10 little-known stories about the Olympics

As the 2012 Olympics play out in London, David Wallechinsky’s latest book The Complete Book of the Olympics, 2012 Edition, provides some great finds about past Games.

8. Tough vaulting in 1908


Amazingly, there was no landing pit for pole vaulters at the 1908 London Olympics, nothing really to soften the return to earth. Nor was there a box or hole in which to plant the pole. Instead, a nail or spike attached to the bottom of the pole was the only means of securing it for takeoff. Of course, this was long before the use of fiberglass poles that catapulted vaulters to such heights. The gold medalist in London was Edward Cooke, who cleared 12 ft. 2 in. (the current world record is 20 ft. 1-3/4 in.). Matching Cooke’s height, but on more tries, was fellow American and silver medalist A.C. Gilbert, whose greatest claim to fame came later as the inventor of the Erector Set, a popular construction toy. He became known as “The Man Who Saved Christmas for Children” after he talked the government’s national defense council out of placing a moratorium on toy sales in 1918 as a wartime sacrifice.

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