One hundred years ago, the 1912 summer Olympics took place in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a momentous event, in part because of the number of participants. In just 16 years, the number of athletes had exploded from 163 in 1896 to more than 2,400 in 1912.
The most famous Olympic athlete in the 1912 Olympics was clearly America's Jim Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma. Thorpe won the decathlon and thus the title "world's greatest athlete."
Another notable American to compete in Stockholm was George S. Patton, future legendary general in World War II, who finished fifth in the pentathlon behind four Swedes.
Of the 176 Americans in Stockholm — a number greater than the total number of all of the 1896 Olympians — there were two notable athletes with Connecticut connections: Captain Allan L. Briggs and Howard P. Drew.
Allan Briggs was born in Bridgeport on February 14, 1873. At age 39, Briggs won a gold medal in the team military rifle competition. Briggs also competed in three individual shooting events but did not earn a medal. His best individual effort was in the 600 meter free rifle shoot, where he finished 4th.
Though born in Lexington, VA, in 1890, Howard P. Drew was raised in Springfield, MA, but spent most of his adult life in Connecticut. A veteran of World War I, Drew is buried in Northwood Cemetery in Windsor, CT, a veterans' cemetery. Though he did not earn a medal in Stockholm, he was arguably the most accomplished American athlete — besides Jim Thorpe — in the 1912 Olympics. In fact, both he and Thorpe were teammates on the Olympic demonstration baseball team. A true scholar-athlete, Drew was also a respected journalist, lawyer, and judge in Connecticut, overcoming the considerable racial barriers that faced any black man who lived in the early to middle decades of the 20th century.
Howard P. Drew was the first sprinter referred to as the "world's fastest human." Drew set a world record time for the 100 meter sprint in a time trial at Stockholm. He then won both of the preliminary trials for the 100 but badly pulled a tendon in the second trial, preventing him from further competition; instead, teammate Roger Craig won the 100 and 200. Drew had never lost to Craig. Drew later lowered the world record time for the 100 to 10.3 seconds. Craig's winning time of 10.8 seconds would have placed him a distant second behind Drew.
Unfortunately, fate interceded a second time four years later to deny Drew Olympic medals. The 1916 Olympic Games were to be held in Berlin, Germany; however, World War I was raging at the time, and the games would not reconvene until 1924 — the same year in which the first Winter Olympics would be held.
Instead, Howard P. Drew joined the 809th Pioneer Infantry Regiment and traveled to France onboard the USS President Grant. He miraculously survived a Spanish Flu outbreak en route, an outbreak that killed hundreds of his comrades on the Grant. Drew served as a supply sergeant during the war and dominated the makeshift Olympic games — known as the "Pershing Olympics" — held by the American soldiers. A 1918 article in Popular Science Magazine featured Drew as having "the greatest speed attained by any man" when he ran 100 yards in 9.6 seconds in 1914.
Following the war, USC grad Howard Drew attended law school at Drake University. He passed the bar exam in Connecticut and settled in Hartford to practice law. Drew was elected to eight terms as a justice of the peace in Hartford. Additionally, he was the first black man to be appointed as assistant city clerk, and became the first black judge in Connecticut history when he was appointed to be a judge in the police court in Hartford. Drew also served on governor's commissions and was a delegate to state party conventions.
Holder of dozens of world and American records in various sprint events and an outstanding football and baseball player as well, Howard Porter Drew distinguished himself in all that he did. He epitomized the term scholar-athlete, and although fate intercede twice to deny him the accolades and lasting fame of being a multiple gold medal winner in the Olympic games, Howard P. Drew remained undaunted and relentlessly pursued excellence in all that he did.
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