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penn-olympics-track-field-history

Photos courtesy of DP Archives and the University Archives and Records Center

Credit: Valerie Wang

For many athletes, competing at the Olympic Games is the ultimate dream. But for several Quakers on Penn's track and field team, this dream has been a reality since 1900. 

The modern Olympics were first revived from their ancient Greek origins in 1896. The United States sent only 14 competitors to the Games in Athens, with no representatives from Penn among their small ranks for the inaugural year.  

The Quakers would, however, make their mark on the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Penn’s track coach, Mike Murphy, was named trainer of the U.S. Olympic team and took 13 of his best athletes overseas with him. In total, the Quakers won 21 Olympic medals for the United States and Canada, ten of which were gold. 

The most impressive performance came from Alvin Kraenzlein, a student at Penn’s dental school and a member of the track team from 1898 to 1900. 

In the late 19th century, the standard hurdling technique involved a sprinter clearing each hurdle with both legs tucked underneath their body. Kraenzlein used a different approach: he kept his lead leg straight as he passed over each hurdle, which allowed him to maintain his speed. 

This revolutionary method would soon become the standard for modern hurdlers. It would also help Kraenzlein set world records for the 120-meter high hurdles and the 220m low hurdles while at Penn, and won him four gold medals in Paris. He earned a first-place finish in each of the 60m dash, 110m hurdles, 200m hurdles, and long jump. 

Kraenzlein’s feat of capturing four gold medals in one Olympics would not be replicated until Jesse Owens’ famed performance at the 1936 Berlin Games.

Another Penn Dental student, John Walter Tewksbury, came third on the podium behind Kraenzlein in the 200m hurdles. Bronze medals would not be awarded until the 1904 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee has retroactively assigned bronze to third-place finishers from the 1894 and 1900 Games. 

Tewksbury’s performances in the 60m and 100m sprints earned him two additional silver medals, but he shone in the 200m dash, with his 22.8-second finish notching another gold medal for Penn and the United States.  

Tewksbury also captured the gold in the 400m hurdle race, the first event of its kind in the Olympics. Most of the hurdles used were actually 30-foot long telephone poles, and the final hurdle was a water jump, similar to the one traditionally used in steeplechase. 

Another Penn athlete, George Orton, came third in the same event. Orton competed as a representative of Canada, and his first-place finish in the 2,500m steeplechase was Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold, although it was not recognized as such until decades later.  

Several Quakers excelled in the field events in Paris. Meredith Colket and Thomas Hare each won silver in the pole vault and hammer throw, respectively. Josiah McCracken, a member of the football, gymnastics, and track teams on campus, finished third in the hammer throw, and added another silver to the tally in shot put. 

Penn Law student Irving Baxter was the standout in the field events, winning gold in both the high jump and pole vault. Baxter also notched three silver medals in the standing high jump, standing triple jump, and the standing long jump, bringing the total count from Penn athletes to 21, including the three retroactively-counted bronze medals. 

While the next Olympic Games were held on American soil, the number of Penn representatives significantly decreased in 1904. However, of the three Quakers who traveled to St. Louis, each of them came away with at least one medal. 

Hare was the only returning Quaker from the 1900 Olympic team. This time around, the All-American football player and cricket captain won bronze in the decathlon. Lawson Robertson, a future Penn track coach, also captured bronze in the standing high jump, while Nathaniel Cartmell won silver in each of the 100m and 200m sprints.  

Cartmell also returned to the 1908 Games in London, winning the gold as a part of the 4x400 relay team. He captured a bronze in the 200m but didn’t quite reach the podium with a fourth-place finish in the 100m. 

“Certainly no Pennsylvania runner and probably no intercollegiate sprinter at any time famous in the American college world can boast such a record as can Cartmell,” the DP wrote on Oct. 1, 1908. “Moreover, a noteworthy fact in connection with Cartmell’s record is that during his years at college he has never run except unattached or under the colors of the Red and Blue.”

Atop the podium next to Cartmell for the 4x400 relay was his Penn teammate, John Baxter Taylor, Jr. Taylor was the second-ever Black athlete on any of Penn’s teams, and the first Black athlete to win an Olympic gold medal representing the United States. 

