Thursday, Jul. 11, 2024

Looking Back At The Last Paris Olympics

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Paris first hosted the Olympic Games in 1900, the second modern Olympic Games and the edition where horse sport made its debut, and when Paris signed on to host the 1924 edition as well, it became the first city to host two separate Olympics. The 1924 Games included the modern trio of eventing, show jumping and dressage under the equestrian umbrella, as well as polo.

The Fédération Equestre Internationale was formed in 1921, in Lausanne, Switzerland, shortly after the 1920 Antwerp Games, and the organization immediately got to work standardizing the rules for equestrian sports. The new group received a boost when FEI Secretary General Maj. Georges Hector became president of the technical committee for the equestrian events at the 1924 Games.

Kazimierz Szosland rides Helusia for Poland in eventing at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

That year was also the first time that an Olympic Village—a collection of wooden cabins located northwest of central Paris—hosted athletes, and the first year the Games held a closing ceremony.

The Preparation, Selection And Travel

U.S. athletes, including their equine partners, traveled to the Games by ship, but first their pre-transit preparations took place at Fort Myer, Virginia.

“The conditioning of these horses is progressing daily at Fort Myer,” reported the New York Times in February of 1924. “Most of the jumpers are old and experienced, and those horses are given an hour or two generally by leading on the road. Occasionally they are brought into the riding hall, worked a little at a walk, trot and canter and at backing, and possibly once or twice a week they are jumped over a single jump about 3 1/2 feet tall.”

The article goes on to explain that the eventing horses were worked differently—sometimes twice a day.

“The majority of these horses are not ‘schooled’ in the European sense of the word, and the team is bending every effort to accomplish this,” reported the New York Times. “Since these horses have to jump, and since they must be in excellent condition, they are taken on the roads for an hour or two and are also worked for 15 or 20 minutes in the riding hall. They are jumped about three times a week over low obstacles.

At the 1924 Olympic Games, all the dressage judges sat together during the competition. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

“In short what the American horsemen are now interested in is—firstly, to train all the horses to be eligible for the three-day event; second, to jump them enough to determine which are the better jumpers; and thirdly, to handle them so that they will be in proper shape when the team departs for Europe,” the article continued.

Though 20 horses underwent the conditioning process on U.S. soil, only the chosen 14, mostly owned by the government but with a few owned by individuals, traveled to Rocquencourt, France, a month before the event in order to get further conditioned for the competition. There three likely starters went lame and had to be eliminated.

The United States sent teams of show jumpers and eventers, though the riders largely overlapped. Maj. John Barry (team captain), Capt. Vernon Lareau Padgett and Maj. Sloan Doak rode on both squads, while 1st Lt. Frederic Bontecou was the fourth jumping member and 1st Lt. Leslie Carr rounded out the eventing team. According to the U.S. Equestrian Team archives, the country also sent a dressage rider, but there’s no record of a U.S. rider competing in that sport.

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The events were restricted to male military officers, as they would be through 1948. (In 1952 four women rode in dressage; in 1956 two women competed in jumping, and in 1964 Lana du Pont became the first woman to ride in an Olympic eventing competition.)

Adolph Dirk C. van der Voort van Zijp on Silver Piece earned individual and team eventing Olympic gold for the Netherlands in 1924. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

Most of the competitions were held at the main Olympic stadium, while portions of the eventing competitions were held at Villacoublay and at the Hippodrome d’Auteuil. All told there were 97 men from 17 countries participating, and 18,848 spectators attended the dressage, eventing and show jumping competitions, a number which included officials and press, between July 21-27 when the equestrian events took place.

Picking Up Medals

Finnish-born Swede Ernst Linder, a retired general, won the individual dressage competition aboard Trakehner Piccolomini, less than a point ahead of Sweden’s Bertil Sandström on Sabel—who took silver in 1920 as well. In fact Sweden took four of the top five dressage placings, but there was no team competition in dressage for them to win.

Linder was ranked first by one judge, while Sandström was marked first by two, with another judge tying the two competitors. But Linder’s total average points gave him the win in his only Olympic appearance. (Sandström competed again aboard Kreta in the 1932 edition and won team silver, losing his individual silver after it was alleged that he had clucked to his horse during his test.)

Silver medalist Bertin Sandström and Sabel claimed individual dressage silver for Sweden. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

In the jumping competition the course was 1,060 meters long, featuring obstacles between 1.25 meters and 1.40 meters in height. To compare, in this year’s upcoming Paris Olympic Games, show jumpers will face courses up to 700 meters long, with obstacles up to 1.65 meters in height, with a maximum spread of 2 meters (2.2 meters for triple bars).

“The 16 obstacles, all very difficult and judiciously scattered around the track, did not allow a single flawless course,” reads the official report from the French Olympic Committee. “The best performance was Lieutenant Gemuseus, of the Swiss Army, who, by his victory, assured his country the second place in the team ranking.”

