Swifter, Higher, Stronger
35 Olympians With Mid-Missouri Roots
(page 1 of 5)
From St. Louis and Sydney to Belgium and Beijing, 35 people with ties to Columbia have sprinted, jumped, dribbled, skied and wrestled with the best athletes in the global pageantry of Olympic competition. Although the games have caused heartbreak for many mid-Missourians, 14 athletes have returned with the most cherished prizes: Olympic medals.
Joseph Charles (1868-1950)
Joseph Charles, who was born in Boonville, played both singles and doubles. At age 36, Charles was the oldest participant on the team, which played on dirt courts in St. Louis during the first modern Olympiad, held as part of the 1904 World’s Fair.
John Nicholson (1889-1970)
1912; 110-meter hurdles, high jump
According to the Olympic report from that year, through the preliminaries John Nicholson “cleared the hurdles with the most exquisite technical skill.” The reigning Amateur Athletic Union champion won both his preliminary heats, but racing stride-for-stride with two others in the final, the Mizzou grad fell at the eighth hurdle and did not finish the race.
Jackson Scholz (1897-1986)
1920; 100-meter, 4x100 relay (GOLD)
1924; 100-meter (SILVER), 200-meter (GOLD)
Jackson Scholz is the most decorated Columbia Olympian. He competed for the University of Missouri track team and remains the school’s only individual gold medalist. At several points throughout his career, he held or tied world records in various sprint races, and he was the first man to qualify for a sprint final in three separate Olympiads.
The 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” depicts the 1924 100-meter final, when Scholz finished second to Harold Abrahams of Britain.
Scholz graduated from the MU School of Journalism in 1920 and later wrote 31 sports novels. A man of a different era, he competed on cinder tracks and smoked cigars. He died in 1986 and is a member of the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Brutus Hamilton (1900-1970)
1920; decathlon (SILVER), pentathlon
Brutus Hamilton grew up in rural Peculiar, Mo. A farming accident nearly severed his foot when he was 6 years old; doctors didn’t think he would ever walk properly. Instead, he ran track and played football for Mizzou. Hamilton even caught two touchdown passes in a 1921 Homecoming victory over Oklahoma.
In the summer of 1920, he traveled to Antwerp, where he led for nine of the 10 events in the decathlon. Decathletes are often called the “world’s greatest athletes” for their abilities to compete across the full range of athletic challenges: sprints, distance, jumps, throws. Helge Løvland of Norway passed Hamilton in the 1500-meter run, the final event, in a come-from-behind finish. Because fewer than four points separated the two — a remarkably close finish in a series of events where each individual time, distance and height are scored and added — Olympic officials ordered a recount to verify the winner.
As good as he was in competition, Hamilton also excelled at teaching track and field — after a brief coaching stint at Westminster College in Fulton, he left to coach at the University of Kansas, where several of his KU athletes would go on to win Olympic gold medals. Hamilton soon headed west to coach at the University of California, sporting his trademark suits and fedora. He also served as athletic director during his 30-year tenure in Berkeley and coached runners such as Don Bowden, the first American to break the four-minute mile. Hamilton served on the coaching staff for the 1932 and 1936 Olympic teams. His decathletes swept the podium in ’36. As head coach for the 1952 men’s Olympic team, his track athletes brought home 14 gold medals. Hamilton has been inducted into several athletic and coaching halls of fame, and is considered one of the greatest track and field coaches.
George Massengale (1900-1988)
George Massengale qualified for the Olympics at age 19. On the voyage to Antwerp, the MU student was sidelined with AS, or ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the joints. Alternate Allen Woodring of Pennsylvania, who would go on to compete for Syracuse University, stepped up and won the gold.
Charles N. Proctor (1906-1996)
1928; cross country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined
Charles A. Proctor was a graduate student at the University of Missouri when his son, Charles N. Proctor, was born in 1906. Soon after, the family moved to Vermont. The younger Proctor grew up on the slopes, and in 1925, won the first slalom race in the United States on a course designed by his father, who was by then a professor at Dartmouth. Three years later, he traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland, to compete in the winter Olympics. Proctor later served as the director of ski operations in Yosemite National Park.
Dick Ault (1925-2007)
1948; 400-meter hurdles
Dick Ault, a Mizzou track star, missed the bronze medal by two-tenths of a second at the 1948 London games. The following year, however, he tied the world record in the 440-yard hurdles. He went on to coach — track, cross-country, golf and swimming — at Fulton’s Westminster College for 29 years.