The 2016 Summer Olympic Games begin on Friday in Rio. And while no MIT alumni will be competing in this year’s Games, the Institute’s Olympic history dates back to the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.
And while it’s also true that the number of MIT alumni who have been awarded a Nobel Prize (33) more than quadruples the number of alumni who have won an Olympic medal (7), MITers have been a steady presence at both the Summer and Winter Games for more than a century. Here are a few things you might not know about MIT’s long connection with the Olympics Games.
- At least 31 MIT alumni have competed in at least 25 Olympic Games.
- Thomas Curtis, Class of 1894 and MIT’s first Olympian, won the gold medal for the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles at the Athens Games. His record-breaking time, 17.6 seconds, is nearly five seconds slower than 2012 gold medalist, American Aries Merritt.
- MIT alumni have won 10 medals—three gold, three silver, and four bronze.
- MIT’s only multiple medal winner is Joseph Levis ’26, who won the silver medal in men’s individual foil and the bronze medal in men’s team foil in 1932. Levis later coached the MIT fencing team from 1939–1943 and 1946-1949.
- MIT alumni have competed in 11 sports. The most popular sport: rowing. 12 MIT alumni have competed in the sport, including Alden “Zeke” Sanborn SM ‘28, who was part of the American boat from the United States Naval Academy that won the gold medal in the men’s coxed eights at the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp. Sailing is second with eight Olympians.
- The most unique sport? Choose between skeleton (Pat Antaki ’84, Lebanon), taekwondo (Chinedum Osuji PhD ’01, Trinidad and Tobago), or shooting (Herb Voelcker ’48, USA).
- Five of the 10 most recent MIT Olympians are MIT alumnae, including Michelle Guerrette MBA ’12, who won a silver medal in the women’s single skulls (rowing) in 2008.
- Between 1896–1956, MIT Olympians solely represented the United States. Since 1960, MIT Olympians have represented eight countries, including Venezuela, Great Britain, and Australia.
- Three MIT alumni have participated in three separate Games: Levis competed in ’28, ’32, and ’36; Bermudian Paula Lewin ’93 competed in sailing in ’92, ’96, and ’04; and Cypriot Alexis Photiades ’91, SM ’92 competed in alpine skiing in ’84, ’88, and ’92.
- 2006 Olympian Pat Antaki compared the Olympic Village to living in an MIT dorm: “It’s like freshman year at MIT—the big deal is actually getting there.”
For more details on the MIT–Olympic connection, read a brief history of MIT alumni in the Olympics, view infographics on their involvement, or help us add to our growing list of MIT alumni Olympians.