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Ivy Olympics
More than 800 Ivy Leaguers have won more than 400 medals at the Olympic Games -- summer and winter -- since 1896. The League's deep-rooted history with the Games is now the subject of a comprehensive book.

With Jay Bavishi's excellent "Ivies in Athens" now in print, it got us thinking about the Ivy League athletes who have been in the Olympics.

The number of Olympians who attended one of the eight Ivy League institutions as an undergraduate is now up to at least 826. We say 'at least' because there is a distinct possibility that we have yet to find all of them, especially those who competed for countries other than the United States.

Of those 826, a remarkable 38.7 percent have won a medal. That includes one-in-six that have claimed a gold medal. The raw numbers are 435 medals won by 320 athletes and 173 gold gathered by 136.

If we simply stick to the Games that have taken place since the official formation of the League, then the first medal won by an Ivy League athlete was especially historic. Dartmouth ski team member Chiharu "Chick" Igaya, who would later serve on the International Olympic Committee, won a silver medal in the men's slalom at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. This was also Japan's first-ever Winter Olympics medal, and would presage a strong international flavor to Ivy Olympic participation. Sixty-eight Ivy athletes would go on to compete for 29 different nations, winning 32 medals.

There have been a number of other 'firsts' as well. Yale's Sada Jacobson won the first fencing medal ever awarded to an American women, a bronze in saber, in the 2004 Games in Athens. Eight Ivy Leaguers won the first women's hockey medals, for Canada and the United States, in 1998. Brown's Igor Boraska was part of the team that won Croatia's first-ever rowing medal, a bronze, in 2000 {and he also competed as a bobsledder}. Princeton's Nelson Diebel won the first gold medal awarded in the 1992 Games, in the 100m breaststroke, and would add another gold in the 4x100m medley relay.

Several Ivy Olympic participants have had notable careers. Yale's Frank Shorter won a gold medal in the 1972, and repeated with silver in 1976 behind East Germany's Waldemar Cierpinski. Shorter is credited with facilitating the running revolution of the 1970s. Cornell's Bo Roberson won a silver medal in the long jump in the 1960 Games and later had a five-year pro football career. Fellow Cornell alum and future NHL Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk won a gold medal with Canada's hockey team in 2002. Harvard rower Norman Bellingham was a three-time Olympian in the kayak, winning gold in 1988. He is now the Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Princeton's Bill Bradley won a gold medal with the United States basketball team at the 1964 Games, and would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar, NBA basketball player and Hall of Famer, and United States Senator.

Not surprisingly, the strongest Ivy sport in the Olympics has been rowing, with 195 participants winning 67 medals, more than a third of the Ivy total in the last 50 years. In second place is ice hockey, with 55 Olympians winning 46 medals. Interestingly 29 hockey Olympians are women, despite the fact that women's hockey only became an Olympic sport in 1998. Ivy women have had a strong presence in Olympic ice hockey since its inception, winning gold in each of the three Games since. The 2006 Torino Games saw Ivy women at their most dominant, with six Ivy Leaguers on the gold medal-winning Canadian team (coached by Cornell women's coach Melody Davidson) and 10 on the bronze medal-winning American team. In addition Ivy women have played on the Olympic hockey teams of Japan (1998), Germany (2006), and Switzerland (2006). Ivy women in general have maintained a strong presence among medalists, winning 39 percent of all medals despite comprising just 29 percent of all participants.

Harvard has provided the most Olympians since 1956, 109, and is tied with Yale for the most medals, with 39. Yale, however, won these medals with only 59 Olympians. A big factor in this high medal count is Yale's legendary swimming coach, Robert Kiphuth, who was also a five-time Olympic coach. During the Ivy League period prior to his retirement in 1963 he coached nine Yale Olympic swimmers. Led by Don Schollander, who won six gold medals and one silver in the 1964 and 1968 Games, Kiphuth's swimmers won 13 gold, two silver, and one bronze, fully 40 percent of Yale's total medal count.

Columbia has provided 12 out of the 33 Ivy fencing Olympians, including six multiple Olympians.

A number of Ivy athletes went to the Olympics in non-Ivy sports. Three became bobsledders. In addition to rower Igor Boraska, Harvard track star Jim Herberich was a three-time Olympian in the bobsled, and is the current 400m Harvard track record holder. Fellow track team member Dan LaVigne also was on the 1988 Olympic bobsled team. Dartmouth ski team member Cammy Myler, a four-time Olympic luger, was chosen to carry the American flag in the 1994 opening ceremonies in Lillehammer, Norway.

Three Ivy Olympians have created innovations that have greatly enhanced their respective sports. Brown's Dick Dreissigacker rowed in the 1972 Games, then with his brother Peter developed the composite carbon oar that quickly replaced the then-prevalent wooden oar. It is universally used in rowing today.

Dartmouth two-time ski team captain Glen Eberle participated in the biathlon in the 1984 Winter Games, but was dissatisfied with the rifle then in use, and "yearned for a better rifle stock; stronger, lighter and more durable than the monstrous slabs of wood weighing up to 11 pounds." He developed a new stock that shaved over 3 1/2 pounds from the rifle. The resulting weapon defined a new standard for biathlon rifles, as reflected in the rules of the International Biathlon Union, the sport's governing organization.

Harvard's David Berkoff used an underwater start in the backstroke to set world records in the event and win four medals in the 1988 and 1992 Games. After the 1988 Olympics swimming's governing agency, FINA, severely curtailed the start in future competition, causing the New York Times to comment that "Berkoff is the fastest backstroke swimmer in history, the man who revolutionized a stroke so well that his new method has been banned internationally." FINA relented somewhat and now the underwater start is limited to 15 meters, and is universally used in international competition.

And there's no sign of Ivy Olympic participation letting up anytime soon.

— Stephen Eschenbach

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