Williams College, steeped in a tradition of personal excellence, has produced bright, influential leaders for just over 200 years. The realm of athletics is no exception. The Olympic Games, the most prestigious competition in the world, is no stranger to our beloved Purple Cow. From pioneering Eph John Bray, class of 1900, to present-day Olympic hopeful Chip Knight, class of 2000, Williams has been represented by over 25 Ephs in the last century. Collectively, they have brought home three gold and four bronze medals. The continuing Olympic achievement of alumni will help to put a small, liberal arts college in the Berkshires on the map.
The Olympic tradition began with the ancient Greeks, whose festival honored Zeus. The modern day Olympic Games were first held in 1896 in Athens. Only first and second finishers received awards. The first official winter Olympic Games were not held until 1924 at Chamonix. A silver medal, diploma and crown of olive branches went to the first place winner, while a bronze medal diploma and crown of laurel went to second place. Three-hundred and eleven athletes representing thirteen countries attended the first Olympic Games. Women were finally allowed to participate in the Paris Olympics of 1900, but were limited to golf and tennis. (Findling & Pelle, 3-17, 224)
Bray shared the stage with these female Olympians in 1900, receiving a bronze medal in the 1500m run. Ninety-eight years later, Knight is competing with the U.S. Alpine Ski team in Nagano, Japan. Several coaches and staff members, both past and present, also comprise the list of Olympians and even Olympic coaches. Ephs include assistant track coach Charles ’Doc’ Seeley, Buildings and Grounds employee Chris Cruz, legendary swimming coach Bob Muir, Nordic Ski coach Robert ‘Bud’ Fisher, and Field Hockey and Lacrosse coach Chris Mason. Both Chris Cruz and Chris Mason were set to compete in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow until the U.S. boycotted the Olympics when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Says Mason, “Whenever I read something about the Moscow Olympics, it still hurts. I think of how I wish I had been able to go, but politics got in the way. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to compete four years later in 1984 Olympics.” Political agendas interfered with not only Mason and Cruz’s opportunity to go to the Olympics, but also that of teammate Leslie Milne ‘79, and crew competitors Sue Tuttle ‘79 and Nancy Storrs ‘73. No other Williams Olympians were affected by the boycott.
Chris Mason shared her experiences with both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. In the wake of the heart-breaking 1984 Moscow boycott, Mason had a second shot with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, California. Mason’ teammate, Leslie Milne ‘79, accompanied her at the 1984 Olympics. Mason joined the U.S. Field Hockey Team in the summer of 1977, just before entering her senior year of college. She went on tour with the team to Holland, Germany, Great Britain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. The best part about being involved with the U.S. Olympic Field Hockey program, Mason explains, is “the preparation. I was able to travel all around the world with my closest friends. It was so much fun. What could be better than that?” For Mason, one of the most incredible experiences was walking into the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games, representing the United States, and receiving an unbelievable reception from the crowd. Naturally, winning a medal was somewhat of a big deal, too. The U.S. Field Hockey Team played a six team Round Robin tournament, tying with Australia. The teams then went into strokes, with each assigning five shooters two strokes each. Mason, one of the strokers, made both shots. The four other shooters came through as well, propelling the U.S. Field Hockey Team to a bronze medal victory over the Australian team.
Nordic ski coach Robert ‘Bud’ Fisher has a coache’s perspective on the games. He coached the U.S. cross-country ski team in the Lake Placid winter games of 1980, becaming involved with the team after a 1979 invitation to help them prepare. Fisher reflects, “For me the Olympic Games were most interesting professionally. I was coaching the sport I loved at the highest level of competition. I was also able to see things on an international level; in preparation for the games we travelled all over the world to different competitions. We learnd a lot about how other countries prepared and trained, as well as other technical aspects of skiing. It was like getting a PhD in skiing.” Although none of the skiers medaled in the games, Fisher is thankful that he was able to coach an Olympic team.
The Olympics are just one more area in which Ephs demonstrate greatness. Join this elite group and the possibilities are limitless.
Findling, John E., Kimerbly D. Pelle. Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Movement. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1996.