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Author Topic: Why So Many Second-Tier Guys Went to Olympic Games After W. W. I & Flu Pandemic
Ken Viewer
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(Edited on June 14 to change format to only Arabic numerals, reformatting numbers that were spelled out.)

It's been difficult to find recently updated reliable statistics for worldwide deaths of GUYS during and as a result of World War I, plus all the male casualties that resulted in massive numbers of the permanently disabled. The stats keep changing...

Plus, I'm not even trying to include civilian male deaths of competition-age males, which numbers in the millions.

Anyway, the reason I've been searching today is because IMO the Post-War Olympic Games, such as the 1920 Olympics, had a much smaller field of athletic young guys to pick from as nations sought to send their best athletes to the games. As a result, many of the best potential competitors, being dead or disabled, couldn't compete...NOT KIDDING.

How many "military personnel", virtually all of whom, from Western Europe and North America, were males killed or injured-badly-enough to be counted, died as a result of the war?

I'm pulling these figures off of Wiki, which can't make its own mind up on the topic, depending upon how you search it;

Killed: 9 to 11 million military personnel in combat or as a result of combat, from both sides in total.

Wounded: 23 million military personnel from both sides in total.

Missing and never returned: 6 million military personnel from both sides in total.

U.S. Deaths: 126,000 including military personnel who died in time from their wounds.

U.S. Wounded: 234,000 military personnel, many of whom were permanently disabled and had shorter life spans.

These figures do not include the deaths from the worst influenza outbreak in recorded history; the so-called "Spanish Flu" (which couldn't even speak North and South American Spanish dialects), which was dreadfully contagious and for which there was no medical treatment, including the use of antibiotics, because they had not yet been discovered.

Deaths from the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, worldwide: estimated at 50 to 100 million people, male and female (and those too confused to know which category they would be put in when they croaked).

What was left in the civilized world was an entire generation of young men in the prime of life lessened by ghastly deaths. The then-existing body of athletic males able to compete in sports for the next decade-or-so was enormously reduced. The old men don't fight wars as soldiers; the old schits send the young and the healthy.

What we then got was at least a decade of competitors at the Olympic Games who came from the body of males who had survived. IMO the quality of competition was severely reduced and guys who couldn't win a role of toilet paper had there been no World War and no pandemic won gold, silver, bronze medals. Sorry to be harsh about it but the truth is the truth; if you're dead you can't compete in athletic events.

It's relevant to the question of how capable the wrestlers who went to those 1920, 1924 and other Olympic games were. They were the best of those who had survived, not the best of what should have been the pool of athletes.

Wrestling fans of that era seem to ignore this. World War II was also horrible beyond belief.

Ken

[ 06-14-2019, 03:35 PM: Message edited by: Ken Viewer ]

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DaClyde
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It is also difficult to quantify the quality of Olympic wrestlers because Olympic record keeping is shockingly bad for anything prior to the 1970s. I don't think there is even an online database that can give you the names of all of the competitors in each event.

********UPDATE********
Ok, so apparently, I was mistaken, and Sports-Reference.com has dramatically improved their Olympics data since I checked last year. So there is information on the competitors for each wrestling event as far back as 1904.
**********************

But there is also the issue of professional athletics. Once someone goes pro, they're done with the Olympics. Some of the best realized where there was money to be made.

[ 06-11-2019, 02:36 PM: Message edited by: DaClyde ]

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Wrestling Perspective
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Interesting topic and interesting thoughts. There’s a lot to unpack here.

A few observations.

David Goldblatt notes the following deaths during WWI:
- More than two dozen Tour de France cyclists.
- 34 British cricket players
- 27 British Rugby players
- “Hundreds” of British soccer players.
- More than 40 British Olympians.
- More than 100 Olympians overall.
- 890,000 Brits overall
- 1.3 million French
- 1.7 million Germans
- 15 million total

I’ve seen other numbers for the total number of deaths – 20+ million overall - but I think the larger point, as was made in the original post, is we lost a lot of men and most of the guys on frontline were not particularly old. At the same time, I don’t know if there is any kind of hard data regarding the percentage of athletes who were killed/injured in World War I, let alone how many athletes were killed/debilitated by the flu pandemic.

