Amazing Photos of Athletes from the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Scenes from the Olympics.
July 30 2012 6:40 AM

What Olympians Looked Like 100 Years Ago

Photos of the sometimes scrawny, frequently mustachioed athletes from the 1912 Stockholm Games.

The Olympians of 100 years ago did not remotely resemble the finely chiseled athletes of today. Many competitors were scrawny, plump, or simply ordinary looking. In a recent piece in the Guardian, Frank Keating explained that the 1912 Stockholm Games were “the last Olympics where any individual could just turn up and hope to enter a competition.” In that era, the idea that “natural” skill might enable someone to win a competition without any specialized training was still widely embraced.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_01

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

While competitors’ bodies might not seem impressive by 2012 standards, athletes did accomplish some amazing feats. Canada’s George Ritchie Hodgson, above left, never lost a race in the three years he competed as a swimmer. In Stockholm, he set a world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle “without effort,” according to the official 1912 Olympic Report. At 22 minutes, his record time was nearly eight minutes longer than that of current world record holder Sun Yang. But still, it was only 1912.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_02

Flickr Commons project, 2008, via Library of Congress.

In 1912, specialized athletic clothing had not yet swept the world. Above, U.S. track and field athlete Platt Adams throws the javelin in high-waisted shorts and shoes resembling Converse.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_04

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

In 1912, tug-of-war was an Olympic event and the games’ hosts were considered some of its best practitioners. Pictured above is a tug-of-war bout between Sweden, on the right, and Great Britain. The sport is “especially suited to the natural bent of the Swede,” the official 1912 Olympic Report declared.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_05

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

Olympic wrestling had a graceful, dance-like feel in 1912. Above, two wrestlers engage in traditional Icelandic “Glima” wrestling, grasping each other by the handles of their leather girdles and swinging each other through the air.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_06

Long before aerodynamic track suits made of recycled water bottles a pair of short trousers and a simple jersey were considered sufficient. Pictured above, American bronze medal winning hammer thrower C.C. Childs, left, and Canadian-born American hammer thrower Simon Peter Gillis pose at Hilltop Park in New York City before departing for the games in Stockholm.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_07

Flickr Commons project and database, 2008, via Library of Congress.

These days, athletes wear running shoes made of fibers thinner than strands of human hair. But in 1912, these were the shoes American athletes showed off at their big sendoff. Sock color and height varied.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_08

Flickr Commons project and database, 2008, via Library of Congress.

They just don’t make judge hats like they used to. (Note the dapper judge at far right, observing Canada’s Duncan Gillis in the hammer throw.)

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_09

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

Swimsuits provided ample coverage in 1912. At left is a competitor in the 100-meter freestyle. At right is a diver.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_10

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

There was room for athletes of all ages in the Olympics of 1912. Pictured above is the winning team from Sweden in the “running deer” category, which required competitors to shoot at a moving deer-shaped target. The team featured a father and son. Alfred Swahn, far left, won the gold individually. His father, 64, came in fifth but continued to make history, going on to participate in the Antwerp Games of 1920 at age 72, making him the oldest Olympian in history.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_11

Though these clothes may not seem very sporty, they are also multipurpose. After a mixed doubles match, participants could stroll off to recite poetry at the nearest gazebo without looking out of place.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_12

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

Watching a wrestling match could be an extensive commitment in 1912. Anders Ahlgren, left, of Sweden, and Ivar Böhling, of Finland, wrestled for nine hours until their match was declared a tie. Both had to settle for silver medals.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_13

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

The endurance prize of 1912 goes to Estonian wrestler Martin Klein, representing Russia, and Alfred Asikainen of Finland, who wrestled for 11 hours and 40 minutes in the semifinals before Klein came out on top. (Their motives may have been political.) Unfortunately, the effort may have tired him out—Klein lost the gold-medal match.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_14

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

Many competitors donned mustaches in 1912. Few could compete with Italian Alberto Braglia, who won the gold for individual gymnastics that year, surely aided by his handsome facial hair.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_15

Flickr Commons project and database, 2008, via Library of Congress.

Germany’s Josef Waitzer, right, also donned a dashing ’stache while competing in the javelin, the discus, and the pentathlon.

Olympics_100_Yrs_Ago_18

Official Olympic Report, December 1913 via the LA84 Foundation Digital Archive.

This is what timekeepers looked like in 1912. Back then, they were considered technological renegades. An automatic timing apparatus was invented for the Stockholm Olympics, connecting the revolver used to start races on the track with “first-class chronometers” and the judge’s stop-watch. Additionally, a “photographic apparatus” that would snap the winner and the runners-up was employed for the first time.

Read the rest of Slate's coverage of the London Olympics.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.