as team captain her senior year. She went on to earn her Master’s Degree in human performance from the University of Florida.

Kane currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband, where she works as assistant coach for the Duke University swim team.

(Image courtesy of Duke University's Department of Athletics)

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Lynne Jewell (Shore)

Women's Sailing -- Jewell was a world champion sailor, earning the gold medal in the women’s 470 Class at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with teammate Allison Jolly.

A graduate of Boston University in 1981, Jewell became the first female ever to qualify for the men’s collegiate single-handed championship. She earned a title as the 1980 Yachtswoman of the Year by the New York Yacht Club, and was declared America’s top female single-handed sailor by Sports Illustrated, appearing in their “Faces in the Crowd” segment. She also became the first woman to win the prestigious Norwalk Yacht Club Laser Regatta.

Jewell moved to Rhode Island in 1985, where she married her sailing coach Bill Shore. She currently lives in Portsmouth.

(Image courtesy of Boston University's Department of Athletics)


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Robert Howard a graduate of Shea High School who competed in the Olympics, in the Tripple Jump was somehow ommited! Please do better research!

Comment #1 by Janet Jones on 2012 07 04

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