First Modern Olympics included Guns and Whiskey, but No Gold

The Gun that Won the West…


With the capture of the Wild Bunch in 1896, gunfights in the Old West were winding down just as a different type of gun battle was heating up.  For that was the year the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, following a 1502 year hiatus.

American born John Paine convinced his gunsmith brother Sumner to enter the shooting competition with him. The two landed in Greece armed with an arsenal of weapons, including  colt revolvers and three thousand rounds of ammunition.

Like all American athletes, they were in for a shock.  Greece went by the Orthodox calendar which meant it was April 5th in Greece and only March 25th in America. Instead of having two weeks to prepare for competition, as planned, American athletes had only eight hours. Fortunately, that was all John and and his brother needed.

 …Also Won the Crown

 When the brothers were told that their Stevens 22s were “not usual” and inadmissible, the brothers switched to colt 45s. John easily won the military gun contest with his  colt.   In fact, he won so easily he thought it unsporting to continue and withdrew from the other events so as not to embarrass the host. (Can you imagine anyone doing that today?)  That left his brother to win the free pistol event, making them the first siblings to win medals in an Olympic event.

The brothers’ shooting skills were given less credit than the whiskey they sipped between rounds to relieve tension. Thinking booze would give them the winning edge, other marksmen started sporting flasks.

Since gold was considered “crass” first place winners went home with a silver medal and a crown of olive leaves.  I don’t know what John or Sumner did with their crowns, but the medal came in handy.

Several years later in 1901, Sumner found his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher.   He chased the man away with four pistol shots and was arrested for assault.  When the police learned he won an Olympic medal for shooting, they decided he must have missed on purpose and released him.

So are you planning to watch the Olympics this year?  What is your favorite Olympic sport?

Okay, here I go again; I’m not going to get hooked on the Olympics. I won’t. Absolutely not. This year I mean it.  Not going to do it.  Nope!

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30 thoughts on “First Modern Olympics included Guns and Whiskey, but No Gold”

  1. My favorite event is the ski jump, I like when can go so high and far! I’m be watching some off the Olympics. I enjoyed your story!

  2. Margaret – You always come up with the best stuff for your blogs! I loved this look back at the first Olympics with our cowboys outshooting everyone. And then the police releasing Sumner when they realized he must have missed on purpose? That sounds like it came right out of a novel. Love it!

    I am a definite Olympic junkie, although I try to limit myself to just the events that are on in prime time. Except on weekends. Or if I happen to walk past a TV during the day. Or when I go exercise over lunch. OK – So maybe I don’t really limit myself.

    I love the ice skating events. Bobsled is always fun. Downhill skiing. I’m not as excited by the X-games events. I go for more of the classics, but will watch anything. Even curling. Ha!

  3. Hi Karen, I have to admit I had to dig deep to find a connection between the Old West and the Olympics. Last time I got hooked on curling, too. What’s more fun than watching a bunch of men with brooms?

  4. Margaret, what a fun post. I love the Olympics. I watch even the obscure stuff on all the affliate channels during the day. Yep, even curling. CANNOT wait for February to get here. Squeeeeeeeee!!!!

  5. This was interesting Margaret. And, I loved the way you told us you were NOT going to watch the Olympics. I do love to watch Ice Skating and Gymnastics. I also like some others too, but these two are my favorites. I won’t like them making my soaps not being on, tho. LOL Maxie

  6. I love the Winter Olympics the best. My favorites are figure skating, downhill skiing,and last Olympics I really enjoyed curling. Can’t wait for it to start. Thank you for the post.

  7. Hi Maxie, ice skating is my favorite, too, though I don’t think our team is that strong this time around. Our best chance for gold is Davis and White. Can’t wait to see them perform.

  8. I won’t be watching any of the Olympics, for a few reasons.
    One is just the simple fact that I don’t watch TV very often. I’m too busy researching, reading, writing, or waiting on kids!
    Two is a bit more personal…I like to participate in sports, but watching from the sidelines or on TV is BORING.
    And the third reason is simply because, well, I’m just not all that into them. I am glad if we (USA) win medals, but the world isn’t going to end if I don’t watch, and frankly, I’ve got more important stuff to do. ~which is basically related to reason #2, so just refer to that statement! lol

    Sounds mean, I know. Sorry I don’t share others’ enthusiasm for the Olympics. Good luck to everyone!

  9. WHat a cool story – never knew that. 🙂 Love the part about him taking himself out of the contest because he was so good.
    We don’t usually watch the Olympics so I won’t be watching the Winter ones.

  10. Margaret, I loved your post! I found it so very interesting. I cannot wait for the Olympics. Yep, I will be one that doesn’t want to miss a thing. I start getting excited when I see the first mention of the Olympics on television and by the time they start, I am just thrilled. From opening activities to the huge blowout ending, I am there.

  11. Hi Stephanie, it’s interesting to hear from another point of view. I’m not athletic at all, so maybe that’s why I find the Olympics so fascinating. The funny part is that the rest of the time I avoid sports like the plague.

    Take care!

  12. Super fun facts, Margaret. Oh, I am an Olympics junkie, probably because I am a klutz by nature without one single athletic ligament in my entire body. I so admire them all. I love figure skating, anybody on skis…and Sean White is a cutie.

    And I always get chills watching the opening and closing ceremonies, everybody getting along for a few days!

  13. I may watch some of the Olympics… I just catch whatever is on at the time I look… so many interesting Winter sports.

  14. Pay close attention to the Norweigan Curling team this year. Their ‘Uniforms’ are incredibly flashy! LAChannel 4 had pictures of them and the last few times they were in the Olympics. I can’t even describe it.
    Since this is the Winter ones, I have to watch the Snowboarding. Down Hill Skiing and Figure Skating. Our local snowboarder from Mammoth Lakes beat Shawn White at the Mammoth games. But he is on the team as the 4th member, so us in the Eastern Sierra have to cheer them on. I will be watching the Curling, though, just for the scenery.

  15. Hi Mary J, I’m going have to check those Norwegians out. It’s hard to believe anyone can beat the Flying Tomato, but I’ll be watching. BTW: I love Mammoth Lakes and we try to make it up there at least once a year, but mostly in the Summer.

  16. Interesting piece of Olympic trivia. I think the police probably made the right decision not charging him. With 4 shots, he certainly could have connected with his target, especially where he would like to have hit.

    I, too, am an Olympic junkie. I like it all. Lives on the Canadian border and I am always jealous during the games. Canadian TV has extensive live coverage of most events. There are also less non-event segments cutting into event coverage. I enjoy the ice skating and ice dancing competition, but get very frustrated when the judging is not what it should be. My favorite parts of the Olympics are the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The Opening is for the host country to strut its stuff and the Closing is for the participants to come together and celebrate. Hope you enjoy watching them – you know you will.

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