Michail Dorizas represented Greece in the 1908 Olympics, earning silver in the javelin throw. He would return on Greece’s national team to the 1912 Games in Stockholm, but did not make the podium that year. 

Dorizas wouldn’t matriculate to Penn until 1913, but he would quickly become a fixture on campus, joining the wrestling, football, and track teams. After earning his M.A. and Ph.D. from Penn, Dorizas became a beloved professor at Wharton.

“The name of Michael [sic] Dorizas is one of the legendary names around Pennsylvania,” the DP wrote on Oct. 5, 1944. “To the Freshman [sic] the mere mention of the man who is known affectionately to his students as ‘Mike’ conjures up visions of a human who has accomplished feats worthy of Superman.”

Two Quakers were medal-winners at Stockholm in 1912. Donald Lippincott had spent one year on Penn’s freshman track team, and proved himself worthy of a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that summer. However, the 18-year-old was forced to raise the funds for the trip himself. His wealthy mother refused to pay for his voyage in an attempt to prevent Lippincott from crossing the Atlantic — the Titanic had sunk only two months before. 

But Lippincott was determined, and he managed to raise enough money from Penn alumni to make it to Stockholm and notch a silver medal in the 200m. In a qualifying heat for the 100m dash, Lippincott’s time of 10.6 seconds set a new world record that he would hold until 1921. In the final, however, a time of 10.9 seconds put him at third on the podium.

James Meredith took home two gold medals from Stockholm, one each in the 800m and 4x400m relay. Meredith’s time of 1:51.9 in the 800m was good for his own world record, which he would hold until 1930.

The 1916 Olympics were set to take place in Berlin, but were cancelled due to World War I. Meredith served as captain in the aviation section of the Army Signal Corps in 1917. When the war was over, Meredith would return to the next iteration of the Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, but did not win any medals and retired from racing soon after. 

The 1920 Games in Antwerp were the first time the familiar five-ring symbol was ever hoisted at an Olympics. Penn’s only track and field medal-winner that year was Earl Eby, an Air Force veteran who captured silver in the 800m. 

By the 1920s, Quakers from sports other than track had begun to dominate at the Olympics, although Red and Blue track athletes still found themselves reaching the podium. 

Penn Dental student J. Oliver Macdonald won gold in the 4x400 relay at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Running the third leg of the relay, MacDonald helped the United States team set a world record time of 3:16. At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Penn’s future track coach and director of Penn Relays, John Doherty, secured bronze in the decathlon. 

The age of Penn track and field supremacy at the Olympics came to an end after the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. William Arthur Carr was co-captain of Penn’s track team, and in his junior year, earned a bid for the U.S. Olympic team. 

In the 400m race in Los Angeles, Carr faced his longtime rival, Stanford sprinter Ben Eastman. While Eastman was in the lead for most of the race, Carr overtook him in the final leg, and his final time of 46.2 seconds was good enough for first place on the podium and a world record.

Carr then substituted for an injured teammate in the 4x400m relay. Running anchor, Carr helped the team set another world record of 3:08.2, and notched his second gold medal. 

“Good coaching is absolutely essential,” Carr told the DP on Sept. 30, 1932. “For it is the coaches that do the real work; it is they who train a man up to the psychological point which makes champions. It is only necessary to follow their advice. I consider my victory only as a tribute to Lawson Robertson’s great coaching genius.”

Almost six months later, however, tragedy struck. In March 1933, Carr was involved in a car accident that left him with a fractured pelvis and two broken ankles. His track career ended there, as one of the best sprinters to ever run for the Red and Blue. Carr had never lost an intercollegiate race. 

The first female track athlete with Penn ties to make the Olympics was Karen Anderson-Oldham, who attended both the 1956 and 1961 Games. Although Anderson-Oldham never competed on Penn’s track team during her tenure as a student, she finished 8th and 13th in javelin throw at her respective Olympics. 

While Penn has continued to periodically send track and field representatives to the Olympics, Carr was the latest Quaker to win a medal in the sport. But if the current crop of Quakers has anything to say about it, he certainly will not be the last. 

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