120 years, 120 stories (Part 4) : When an Olympic gold cost a punch in the face


You remember the stories we already brought to you? Here we are, once again, presenting to you another fascinating story from the Olympics, in our part 4 of the Olympic Diaries. This is the story of Myer Prinstein, Alvin Kraenzlein and their story of betrayal and its after-effect.

Olympics have always been adorned by athletes of the highest standard. They have broken records at ease, set up a new standard and mesmerized the spectators every time they participated in an event. American athlete Myer Prinstein is just another soul of the same rare type.

Born to Polish-Russian parents in the year 1878, Myer Prinstein was the third of the nine children. His parents were Jews and they migrated to New York City when Prinstein was five years old. An athlete from his childhood, loved breaking records. On 11th June, 1898, he set a long jump world record of 7.235 meters (23′ 8 7/8″) in New York. William Newburn of Ireland and Alvin Kraenzlein broke that record within a year. Prinstein came back strong and months later, broke their records to set up a new one with a jump of 7.50 meters (24′ 7 1/4″). Eventually, another Irish athlete, Peter O’Connor broke that one and claimed it to his name.

Myer Prinstein, however, will remain more famous for what he did in the Olympics of 1900.

Prinstein took part in the long jump competition and the triple jump. He was leading the long-jump table after the preliminary rounds. Naturally, then the world record-holder was about to enter the final round with an advantage over his closest competitor, Alvin Kraenzlein. But, the religion suddenly came in between Prinstein and his dream.

The Final was all set to take part on a Sunday. And it was the Sabbath for the Jews. Unfortunately, Syracuse University, for which Prinstein was participating in the competition, banned their students from participating on that holy day. Some would say it’s a ridiculous convention while the purists would say it’s quite logical. Nonetheless, both Prinstein and his opponent Kraenzlein made a deal in order to make it fair for both. They decided not to take the competition on the scheduled Sunday. Instead, they made a pact to have it on some other day. So far, so good!

When the day came, quite unexpectedly, it turned into a mayhem. Kraenzlein knew that he would never get a chance to lay his hand on the first prize. He realized that it was his only chance. To Prinstein’s utter dismay, he backed out of the deal, took part in the Final and grabbed the gold medal by beating the rival’s mark by a single centimeter.

It would take little smartness to guess that Myer Prinstein was extremely pissed off. The story however gets more exciting than this. Reports indicate that the man was so angry that he went straight to Alvin Kraenzlein and punched him in the face. Reneging on the actual arrangement gave him the gold medal, but he had to suffer from the wrath of the Jew he chose to piss off.

Anyway, Prinstein was a pragmatic man and he shrugged off the defeat on the very next day. The American emerged victorious in the other event. He won his gold in the triple jump, defeating 1896 Olympics winner James Connolly. Myer Prinstein also returned to the Olympics four years later. This time, the long jump final was on a Thursday and he won it as a deserving winner. He also added another gold medal to his trophy cabinet from the triple jump event.

As for Alvin Kraenzlein? He can certainly boast of being the first sportsman ever in the history of the Olympics to win four individual gold medals in a single event. However, he chose to call it a day after that Olympics. Some would say he finished on a high end. However, we, those who know the actual story, would definitely remember him as a backstabbing coward who ended his career after getting punched by his rival.

Absurd rules, nasty rivalries and interesting outcomes – isn’t it? Olympic Games have always given us the best events from the Sporting history.

Stay tuned to Sports-nova to catch up with the next one of our interesting series!

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images