The loss of more than 100 Olympians is an interesting statistic, but I don’t know how that actually impacts the 1920 Games. How many of those previous Olympians, who last competed in 1912, would have still been active athletes, “amateur,” and actually qualified for the Antwerp Games eight years after the Stockholm Games is a matter of conjecture.

As to the quality of competition in the men’s events:

Total Male Athletes
Stockholm: 2,359
Antwerp: 2,561
Note: There were more events in 1920, so it would appear, on average, there were fewer athletes per event in Antwerp, but I’ve not searched that avenue.

Total Countries Competing
Stockholm: 28
Antwerp: 29
Note: Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey and Russia were not invited to the 1920 Games. So, an argument could be made that, aside from the losses on the battlefield, this group of Olympians was not as strong as it could have been.

Still, we’re left with the question, how good were the athletes who competed at the 1920 Games? Few would argue against the greatness of Paavo Nurmi, but one athlete does not a talent pool make.

Some more numbers from what I can gather looking at the Antwerp report:

Olympic Records Set at Antwerp (Men’s Events): 13 (some, however are for events that debuted in 1920)

Existing Olympic Records (Men’s Events) Not Broken:
Stockholm: 18
London: 1
St. Louis: 5
Paris: 1

A number of Olympic records were broken at Antwerp, but a majority of the Stockholm records did not fall. Interestingly, there were still 5 records in place from the much-maligned St. Louis Games.

How about medal winning times for events at the 1912 and 1920 Games? Since the hypothesis is: “What we then got was at least a decade of competitors at the Olympic Games who came from the body of males who had survived. IMO the quality of competition was severely reduced and guys who couldn't win a role of toilet paper had there been no World War and no pandemic won gold, silver, bronze medals....” a comparison of the medal rounds could be useful. At first blush, it does not look good for the 1920 field.

For example:

100 Meters
1912
Ralph Craig United States 10.8
Alvah Meyer United States 10.9
Donald Lippincott United States 10.9

1920
Charley Paddock (USA)10.8
Morris Kirksey (USA) 10.8
Harry Edward (GBR) 11.0

Okay, that’s pretty close.


200 Meters
1912 Ralph Craig (USA) 21.7
Donald Lippincott (USA) 21.8
Willie Applegarth (GBR) 22.0

1920
Allen Woodring (USA) 22.0
Charley Paddock (USA) 22.0
Harry Edward (GBR) 22.1

Antwerp Gold gets Bronze in Stockholm.


400 Meters
1912
Charles Reidpath (USA) 48.2 OR
Hanns Braun (GER) 48.3
Edward Lindberg (USA) 48.4

1920
Bevil Rudd (RSA) 49.6
Guy Butler (GBR) 49.9
Nils Engdahl (SWE) 49.9

Antwerp gold doesn’t medal in Stockholm.


800 Meters
1912
Ted Meredith (USA) 1:51.9 WR
Mel Sheppard (USA) 1:52.0
Ira Davenport (USA) 1:52.0

1920
Albert Hill (GBR) 1:53.4
Earl Eby (USA) 1:53.6
Bevil Rudd (S. Africa) 1:54.0

Antwerp gold doesn’t medal in Stockholm.


1500 Meters
1912
Arnold Jackson (GBR) 3:56.8 OR
Abel Kiviat (USA) 3:56.9
Norman Taber (USA) 3:56.9

1920
Albert Hill (GBR) 4:01.8
Philip Noel-Baker (GBR) 4:02.3
Lawrence Shields (USA) 4:03.0

Antwerp gold doesn’t medal in Stockholm.


5000
1912
Hannes Kolehmainen (FIN) 14:36.6 WR
Jean Bouin (FRA) 14:36.7
George Hutson (GBR) 15:07.6

1920
Joseph Guillemot (FRA) 14:55.6
Paavo Nurmi (FIN) 15:00.0
Eric Backman (SWE) 15:13.0

Antwerp gold gets bronze in Stockholm.


10,000
1912
Hannes Kolehmainen (FIN) 31:20.8 OR
Lewis Tewanima (USA) 32:06.6
Albin Stenroos (FIN) 32:21.8

1920
Paavo Nurmi (FIN) 31:45.8
Joseph Guillemot (FRA) 31:47.2
James Wilson (GBR) 31:50.8

Antwerp gold gets bronze in Stockholm.


