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Connecticut's First Summer Olympics Champions: Bill Hoyt And Margaret Abbott

Hoyt and Abbott were the first Olympians with Connecticut connections to win gold medals in 1896 and 1900 respectively.

The modern Olympic games date back to their revival in Athens, Greece, in 1896. French historian Pierre de Coubertin was the driving force behind their renewal. Held from April 6 to April 15, the games attracted 176 athletes from 12 different countries.

Among those athletes were 14 men from the United States who came to compete in 43 events in track and field, shooting, and swimming. Twelve of these American athletes won at least one medal. Four of the Americans had ties to Princeton University, and nine had strong ties to Massachusetts, especially to the Boston Athletic Club. One member of the Boston Athletic Club was William Welles Hoyt. Born in Glastonbury, CT, on May, 7, 1875, Bill Hoyt was a student at Harvard at the time.

Bill Hoyt competed in the pole vault in Athens against three Greeks and one other American. After the Greeks were eliminated, Hoyt competed against Albert Tyler of Princeton for the gold. When the bar was raised to 10 feet, Tyler made the height, but Hoyt missed it; however, when the bar was raised to 10 feet 10 inches, Hoyt rose to the challenge and cleared the height. Tyler could not, and Hoyt got the gold.

Interestingly, Hoyt also ran in the 110 meter hurdles, finishing second in the qualifying heat. He was eligible to run in the finals for a medal but chose not to. It is possible that the finals were held on a Sunday, and some American athletes refused to compete on Sundays, reportedly for religious reasons.

Bill Hoyt attended medical school after graduating from Harvard in 1897. He practiced medicine in Chicago for several years and then entered World War I as an officer in the 1st Illinois Field Hospital Company. He spent a year as a surgeon on the Western Front in France. After briefly returning to Chicago after the war, Hoyt went back to France to serve as a surgeon for the U.S. Public Health Service for many years. Finally, he returned to America and practiced medicine in Berlin, NY, until his death on Dec. 1, 1954, at age 79.

The first women to compete in the Olympics did so in Paris in 1900. Margaret Abbott, born on June 15, 1876, in Calcutta, India, represented America in golf.  Abbott belonged to the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois, but she did live for several years in Greenwich, CT. Abbott became the first American woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal by shooting a 47 for nine holes in Olympic competition. Interestingly, Margaret's mother, the novelist Mary Abbott, also competed in the same event and finished 8th, shooting a 65. It is the only known instance in Olympic history of a mother and daughter competing in the same event simultaneously.

Peggy Abbott never played in any professional tournaments and seemed to have entered the Paris Olympics almost on a whim. She happened to be in Paris studying art under Degas and Rodin. While in Paris, she read about the golf tournament and decided to enter. The  5-foot-11-inch Abbott also happened to meet American humorist Finley Peter Dunne in Paris and married him in 1902. The couple later moved to New York and then to Greenwich. Abbott died on June 10, 1955, in Greenwich, just five days before her 79th birthday.

Only 143 athletes gathered in Athens to compete in the revival of the Olympic games. By 1900, more than 500 athletes competed in the Olympics at Paris. By the 1912 games in Stockholm, 2,407 athletes from 29 different countries were competing in the Olympics. This year's summer games in London will involve over 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries!

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