MIT Alumni in the Olympics: A Brief History

by Jay London on July 25, 2012

in Alumni Life, Athletics, Campus Culture, Events, In the News, Remember When...

Members of America’s first Olympic team from 1896. Thomas Pelham Curtis, Class of 1894, is standing second from left.

At a school known more for its Nobel Prize winners, it’s easy for athletes–even Olympians–to get overshadowed. But the Institute’s Olympic history dates back to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

According to research compiled by the Alumni Association, at least 31 alumni representing nine countries have qualified for or participated in 11 sports and 31 events at 25 Summer and Winter Olympics, winning three gold, three silver, and four bronze medals. View the Alumni Association’s full list of alumni Olympians.

Thomas Curtis, Class of 1894 and MIT’s first Olympian, won the gold medal for the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles at the Athens Games. Curtis recounted his Olympic experience in a July 1924 issue of Technology Review.

Bostonian Joseph Levis ’26–an American fencing legend–is MIT’s only multiple medal winner. He won the silver medal in men’s individual foil and the bronze medal in men’s team foil in 1932.

Six Institute alumnae have participated in the Olympics, including Michelle Guerrette MBA ’12, a U.S. rower who won silver in 2008; U.S. rowers Elizabeth Bradley ’83, SM ’86, PhD ’92 (1988) and Mary Louise Kellogg Lyman SM ’78 (1976); U.S. cyclist Nicole Freedman ’94 (2000); U.S. speed skater Janet Goldman ’89 (1984 and 1988); and Bermuda sailor Paula Lewin ’93 (1992, 1996, and 1994).

Additional alumni Olympic medalists include Alden “Zeke” Sanborn SM ’28, gold medalist for the U.S. in rowing in 1920; Sweden’s Johan Harmenberg ’81, gold medalist in fencing in 1980; U.S. sailors Ralph Evans ’48, silver medalist in 1948, and John Marvin ’49, bronze medalist in 1956; Australia sailor John Bertrand, bronze medalist in 1976; and U.S. cyclist Andrew Weaver MArch ’86, bronze medalist in 1984.

Nate Ackerman PhD ’04

Since 1992, alumni Olympians have represented at least six different countries: Nate Ackerman PhD ’04 (Great Britain) in freestyle wrestling in 2004; Pat Antaki ’84 (Lebanon) in skeleton in 2006; Lewin; Chinedum Osuji PhD ’01 (Trinidad and Tobago) in taekwondo in 2004; Alexis Photiades ’91, SM ’92 (Cyprus) in skiing in 1988, 1992, and 1994; and Steve Tucker ’91 (U.S.) in rowing in 2000 and 2004.

MIT has not had an Olympian compete since Guerrette in 2008 and Antaki in 2006, but there is hope for the future. Wyatt Ubellacker ’13, the first MIT swimmer to compete at the U.S. Olympic trials, finished 0.1 seconds shy of advancing to the semi-finals of the 50-meter freestyle at the 2012 trials. Michael A. Nackoul ’13 finished third at the USA Weightlifting Senior Nationals in the 85-kilogram weight class and hopes to compete in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

MIT’s alumni Olympic records may be inexact. If there is alumnus Olympian that is not included in the list, notify us in the comments below, Facebook, or Twitter.

Update: This story was originally published in July 2012 and updated in August 2012 and February 2014.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

al umnus August 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

Gary Piantedosi, alternate, straight four crew, ’76 Montreal,
http://www.rowingrigs.com/pubsite/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3

John G Everett, men’s eight crew, ’76 Montreal and ’80

Call the boathouse for other alumnae Olympians.

Reply

Jay London August 1, 2012 at 11:34 am

Hello – Gary Piantedosi ’76 and John Everett ’76 are listed in the MIT Olympic History graph that we link to in the second paragraph. Thanks again! It was a tough list to collect, as there is no master database of MIT alumni Olympians.

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al umnus August 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

Sorry about missing the Olympic History web page.

It’s still missing Erland Van Lidth De Jeude, ’77 who went as an alternate to WRESTLE at Montreal in ’76.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erland_Van_Lidth_De_Jeude

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Jay London August 6, 2012 at 9:27 am

Thanks again! I will personally forward this information over to DAPER and ask them to add it to their master list. Any more names, please keep them coming!

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alum February 22, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Erland Van Lidth De Jeude may have been an alternate, but he was not on the ’76 Olympic Team.

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Jay London February 27, 2014 at 9:28 am

Hello alum,

Olympic alternates proved especially tricky to confirm. Since they did not compete, this is no record of their participation. In Van Lidth De Jeude’s case, we relied on a variety of sources, most notably a 1979 article in Sports Illustrated and a 1981 article in People magazine, both of which mention his Olympic participation.

Thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any additional Olympic alumni.

Jay

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Mike August 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Janet Goldman ’89 was a two-time Olympic speedskater, competing in Sarjevo 1984 and Calgary 1988.

http://tech.mit.edu/V104/PDF/N13.pdf

http://www.usspeedskating.org/athletes/alumni/olympians?field_alumni_year_value=1984

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Jay London August 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thank you, Mike. I have contacted DAPER and asked to add Janet to the list. Thanks again!

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Thomas L. De Fazio August 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Johnny Marvin won a bronze medal (3rd) in the Finn in 1956.

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Jay London August 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for the addition. DAPER has Johnny Marvin listed as competing in 1956, not as a medalist. We’ll make sure that gets updated.

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Gwen Sisto August 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Thank you for doing an article on this topic.

Look for me, Gwendolyn Sisto SM 2010, in 2016 in women’s weightlifting. I competed at the 2010 World University Championships, while a student at MIT. I placed in the top 3 63kg women at the 2012 US National Championships (fun fact: My results at the 2012 National Championships would have placed me 9th at the Olympics, which is higher than 2/3′s of the team that the USA fielded in London for weightlifting).

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Jay London August 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Good luck Gwen! Please keep us updated! Thanks for letting us know.

Jay

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N Vespoli August 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Nancy Vespoli, MS ChemEng 1979, Rowing, 1980

Also, the myth in the MIT weight room at the time was that the bent bar in the corner was left behind by Chris Taylor, Wrestling 1976. However, I can’t find any historical information stating that he attended MIT. Perhaps you can look through MIT records to see if he was in fact, most likely, a graduate student.

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Joe Paige February 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Mark J. T. Smith, ’78, was on the 1980 U.S. Men’s Fencing Team.

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Jay London February 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Thank you Joe,

Sorting Olympians by their college affiliation is a difficult process, especially during the 1980 games! Thanks again and we will updated Mark on our lists.

Jay London

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David February 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Didn’t the US boycott the 1980 olympics?

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Jay London February 7, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Hi David,

The U.S. did not participate in the 1980 Summer Games but any athletes who qualified for the games were recognized and honored by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Jay London

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Mike J. February 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Nice article, Jay. Would also have been nice to see Henry Steinbrenner’s name mentioned in the article. He is on the MIT full list of Olympians, though his class year (’27) is missing. I had the pleasure of meeting Henry at an alumni reunion in Boston the weekend Steinbrenner Stadium was being dedicated, in 1978. Had a great conversation with him that day!

Here’s an article from 1996:
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/1996/olymp1896-curtis.html

You may want to consider finding stories from The Tech at the time these men and women participated in the Olympics and update your 2014 article with those links.

Reply

Jay London February 10, 2014 at 10:47 am

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your note. We do have Mr. Steinbrenner on our list but did not outright mention him in the story because it’s been difficult to determine which events he participated in. Some articles reference his competition in the 220-yard hurdles but that event has never been contested in the Olympics. Also, there is no mention in any archived Tech articles or in Mr. Steinbrenner’s New York Times obituary about his Olympic participation. The website http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics does not have him listed as a U.S. Olympian.

However, there are multiple articles that mention his Olympic participation, including the MIT News article that you reference. For that reason, we have kept him on our list. (I will add his graduation year.) Hopefully, we will find out more information about Mr. Steinbrenner’s participation. Olympic records, especially in the early days, are very spotty, and we’re working to find out more information. Thank you for reading and please let me know if you come across any additional MIT alumni Olympians!

Sincerely,

Jay

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Roy Roth February 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

Jay, didn’t MIT’s track coach in the 1950s, Oscar Hedlund, have a connection with the Olympics — maybe a runner back in the early 1900′s. Seems to me that was the rumor.

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Joe Davis February 22, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Perhaps as a footnote, we should add that Oscar Hedland, MIT Track and Field Coach in the 1950′s, though not an alumnus, was an Olympic miler…..ran in the 1922 Olympics, or sometime about then. He was a fine coach.
Joe Davis
Class of ’61, Hurdles and High Jump

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Beaver February 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm

How about some designation for those who competed for MIT? Most of the Olympian alums with only graduate degrees never wore an MIT uniform.

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Jay London February 27, 2014 at 9:34 am

Hi Beaver,

That’s a great idea. We may add another designation on the full list of Olympians page that indicates that the athletes participated in the Olympics while attending MIT.

Thanks again,

Jay

Reply

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