4x4 100
1912
David Jacobs, Henry Macintosh, Willie Applegarth, Victor d'Arcy (GBR) 42.4
Ivan Möller, Charles Luther, Ture Person, Knut Lindberg (SWE) 42.6
Otto Röhr, Max Herrmann, Erwin Kern, Richard Rau (GER) Disqualified

1920
Charley Paddock, Jackson Scholz, Loren Murchison, Morris Kirksey (USA) 42.2 WR
René Lorain, René Tirard, René Mourlon, Émile Ali-Khan (FRA) 42.5
Agne Holmström, William Petersson, Sven Malm, Nils Sandström (SWE) 42.8

Gold and Silver is faster at Antwerp.


110 Hurdles
1912
Fred Kelly (USA) 15.1
James Wendell (USA) 15.2
Martin Hawkins (USA) 15.3

1920
Earl Thomson (CAN) 14.8 WR
Harold Barron (USA) 15.1
Feg Murray (USA) 15.1

Gold, Silver and Bronze faster at Antwerp.


4X400 relay
1912
Mel Sheppard, Edward Lindberg, Ted Meredith, Charles Reidpath (USA) 3:16.6 WR
Charles Lelong, Robert Schurrer, Pierre Failliot, Charles Poulenard (FRA) 3:20.7
George Nicol, Ernest Henley, James Soutter, Cyril Seedhouse (GBR) 3:23.2

1920
Cecil Griffiths, Robert Lindsay, John Ainsworth-Davis, Guy Butler (GBR) 3:22.2
Henry Dafel, Clarence Oldfield, Jack Oosterlaak, Bevil Rudd (RSA) 3:23.0
Géo André, Gaston Féry, Maurice Delvart, André Devaux (FRA) 3:23.5

Gold at Antwerp gets Bronze at Stockholm. Silver at Antwerp faster than Bronze at Stockholm.


Marathon
1912
Ken McArthur (RSA) 2:36:54.8 OR
Christian Gitsham (RSA) 2:37:52.0
Gaston Strobino (USA) 2:38:42.4

1920
Hannes Kolehmainen (FIN) 2:32:35.8 WR
Jüri Lossmann (EST) 2:32:48.6
Valerio Arri (ITA) 2:36:32.8

Gold at Stockholm does not medal in Antwerp.


10K Walk
1912
George Goulding (CAN) 46:28.4
Ernest Webb (GBR) 46:50.4
Fernando Altimani (ITA) 47:37.6

1920
Ugo Frigerio (ITA) 48:06.2
Joseph Pearman (USA) (49:40.2)
Charles Gunn (GBR) (49:43.9)

Gold at Antwerp does not medal in Stockholm.


Individual Cross Country

1912
Hannes Kolehmainen (FIN) 45:11.6[2]
Hjalmar Andersson (SWE) 45:44.8
John Eke (SWE) 46:37.6

1920
Paavo Nurmi (FIN) 27:15.0
Eric Backman (SWE) 27:17.6
Heikki Liimatainen (FIN) 27:37.0

Apples to oranges as the cross country race in Antwerp was estimated to actually only be about 8k vs 10k for Stockholm.


This is not complete, but, at least when you look at this sample, generally, the winning times for 1920 are slower than the times for 1912, which isn’t necessarily expected when there is an 8-year gap between competition. Then again, some performances reign for a long time. Michael Phelps has two individual records that are almost 10 and 11 years old respectively. Kevin Young’s record in 400-meter hurdles was set in 1992. So, it’s not like records are broken in every event every year.

So, are the slower winning times the direct result of a depleted talent pool?

That could play a part, but it’s also worth mentioning that contemporaneous reports note both problems with the quality of the track and the amount of rain. The track was referred to by one runner as “precarious.”

For example, in regards to the 800-meter race won by Britain’s Albert Hill, the American Olympic Committee wrote, “Hill's time in this race was 1 minute 53 2-5 seconds, but the majority of the experts agreed that despite the time shown by the watches it was the fastest half mile ever run. The slow time shown by the watches was due to the very slow track on which the race was run, due to continual rains. Had the race been run at the Harvard Stadium or Franklin Field, Philadelphia, it is quite likely that the world's record for the distance would have been broken.”

