It took Francis Lane and Albert Tyler – a pair of Franklin High School grads – 17 days to get from the U.S. to Athens, Greece in 1896 for the first Olympic Games of the modern era.
Most of the contingent of 14 American athletes, all of them men, travelled by tramp steamer from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Naples, Italy. That took 12 days and then came a train ride across the county to Brindisi, then back on a boat to Patras, Greece, and finally another train ride to Athens.
They arrived April 5 and were stunned to find out the Games began the very next day. They thought the Olympics began on April 18. The problem was they were going by the Gregorian calendar and the Greeks used the Julian.
And when Lane and Tyler and the rest departed the train, they were met by a jubilant throng of people who marched them on foot in a parade of more than a mile to their accommodations and then tried to ply them with champagne.
Credit: Dayton Daily News archive
Credit: Dayton Daily News archive
Accounts from back then reveal the Americans were totally dispirited by then and thought they stood no chance.
But the very next day Lane – who was Tyler’s cousin and, like him, went to Princeton University – won his heat in the 100-meter dash. It was the first American victory of the modern Olympics.
The Americans would win 20 medals at the Games. Lane took a bronze and Tyler won silver in the pole vault.
They are the Miami Valley’s first two Olympians and since then there have been at least 58 more, including four at these games:
The 30-year-old Taylor – nicknamed The Magic Man – went 180-2 and won four state titles at Graham, then four Big Ten titles at Penn State and a world championship in 2018.
Zach Apple was raised in Trenton, graduated from Edgewood High and swam for Auburn and Indiana University. The 6-foot-7, 24-year-old will swim a leg of the 4 x 100 meter freestyle in Tokyo, as well as the individual 100-meter freestyle and likely the 4 x 200 free relay.
Clayton Murphy grew up on a farm outside New Madison, graduated from Tri-Village High and was a four-time All American and two time NCAA champ at Akron. He won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 and just won the event at the U.S. Trials again last month.
Grace Norman is a 23-year-old triathete who will compete in the Tokyo Paralympics beginning next month. A Xenia Christian High and Cedarville University grad, she won triathlon gold in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
Few places the size of the Miami Valley and its nearby environs have had more triumphant, colorful and, on an occasion or two, crazy Olympic athletes.
Local Olympians have been to 29 different Summer and Winter Games. They have made the podium 29 times and won 46 medals, including 22 gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze.
At the Olympic Games, the Miami Valley has had:
»Edwin Moses, the Fairview High grad who remains one of the greatest track athletes in history. He competed in Montreal Olympics (1976), Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988) and won two gold medals and a bronze in the 400 meter hurdles. An American boycott scuttled his 1980 Moscow participation, where he was also favored.
»Dayton-born Charles Daniels, who was the Michael Phelps of his time. Competing in three Olympic Games – 1904 Saint Louis, 1906 Athens, 1908 London – he won eight medals, including five gold.
»Two Olympians who have done what no other American has done before or since. At the 1964 Games in Tokyo, West Milton’s Bob Schul won the 5,000 meter run. And at the 2012 London Games and again in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games, Middetown’s Kayla Harrison became the first U.S athlete to win Olympic gold in judo.
»Husband and wife Olympians at the 2004 Athens Games. Kettering’s Maurice Wignall ran the 110 meter hurdles and his wife Janelle Atkinson Wignall, a Wright State swim coach, swam two events, just as she had done at the 2000 Olympics.
»There have been a few Olympians who caught everyone’s imagination even more for things they did after the Games.
Tom Gompf, the celebrated Stivers High and Ohio State athlete, won a bronze medal in 10-meter platform diving at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Immediately afterward, as a U.S. Air Force pilot, he flew hundreds of combat missions and over 1,000 sorties in the Vietnam War.
In 1960 he became the world high-diving champion and gained fame as a cliff and high bridge diver. He was featured diving off the towering cliffs in Acapulco in the well-known “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” opening to ABC’s popular Wide World of Sports.
»We’ve had Olympians whose medals were stolen, another who pawned his and, in the case of Edwin Moses, they ended up displayed in the Smithsonian Museum.
»And then there’s the craziness.
The late Sam Hall was sometimes called the “Evel Knievel of Dayton.” After starring at Fairmont High and lettering in four sports at Ohio State, he went to the 1960 Rome Olympics and won a silver medal in 3-meter springboard diving.
Although that’s a formidable line in his resume, there are others that jump out at you more: Married four times, shot seven times, rocked by three explosions.
He was the son of much-honored Dayton mayor Dave Hall and the brother of well-respected U.S. Representative and diplomat Tony P. Hall. His other brother, Mike, was a standout Fairmont athlete too and a Cincinnati educator.
When I talked to Sam several years ago, he admitted his family had all those honors and he was the “black sheep.”
He claimed to have been shot up in a gunfight in Angola rescuing school children from communist terrorists. There were other soldier of fortune incidents he said in Mozambique, the Middle East and Central America.
In 1968 he was arrested in Nicaragua by the Sandinistas – he said kidnapped -- and was held for seven weeks as a spy because of his ties with the Contras.
He did lots of good deeds along the way, too, including helping with rescue efforts at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks, searching for people after a massive earthquake in Iran and another in Mexico, helping following a deadly mudslide in Honduras and assisting in South Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Over the years he climbed several of the world’s’ most famous mountains and at age 70 – seven years before he died in 2014 – he lasted 11 days and made it to just over 20,000 feet in an attempt to scale Mt. Everest.
When I interviewed him, one of the things that seemed to warm him the most had happened after the Games. He told me how Kettering had had a Sam Hall Day and he was moved when
the Fairmont High band had spelled out his name on the field during the halftime of a football game.
That’s the one constant around here for all these athletes. Folks in the Miami Valley are proud of their Olympians.
When LaVonna Martin, Joe Greene, Steve Bourdow and Tonja Buford returned from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the City of Dayton threw a parade.
And those two Olympians from so long ago – Francis Lane and Albert Tyler – have been inducted into the Franklin High Hall of Fame.
Now the small town of New Madison is celebrating its favorite son.
Coming into town the other day on State Route 726, I first was greeted by the sign that proclaimed:
Home of Clayton Murphy
Winner 800 meter
And all around town, people have put up signs in their yards and in their windows and on their porches that say: