When the world’s top athletes begin competing in London next week, 15 Princetonians will be among them, adding to a remarkable legacy that includes 48 medals and more than a century of the Summer Olympians.
Princeton’s first visit to the Olympics was by far its most successful: Four track and field teammates in the Class of 1897 traveled to the 1896 Athens Olympics at the suggestion of history professor William Sloane, a friend and colleague of International Olympic Committee founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The Princeton students were part of a 27-athlete contingent from the United States.
Robert Garrett Jr. 1897 was the American team’s breakout star, earning two gold medals and two silver in the field events. Classmates Albert Tyler and Herbert Jamison also won silver medals, while Francis Lane just missed bronze in the 100-meter dash, finishing fourth.
Garrett, who later competed at the 1900 Paris Olympics, remains the most decorated Princeton athlete, with a total of six medals. Karl Frederick 1903 *1904 ranks second on the list with three gold medals (one individual, two team events) in shooting at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
Five other Princetonians have earned two Olympic medals: Rower Doug Burden ’88 (bronze in 1988, silver in 1992), swimmer Nelson Diebel ’94 (two golds in 1992), track athlete John Eisele 1906 (silver and bronze in 1908), rower Anne Marden ’81 (silver in 1984 and 1988), and sailor Herman Whiton ’26 (gold in 1948 and 1952).
Track and field has been the source of 18 medals, thanks to Garrett and other early stars, but it has been 20 years since a Tiger track athlete last reached the medal podium – distance runner Lynn Jennings ’83, who earned bronze in the women’s 10,000-meter run at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Men’s steeplechase star Donn Cabral ’12 will attempt to end that drought in London.
Princeton rowing has been the most prominent producer of Olympic medalists in the last 50 years. Of the 20 alumni medals from 1964 to 2008, 14 have been won by rowers – 12 for the United States and two for Canada. This year, eight alumni will row in the Olympics, representing three countries – Australia, Canada, and the United States.
The Tiger fencing program also has been well represented at the Olympics. This year, three athletes – all epeeists – will compete for the United States: Maya Lawrence ’02, Susannah Scanlan ’14, and Soren Thompson ’05. The last Princeton medalist in fencing was Tracy Jaeckel ’28, who won bronze at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Lawrence and Scanlan are vying to be the first Princeton women to medal in fencing.
Three other 2012 Olympians will have a chance to break new ground in their respective sports. Field hockey stars Julia Reinprecht ’14 and Katie Reinprecht ’13 aim to be the first Tiger women to earn medals in that event (three Princeton men earned bronze in 1932); Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson ’08 could become the first Princeton soccer player to bring home a medal.