Tuesday, August 19, 2008

George S. Patton & the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

The title gives this post's "who" away, but John Jacob R's Jeff Pyatt introduction is so outstanding I'm starting with it:

Less remembered in those same [1912 Stockholm] Games is the story of a young US Army lieutenant competing in the first Olympic modern pentathlon, an event designed to determine the perfect warrior.

The lieutenant finished fifth but may have won the gold if not for a controversial ruling during his best skill. In the pistol shooting competition, he packed the bullet holes so tightly to the target’s center that, when two of ten bullets went unaccounted for, it was impossible to determine whether he completely missed the
target or if the bullets passed through existing holes.

The judges ruled the former despite his and many of his fellow competitors’ insistence on the latter, and, as a result, he was denied a chance to stand on the Olympic podium.

As history would have it, the event and the lieutenant would have vastly diverging fortunes.

After 1912, the modern pentathlon - a quirky sport similar to the triathlon except with guns, swords and horses for bikes — would become one of the most overlooked events of the Olympics.

Meanwhile, the American who finished a disappointing but respectable fifth, Lt. George S. Patton, would go on to stake his claim as the perfect warrior on the real battlefield, becoming one of the greatest — if not the greatest — field generals in history.
Patton's brilliance on the battlefields of North Africa and Europe saved the lives tens of thousands of of Allied troops; and led to the liberation of millions held in the grip of Nazi Germany, many of whom would have starved, been shot or died in other ways except for the liberation Patton helped lead.

We can never say enough in tribute to him and all who served the Allied cause then and are now serving in our latest war against enemies every bit as evil as the Nazi's and their cohorts.

But this post is meant to recall and appreciate Patton's achievements at the 1912 Olympics.

So let's look now at what Patton's Wikipedia entry says about him at the 1912 Olympics. Pay particular attention to what the entry says regarding the pistol scoring controversy and how Patton responded to it:
Patton participated in the Fifth Olympiad (Stockholm, 1912), representing the United States in the first-ever modern pentathlon. Patton performed well in each event:

Pistol shooting

Patton scored 10, 10, 10, 9, 8; 10, 10, 10, 0, 0; 10, 10, 9, 9, 8; and 10, 10, 10, 9, 7. He placed 21st out of 42 contestants.

Even though his bullet holes were clustered together in the center of the target, the Judges decided one bullet had missed the target altogether. Patton maintained that two of his bullets must have gone through the same hole.

300 meter freestyle swimming

Patton placed sixth out of 37 contestants in [this] event.


Patton placed third out of 29 contestants, and gave the Frenchman who eventually won the Gold medal his only defeat of the Pentathlon.

The weapon employed was the European dueling sword, which weighed 1.25 to 1.5 pounds, was 2 inches (51 mm) in circumference at the hilt and tapered to the point, and had a bell guard 5 inches (130 mm) in diameter.

Equestrian cross-country steeplechase

Patton and two Swedes turned in perfect performances, but he placed third in timing, so he finished in third place. Riders were started singly at five minute intervals over the course, which included cross-country terrain, 25 designated jumps, and 50 minor unmarked obstacles.

Four kilometer cross-country foot race

Patton competed against three Swedes, three Britons, three Russians, two Frenchmen, two Danes, and one Austrian. Runners were started at one minute intervals; they then left the stadium and proceeded over cross-country terrain in a loop that brought them back to the stadium. They started and finished in front of the Swedish royal boxes.

Patton "hit the wall" 50 yards (46 m) from the finish line, then fainted after crossing the line at a walk. He finished third out of 15 contestants.

Scoring controversy

[Patton] finished the modern Pentathlon in fifth place. He used a .38 caliber. It was claimed that the holes in the paper from early shots were so large that some of his later bullets passed through them, but the judges said he missed the target completely (Modern competitions on this level frequently now employ a moving background to specifically track multiple shots through the same hole).[4].[5] There was much controversy about Patton’s finish in the pistol shooting, but the judges’ ruling prevailed. If Patton had prevailed, it is highly likely that he would have won the Gold medal instead of fifth place.

As it was, Patton neither complained, nor made excuses.

Patton's only comment was:
"...the high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day."

"There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I regret to say marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games."

" Each man did his best and took what fortune sent like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success."
George S. Patton: U. S. Army officer, Olympian, and Liberator.


Anonymous said...

With the exception of Robert E. Lee, here has never been a military man of Patton's quality in the United States. Were he alive today, I wonder what would be his reaction to the way we conduct our military affairs.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

Patton, like Lee, epitomized what it meant to be both an officer and a gentleman. It is a manner of raising young men to be such that is almost lost in this country today. God, honor, duty, family, and country - these should be the bywords but in too many cases they are not.