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The first U.S. Olympic teama ragtag group of 14 men, mostly Ivy Leaguerscaused a swell of national pride while taking home 11 gold medals and paving the way for generations of U.S. Olympians. Author Jim Reisler chronicles the growing American sports scene in the 19th Century, the men of influence who established a modern Olympics, and how a squad of moderately talented Americans, funded independently, competing without the backing of the Amateur Athletic Union or their universities, went off to Athens, anyway. By triumphing in their events, they won not only goldbut also the hearts and minds of the world. Theirs was a strange journey to Greecehigh jump training on a rolling transatlantic ship, nearly missed connections, practice runs among throngs of native children. But on the first day of Games, something unexpected happened. Boston's James Connolly won the triple jump (becoming the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years); Princeton's Robert Garrett took gold in the discus, an event he had never tried before; all three American sprinters won their 100-meter heats. As American triumphs mounted, so did headlines, legitimizing the Games back home. But as fast as their star rose, somehow their story has been largely forgotten. Even more forgotten is the team's champion, William Mulligan Sloane, a Princeton professor of classics whose crucial role in establishing the modern Olympics has never before been adequately explored.
JIM REISLER is the author of eight baseball books, most notably Babe Ruth: Launching the Legend, praised by The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Reisler has written for Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, New York Daily News, and Newsweek. A frequent guest on sports radio shows, including Bob Costas’s national satellite show and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, he lives in Irvington, New York.