Regarding the 1,500, the AOC wrote, “It was run in a drizzling rain. … Hill's time in this race was 4 minutes 1 4-5 seconds, which is considered very good time for the slow, rain-soaked track in the Antwerp Stadium.”

In referene to the 10,000 meter race, the AOC wrote, “The race was fully as fast as the one at Stockholm in 1912, when Kolehmainen made the present Olympic record, if allowance is given for the difference in the tracks. Nurmi's time, 31 minutes 45 4-5 seconds, is several seconds slower than the Stockholm record, but there was easily that difference between the two tracks.”

For the high jump, the AOC references problems again, though this time it is to promote Team USA. “The American high jumpers are accustomed to jumping from a firm take-off made from practically the same materials as the track is composed of, but at Antwerp the almost continuous rain which fell during the Games made it impossible to hold the high jump at the place originally fixed and therefore necessary to have the contestants jump from a turf take-off. This became soft after the many competitors had taken their trial jumps and affected some of the jumpers more than others. John Murphy, the American champion, in particular experienced great difficulty in clearing heights several inches under his best performance at home.”

Given the track and field conditions, perhaps Athletics doesn’t give us the best barometer to compare 1912 to 1920.

How about swimming? That should be less variable to conditions than Track and Field, though some swimmers will tell you some pools are faster than others. Again, these are only the medal races. I’m not looking at heats.

100 Meters: Fastest time at Stockholm (Duke Kahanamoku, who wins gold in 1920) does not medal Antwerp.

400 Meters: Gold and Silver faster in Stockholm, Bronze faster in Antwerp.

1,500 Meters: Gold faster in Stockholm, Silver and Bronze faster in Antwerp.

100 Backstroke: Fastest time in Stockholm does not medal in Antwerp.

200 Breaststroke: Gold, Silver, & Bronze faster at Stockholm. Silver at Antwerp does not medal in Stockholm. (Note: Germans dominated this in 1912, but were absent in 1920.)

400 Breaststroke: Gold, Silver, & Bronze faster at Stockholm. Silver at Antwerp does not medal in Stockholm.

4 x 200 Relay: Gold at Antwerp faster than Stockholm (by almost 7 seconds). Silver and Bronze at Stockholm faster than Antwerp.

It’s hard to make the case, overall, that the finals heats were significantly better at either Olympiad. There’s not a major drop off, but there’s not major improvement either. It’s more event dependent.

This makes me go back to my earlier point: I don’t know if there is any kind of hard data regarding the percentage of athletes who were killed/injured in World War I, let alone how many athletes were killed/debilitated by the flu pandemic. Yes, we lost a number of good men and boys, but what percentage were elite athletes?

Could an argument be made, that at least as far as a flu pandemic is concerned, that athletes in good health would be less likely to be impacted by a flu pandemic than the rest of the population? That’s for a biologist to answer, but it should be noted that the 1918 flu pandemic hit young adults harder than typical flu pandemics which tend to hit the old and young the hardest (and they were hit hard in the 1918 pandemic as well).

We’re still left with this question: What percentage were of young adults lost to the flu pandemic were actually athletes/future athletes? I don’t think we have an answer to that.

Was the men’s talent pool for the 1920 Games was depleted due to WWI, the flu pandemic, and politics? I think the data suggest a possible thinning of the athletic herd, however, not as drastic as one might think. It appears, in general, the medal rounds were contested at a high level. The Antwerp Games were thrown together in roughly one year, there were some issues with venues, and no official Olympic film was made for the event, though some newsreel clips survive. How the quick turnaround and lack of ability to prepare properly impacted the athletic field is also an issue to consider.

By the time we get to the Chamonix and Paris Games, I don’t think the argument of a thinned out herd is as strong, but I have not examined the numbers, so that is conjecture on my part.

If you want to more accurately examine the depth of talent at the 1912 Games vs. the 1920 Games, you need to also look at all of the heats. I'll leave that fun for someone else.

What does the mean as to the wrestling talent pool at the time?

That’s a good question.

[ 06-12-2019, 10:19 PM: Message edited by: Wrestling Perspective ]

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Ken Viewer
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Your work and analysis are quite interesting and relevant. I hope you give more thought to whether further investigation and attempts to secure accurate statistics are worthwhile endeavors.

A need here is a capable statistician who has a special interest in the World War I results and the 1917-1919 worldwide influenza catastrophe.

