Australia and Olympic Athletics
Edwin Flack was a trailblazer - the first Australian to compete at the Olympic Games, and first to win. In 1896 he resolved to attend the Athens Games, the first of the modern Olympics. He was Australia’s only participant and won the 800 metres and 1500 metres – and a bronze in doubles tennis. By the end of the Games he possessed heroic status, and was followed in the streets by crowds who dubbed him ‘The Lion of Athens’.
Since 1896 and Flack’s two gold medals Australia’s male Olympic champions have been Anthony “Nick” Winter (triple jump at Paris 1924), John Winter (high jump - London 1948), Herb Elliott (1500m - Rome 1960), Ralph Doubell (800m - Mexico City 1968) and Steve Hooker (pole vault - Beijing 2008). The two Winters were not related.
Australia’s women first competed in Amsterdam in 1928 with Edith Robinson competing in the 100m and 800m. The first gold medals came at Helsinki 1952 with Marjorie Jackson winning the 100m and 200m and Shirley Strickland the 80m hurdles.
In winning the triple jump (then known as hop, step and jump) in Athens in 1896 James Connolly from the United States became the first Olympic champion in over 1500 years.
The first events for women were not held until the 1928 Games in Amsterdam when the 100m, 4x100m relay, 800m, high jump and discus were contested. With the inclusion of the women’s 3000m steeplechase at Beijing 2008, the number of athletics events for women reached 23, just one less than the men with the 50km walk the additional event.
Paarvo Nurmi of Finland and American Carl Lewis have each won nine athletics gold medals. Nurmi won his Olympics titles in six different events from Antwerp 1920 through to Amsterdam 1928. Two of his gold medals at Paris 1924, in the 1500 metres and 5000 metres, were won less than two hours apart. Nurmi also won three silver medals. Lewis won his Olympic titles in four different events from Los Angeles 1984 through to Atlanta 1996, including four consecutive long jump gold medals. The only other athlete to win the same event four times in succession was American Al Oerter in the discus from Melbourne 1956 through to Mexico City 1968. Ray Ewry also of the United States won eight gold medals in the standing jumping events from Paris 1900 through to London 1908.