Greek Sailors Sweep Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals in 100-Meter Freestyle at the 1896 Games! Amazing! (Not Really)

I won 2nd place at a chess tournament, which took place at the famous Manhattan Chess Club, when I was 13 years old. I still have my trophy. And trust me, if there were more than 3 competitors in that tournament, I’m sure I would have done equally well!

Ioannis Malokinis
Ioannis Malokinis

Perhaps that’s what Ioannis Malokinis, Spiridon Chasapis and Dimitrios Drivas told themselves as they swept the medals in their swimming event – the 100-meter Freestyle for Greek Sailors. Yes, this was an event at the revival of the Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Yes, this was an event only Greek Sailors could compete in. And yes, only three sailors jumped into the Bay of Zea for this competition.

Eleven Greek sailors had signed up for this unique and partisan event, but the water was said to be so cold that others likely begged out. According to The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition, the gold medalist from the 100-meter freestyle event (the one open to all nationalities and occupations), a Hungarian swimmer named Alfréd Hajós said, “the icy water almost cut into our stomachs.”

Alfred Hajos
Alfréd Hajós

Hajós also competed and won the 1,200-meter swim. He had smeared a thick layer of grease in an attempt to ward off the effects of the icy waters, and still barely completed the race. The very quotable Hajós had said, “My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”

So while Hajós won silver in the 100-meter freestyle swimming event, only one other person may have completed the event – Otto Herschmann of Austria. The other 8 competitors who reportedly entered this competition were not awarded medals. It simply may have been too darn cold to bother.

The 100-meter freestyle event has become one of the must-see events at the Summer Olympics. However, needless to say, the 100-meter freestyle for Greek Sailors did not make its way beyond those 1896 Olympics.