Of special interest to me are the ages and military service -- if any -- of the participants in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics wrestling competitions. For instance, Henri Deglane, who medalled in 1924, is listed as being born in 1902, making him all of about 12 years of age when France entered World War I -- I'd think way too young to be called to military service.

But Nat Pendleton, who represented the U.S. in the 1920 games, was born in 1895, suggesting he was of draft age and/or would have been accepted for service had he enlisted in the American Army when we entered the War in 1917. I don't know if he joined the military.

Wikipedia, which in one place on its site lists Russia (which should be listed as the pre-Soviet Russian Empire) as having a population of 175 million (for Russia alone, the figure is absurd, wrong and at least twice what it actually was) in the World War I time-frame, and some 145 million today, is listed as having deaths of military personnel of some 2 million, give or take a half-million, which is a huge "give-or-take."

The topic is the stuff of Ph.D. dissertations and thick books. If you pursue it, good luck.

Ken

[ 06-14-2019, 03:31 PM: Message edited by: Ken Viewer ]

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Wrestling Perspective
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Thanks. Glad you found it interesting. An fun diversion from my current Olympic research.

I'd imagine someone has tracked the percentages of males in their teens/twenties lost to WWI and the flu epidemics, but I'm not familiar with that research.

If you want to look more into who competed in wrestling events during the 1920 and 1924 Games and their respective ages, like DaClyde noted, I'd recommend the Sport Reference site.

For example, on this page this page you can see everyone who competed in the Men's Lightweight, Freestyle event at Antwerp. Of those they have ages listed, it appears the average age was 26.7 at at the time.

Also on that page is toggle where it says "Events" so you can go to Men's Lightweight, Greco-Roman,
Men's Middleweight, Greco-Roman, etc. Basically, you can pull down the names, countries, and often ages of everyone who competed in wrestling at the 1920 Games if you go through each page.

If you want to do it for the 1924 Games, just start here.

There's a lot of data to mine, but the website does allow you to download the information into excel files.

So, the average age of the wrestlers in each competition (save for a few for whom the numbers aren't there) can be done fairly easily.

As for figuring out which Olympic wrestlers served in the War, I think that step would probably require a lot more sweat equity.

Could be an interesting project.

Edit: I'm adding the list of Men's Lightweight Freestyle from Antwerp as an example:

Rank Athlete Age Team NOC Medal
1 Oskari Friman 27 Finland FIN Gold
2 Heikki Kahkanen 28 Finland FIN Silver
3 Fritiof Svensson 23 Sweden SWE Bronze
AC r4/5 Sander Boumans 27 Belgium BEL
AC r4/5 Eduard Patsep 21 Estonia EST
AC r3/5 Aage Torgensen 20 Denmark DEN
AC r3/5 Enrico Porro 35 Italy ITA
AC r3/5 Josef Beranek 28 Czechoslovakia TCH
AC r2/5 Edvin Jensen 19 Denmark DEN
AC r2/5 Jules Bouquet 31 France FRA
AC r2/5 Maurice Bovis France FRA
AC r2/5 Piero Vaglio 32 Italy ITA
AC r2/5 Wilhelm Olsen 28 Norway NOR
AC r2/5 Gottfrid Svensson 30 Sweden SWE
AC r2/5 Adrian Brian 28 United States USA
AC r2/5 Daniel Gallery 18 United States USA
AC r1/5 Henri Dierickx 26 Belgium BEL
AC r1/5 Ioannis Dialetis Greece GRE
AC r1/5 Willem Roels 30 Netherlands NED
AC r1/5 Johannes van Maaren 30 Netherlands NED
AC r1/5 Frantiaek Aezaa Czechoslovakia TCH

[ 06-15-2019, 08:16 AM: Message edited by: Wrestling Perspective ]

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Wrestling Perspective
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quote:
Originally posted by DaClyde:
But there is also the issue of professional athletics. Once someone goes pro, they're done with the Olympics. Some of the best realized where there was money to be made.

The "amateur" vs. professional issue is something that makes it difficult to assess some Olympic competition as some of the best athletes were deemed professionals, not because they competed in the sport for money, but because the blue bloods didn't want to compete against laborers, let alone lose to them.

That's a whole different story though ...

[ 06-15-2019, 07:44 AM: Message edited by: Wrestling Perspective ]

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