http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut ... 8712.story
Hoyt Vaulted From Glastonbury To Harvard To 1896 Olympics
By LORI RILEY, firstname.lastname@example.org
March 26, 2014
The president of Harvard was not especially interested, in the spring of 1896, in having his school's athletes compete in the first modern Olympics, which is why Glastonbury native Bill Hoyt had to feign illness and drop out of college to go to Athens.
According to the July-August 1996 issue of Harvard magazine, published 100 years after the Games, President Charles William Elliott allowed one student, Ellery Clark, a leave of absence to go to Greece.
"May I ask you not to emphasize unduly the Harvard side of your athletic position," Elliott wrote to Clark. "You go, as I understand it, in the capacity of a B.A.A. man, and the fact that you are a Harvard man is, so to speak, accidental."
Elliott believed in physical activity but was not a supporter of intercollegiate athletics. Hoyt, a sophomore pole vaulter, knew that he wouldn't have a chance to leave the school legitimately. In fact, one of Hoyt's former teachers described him in the Harvard magazine article as "not a strong character, lacks purpose and will, probably from rather weak health. Vaults with a pole about eleven feet six inches and has a great love of music."
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So Hoyt, who also belonged to the Boston Athletic Association (the B.A.A.), used that perception to his advantage, faking an illness — something that a foreign trip would apparently cure. He withdrew from Harvard on March 20, 1896, and was soon off to Athens on a steamer with the other Harvard and B.A.A. athletes.
The Courant reported when the athletes left for Athens on March 23, 1896: "The teams from Princeton and the Boston Athletic Association which are to take part in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, sailed from Hoboken, N.J. Saturday on the steamer Fulda. W.W. Hoyt of Harvard was among the athletes listed, entered in the pole vault and hurdle events."
A Welles From Glastonbury
William Welles Hoyt, who went by Bill Hoyt and W.W. Hoyt, was born in Glastonbury on May 7, 1875, to Anna Maria Welles Hoyt and her husband, William Henry Hoyt. Anna Maria was the daughter of Thaddeus Welles, who was the brother of Gideon Welles, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the Navy during the Civil War. William Henry Hoyt was a widely known publisher in Boston and also a member of the B.A.A., which at the time was more of a social club that sponsored athletic events than the athletic club it is today.
The family lived in Cambridge, Mass., and Hoyt went to Roxbury Latin High School, where he won several state championships in pole vaulting and hurdling, according to the book, "Igniting the Flame: America's First Olympic Team." He went on to Harvard, and in Hoyt's sophomore year, Baron Pierre de Coubertin staged the first modern Olympic Games in Greece, which were held April 6-15.
"When an invitation was received in this country, asking the United States to send representatives to Greece, the powers of the Boston Athletic Association went into a huddle and decided the B.A.A. had a pretty good track team that had met with reasonable success at home and that Association could afford to send a group of seven athletes and a coach to the first Olympiad," Thomas Curtis, a B.A.A. member and hurdler from MIT who won a gold medal in 1896, wrote in The Atlantic in 1956.
Back at home, the Olympics were not considered anything special. But when they arrived at the stadium, Hoyt and the other Americans saw 60,000-plus spectators, with people gathered on the surrounding hillsides, and realized the magnitude of the competition.
On To Greece
Much to their hosts' dismay, the Americans dominated the track and field events. Clark won the high jump, Curtis won the 110-meter high hurdles and Thomas Burke (who went to Harvard after the Olympics in 1901) won the 100 meters, with the Greeks showing remarkable good will in the face of so much defeat. They had never heard organized cheering before and loved when the B.A.A. members cheered, "B.A.A! Rah! Rah! Rah!" King George I, according to the Harvard magazine article, "Twice called spontaneously for the American cheer, once in the stadium and once at a royal breakfast he was hosting."
Hoyt ran a qualifying hurdles race, finishing second, but opted to skip the finals to focus on the pole vault, which was on the last day of the Olympics, the same day as the marathon. He and Princeton's Albert Tyler, who was a member of the Tigers' football team, were the class of the field. The three other vaulters were Greek and not very experienced in the sport.
"Pole vaulting in Athens was still a fairly primitive exercise," author Jim Reisler wrote in "Igniting the Flame." "Vaulters didn't have a runway, a hole for the pole, or even a pit for a comfortable landing, instead having to hit the ground with a hard thud."
The bar was set almost comically low, and by the time it had reached 7 feet, 7 inches, all the Greeks had been eliminated. The Americans passed on the lower early heights, entering when the bar was set at 9-2.
Hoyt missed his first two vaults at 10 feet, while Tyler cleared the height easily. From "Igniting the Flame:" "I can remember the anxiety with which I saw him come running down the path on his last trial," remembered Clark. "[But] his nerve held; he caught things right."
Hoyt made it over on his third try.
Tyler couldn't make the height at 10-9 but Hoyt did, and ended the competition with a final mark of 10 feet, 9 ¾ inches. Instead of a gold medal, winners were awarded diplomas, olive branches and silver medals.
According to Reisler, the king asked Hoyt to keep vaulting, perhaps to keep the large crowd entertained as they waited for the marathoners to arrive in the stadium. The bar was raised to 11 feet, but Hoyt did not clear it, even though he had vaulted a best of 11-2 previously.
Spiridon Louis of Greece won the marathon, considered the biggest event of the Olympics by the Greeks, amid much celebrating by the 125,000 spectators. The B.A.A. members who witnessed the event that day were moved to come home and have their club put on their own marathon the next year, a race from Ashland to Boston that they called the Boston Marathon.
The Americans won nine of the 12 track and field events and the group was honored with banquets by the governor, the mayor and the B.A.A. upon its arrival home.
The Courant reported on April 11, 1896: "The American competitors sustained their reputations as athletes and carried off a goodly share of the honors. An immense crowd was present. The stadium was packed to its utmost capacity and the hills round about were again covered with dense masses of humanity." The story also mentions Louis, a Greek peasant, winning "the long distance race from Marathon" and mentions other winners, including that "The pole jump was won by W.W. Hoyt of Harvard of the Boston Athletic Club, who scored 3.30 meters."
Hoyt went back to Harvard, miraculously recovered from his "illness." He graduated in 1897 and earned a degree from Harvard's medical school in 1901. He practiced in Chicago and went to France during World War I, where he returned following the war, working as a surgeon for the U.S. Public Health Service.
When he returned to the U.S., Hoyt, who married Isabell Brownlee but had no children, moved to Berlin, N.Y., in 1938, where he remained until his death in 1954 at age 78, according to his obituary in The Courant.
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