Switzerland’s Lt. Alphonse Gemuseus, riding Lucette, claimed individual gold in his first Olympic appearance, and Sweden claimed team gold for the second edition in a row. For the United States only Barry, on Nigra, who had the best U.S. finish in 25th, and Doak, riding Joffre into 29th, managed to finish the difficult course.

Georg von Braun and Diana, members of the Swedish gold medal-winning jumping team, tackled the bank at the 1924 Olympic Games. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

Obstacles included an open ditch, a triple bar, a wall, a gate, a bank, liverpools, doubles, triples and a 4 meter wide water jump. Riders accrued jumping and time penalties, but some faults were scored differently than they are today.

For example, a front foot in the water accrued 4 faults, while a hind foot accrued 2. There was a single competition that counted toward both individual and team results, and countries were allowed to enter up to four horse-and-rider combinations, with the best three results counted in the team competition.

In eventing the U.S. won its sole medal, an individual bronze won by Doak, 38, aboard Thoroughbred Pathfinder behind the Netherlands’ Adolf Dirk C. van der Voort van Zijp on Silver Piece—who anchored his country to team gold—and Denmark’s Frode Rasmussen Kirkebjerg on Metoo. Carr finished seventh aboard Proctor while the other two U.S. eventing competitors were eliminated in the grueling endurance phase.

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Jean Breuls and Acrobate competed in jumping at the 1924 Olympic Games for Belgium. Photo Courtesy Of FEI

The 1924 Games introduced an eventing format similar to the one used today, with dressage on Day 1, endurance on Day 2, and show jumping on Day 3.

In the endurance phase, riders faced a serious test. Phase A was short roads and tracks at 240 meters per minute; Phase B was a 4 kilometer steeplechase at 550 meters per minute; Phase C was a longer roads and tracks, 18 kilometers, at 240 meters a minute. Phase D was cross-country, which went over 8 kilometers, and the pace was intended to be 450 meters per minute. The height of the jumps was 1.10 meters to 1.15 meters, with a maximum width of 3.50 meters. The pairs finished with Phase E, a flat race of approximately 2 kilometers, with a minimum speed of 333 meters per minute.

Doak, a West Point (New York) graduate, was a versatile equestrian who spent much of his career as a cavalry instructor at Fort Riley, Kansas, eventually retiring with the rank of colonel. He had a strong background in polo as well as the Olympic sports, and he participated in three Olympic Games. He competed in dressage, eventing and jumping in 1920, jumping and eventing in 1924, and he served as the captain of the U.S. Equestrian Team when he competed in eventing in 1928. His Olympic affiliation continued in 1932 when he was named the chairman of the equestrian jury at the Los Angeles edition of the Games alongside Barry.

A Short-Lived Olympic Sport

Only five teams competed in polo, a sport making its fourth of five Olympic appearances. The polo competition took place at the St. Cloud Country Club and Bagatelle venues west of the city. Polo proved more popular to watch than the other horse events, with more than 24,000 spectators over the 10 days of matches.

The U.S. polo team of (from left) Elmer Boeseke, Tommy Hitchcock Jr., Fred Roe and Rodman Wanamaker claimed silver. Alamy Photo

It was the first time the two most dominant teams—the United States and Argentina—faced one another, and the competition was designed as a round-robin tournament, where each team played each other team once. Argentina took gold over the U.S. squad of Tommy Hitchcock Jr., Elmer Boeseke, Fred Roe and Rodman Wanamaker (who bankrolled the team) in a hard fought 6-5 match, with Great Britain claiming bronze. (Spain was fourth and France fifth after losing all four of its matches.)

Team captain Hitchcock was a particularly gifted player who carried a 10-goal handicap from the U.S. Polo Association from 1922-1940, with the exception of 1935, and he was inducted into the U.S. Polo Hall of Fame in its inaugural year.

“[Hitchcock] played some of the best polo in his life before being injured in the final game,” wrote Brenda Lynn and Brandon Fabel in the article “A History Of America’s Polo Olympians,” published by the U.S. Polo Association. “Argentine player Juan Miles told him ‘[m]y God, you should be ranked 15 instead of 10, Tommy!’ ”

Off the polo field he led an adventurous life. Before his polo career took off, he was rejected by the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps for service in World War I on the grounds that he was only 17, so he joined the French forces and went overseas, eventually transferring to the U.S. Air Service. He shot down two German planes before he was shot down himself and captured while flying a mission for the Lafayette Escadrille. He spent months in hospitals and camps until he jumped from a train while it was crossing a river. Still injured and behind enemy lines, he hid during the day and walked at night, covering 100 miles to the Swiss border in eight days, and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was friends with Hitchcock, based Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” off Hitchcock, who became a partner in the Lehman Brothers firm on Wall Street after the war. When World War II broke out, he pushed to become a fighter pilot, and when the Pentagon informed him he was too old, he found his way to England where he taught pilots to fly. His death in 1944 during a test flight became front page news around the world.


This article originally appeared in Untacked. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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