I have to admit to being a rabid Olympics fan. I’m a mediocre fan of sports overall. I enjoy watching grand slam tennis events and am known to watch football and baseball games if my husband has them on, but rarely do I purposely turn on the TV in search of sports. Until the Olympics come around. When Team USA plays, I set my schedule around being in front of the TV to cheer on my country.
Our first gold medal of the 2016 games was awarded to a young, 19-year-old shooter by the name of Virginia Thrasher. Watching this cool-as-a-cucumber athlete, reminded me of Annie Oakley and all the talented shooters who came from an era when guns were necessary to keep food on the table and danger from the door.
As it turns out, shooting was one of the original events at the first modern Olympics in 1896. There were 5 different shooting events, 2 for rifles and 3 for pistols. And of the 8 athletes representing the United States at the games in Athens, 2 of them were shooters. Brothers John and Sumner Paine from Harvard. Lieutenant John B. Paine happened to be a member of the Boston Athletic Club, which was the organization that sent a handful of athletes to compete at the newly organized games. John’s brother, Sumner was in Paris, France at the time, working as a gunsmith. After deciding to make the trip to Greece to compete, John stopped by France on his way in order to invite his brother to come along.
Not knowing what weapons they would need, they packed an arsenal: two Colt army revolvers, two Smith & Wesson Russian model revolvers, a Stevens .22 caliber pistol, a Wurfflein, two pocket weapons, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition.* They entered all 3 pistol events. Unfortunately, they were excluded from the rapid fire pistol competition because their .22 caliber pistols were disqualified as not being standard issue.
The shooting house was built of white marble, and they shot at a black bull’s-eye with a white dot inside.
Using their Colt revolvers, John and Sumner dominated the 25 meter military pistol event. John took first place with a score of 442. Sumner took second with a score of 380. The next closest opponent scored 205. The brothers had decided privately that whoever won the first event would bow out for the second, so John withdrew from the 30 meter free pistol event, leaving Sumner to capture first place easily with the same score his brother had earned in the previous round – 442. They only needed 96 rounds from the 3,500-round stash of ammunition to win their events.
John and Sumner Paine were the first US athletes to win gold at the Olympics.
Where does the whiskey come in, you ask? Well, according to eye-witness accounts, the Paine brothers paused between rounds to sip whiskey from flasks when tensions ran high. By the next day, all the other competitors decided to follow suit.* I don’t think these fellows would have passed the anti-doping regulations of today.
Being an Olympic shooting champion has it’s advantages, though. One night in 1901, Sumner Paine came home to find his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher. He drove the man away with four shots from a .32 caliber pistol. He was briefly jailed and charged with assault, but Paine was released when the police found his medal and realized he must have missed on purpose.
- What are your favorite Olympics events?
*Information taken from: