By Randy Walker
As the tennis world collectively catches its breath after one of the most amazing Wimbledon fortnight’s in its history and gears up for another run on the lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis Club for the Olympic Games, it is interesting to note that it was 88 years ago on July 13, 1924, when play began in the tennis competition at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
The 1924 Olympics were a celebrated Games, documented most notably in the Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire,” but it also marked the final Olympiad that featured tennis before a 64-year hiatus. As documented in the new KINDLE ebook “Olympic Tennis: An Historical Snapshot” available for sale here: http://www.amazon.com/Olympic-Tennis-Historical-Snapshot-ebook/dp/B008EOXW40/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342097225&sr=8-1&keywords=Olympic+Tennis+Randy+Walkertennis stars Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen were the two major sensations in the sporting world in the1920s but were absent from the courts at the Paris Games. However, a more incredible story transpired as Dick Williams, who survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 – and almost having his legs amputated – paired with Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman to win gold in the mixed doubles competition. The pair beat teammates Marion Jessup and Vincent Richards 6-2, 6-3 to win gold.
On March 11, 1924,Tilden announced that he will not represent the United States in the Paris Games. Tilden’s reasoning is that even if he wanted to play for the United States, the U.S. Olympic rule that forbids athletes from writing for newspapers prevents him from competing since he is contracted to write two articles per week for various outlets. Wrote the New York Times on the day “The tennis champion had never definitely announced that he would go abroad this year if picked for the Olympic team. Two months ago, Tilden said he did not think he would go because of the sharp competition expected in the national singles and in the Davis Cup matches. He said he regarded the Davis Cup competition more important than the Olympics and that he felt he could husband his strength for those matches in the event he is to be one of the contestants.” The USLTA also had enacted a similar rule for amateur tennis, but it is not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 1925.
Lenglen withdrew from the competition in the capital city of her home country due to illness. She did, however, attend select sessions of the competition. Reported the Associated Press on the first day of the 1924 competition, “Suzanne Lenglen, the world’s champion, watched some of the matches until the sun became too uncomfortably warm for her. She looked thinner than usual. Mlle. Lenglen said she still felt ill and her appearance bore out her statement.”
The benefactors of Tilden and Lenglen’s withdrawals in 1924? Vincent Richards, Tilden’s Davis Cup teammate who won singles gold over France’s Henri Cochet, and Helen Wills, who won the singles competition over France’s Didi Vlasto.
Following the Paris Games, the International Tennis Federation – the international governing body for tennis – and the International Olympic Committee saw differences on the definition of amateurism, and on whether Wimbledon should be played in Olympic years. What resulted was the exclusion of tennis from the Olympic Games as an official medal sport until 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.
The 1924 Olympic tennis competition marked the first time, prior to the 2012 Games, where mixed doubles was contested. The narrative of Williams, the mixed doubles gold medalist, and his survival from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and his triumph two years later at the U.S. Championships is documented in the book “Titanic: The Tennis Story,” available here: http://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Tennis-Story-Lindsay-Gibbs/dp/1937559041/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342097468&sr=8-1&keywords=Titanic+The+Tennis+Story
The full medal scroll – including results – from the 1924 Olympic tennis competition can be seen below.
1924 – PARIS, FRANCE
GOLD –Vincent Richards (United States)
SILVER — Henri Cochet (France)
BRONZE — Umberto Luigi de Morpurgo (Italy)
GOLD — Vincent Richards and Frank Hunter (United States)
SILVER — Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet (France)
BRONZE — Jean Borotra and Rene Lacoste (France)
GOLD — Helen Wills (United States)
SILVER — Didi Vlastro (France)
BRONZE — Kitty McKane (Great Britain)
GOLD — Helen Wills and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman (United States)
SILVER — Kitty McKane and Dorothy Covell (Great Britain)
BRONZE — Evelyn Colyer and Dorothy Shepherd Barron (Great Britain)
GOLD — Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman and R. Norris Williams (United States)
SILVER — Marion Jessup and Vincent Richards (United States)
BRONZE — Hendrik Timmer and Cornelia Bouman (Netherlands)
Men’s Singles Gold Medal Match — Vincent Richards (United States) def. Henri Cochet (France), 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 5-7, 6-2.
Men’s Singles Bronze Medal Match – Umberto Luigi de Morpurgo (Italy) def. Jean Borotra (France), 1-6, 6-1, 8-6, 4-6, 7-5
Men’s Doubles Gold Medal Match — Vincent Richards and Frank Hunter (United States) def. Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet (France), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.
Women’s Singles Gold Medal Match– Helen Wills (United States) def. Didi Vlastro (France), 6-2, 6-2.
Women’s Doubles Gold Medal Match — Helen Wills and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman (United States) def. Kitty McKane and Dorothy Covell (Great Britain), 7-5, 8-6.
Mixed Doubles Gold Medal Match — Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman and R. Norris Williams (United States) def. Marion Jessup and Vincent Richards (United States), 6-2, 6-3.