The Olympic rings outside the New National Stadium on Jan. 21, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
Anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the athletes and events in the Olympic Games – as well as things you had no idea to even ask – are now at your fingertips.
A new website called Olympedia.org offers a deep dive into Olympic history to tide fans over until the next Games.
While baseball has long been considered the gold standard as far as comprehensive statistics, Olympians outnumber major league baseball players nearly 4 to 1.
“There have been 136,000 Olympians,” said Bill Mallon, who leads the historians and statisticians called the OlyMADmen (20 men and one woman from 14 countries) compiling information on the website. “One of our philosophies is you can find lists of medalists in a lot of places. We always thought it was important that you could find the result of the person who finished 47th. We think being an Olympian is something special.”
That includes Youth Olympians, too.
Mallon said there are more than 100 million data points on the site, which began as sports-reference.com and changed its name due to a partnership with the International Olympic Committee. However, the real treats are the stories behind the statistics.
“We update it almost daily with new information we receive, and we write bios of people,” Mallon said. “One of my favorite finds ever was a tennis player at the 1924 Olympics. I couldn’t find anything on Edward McCrea and the reason is his name was listed wrong. If you looked him up under his middle name, D’Arcy, he’s well known.”
McCrae played Wimbledon and Davis Cup and was a famous urologist in Britain. He and his wife, also a physician, were hosting a party in 1940 when their house was struck by a parachute mine during the Greater Manchester Blitz and everyone was killed.
“It’s a horrible, story,” Mallon said, “but I remember I thought, ‘What an amazing story this guy turned out to be. Nobody knew anything about him and I found it.’”
Mallon and his team estimated a couple of years ago that they had put in around 180 “person years” on the project, which is all volunteer.
Mallon’s interest was piqued in 1964 when he found some Olympic books at the library.
“I just thought they were so cool,” said Mallon, who played golf on the PGA Tour and became a renowned orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulders and elbows. “I said someday I’d like to get the complete results of the Olympics. I said that when I was 12 and I eventually did it with a lot of help from other people. It’s just a hobby that kind of morphed over the years and became an obsession.”
He has written several books and is the official U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee statistician. In 2016, Mallon determined that Team USA’s 1,000th gold medal was won by the women’s 400-meter medley. However, NBC did not agree. “There was a Norwegian guy who competed in the 1904 Olympics and won a gold medal,” Mallon said. “He’s listed as USA in a lot of sources, but we found out he was still a Norwegian citizen in 1904.”
That attention to detail permeates the online Olympic encyclopedia.
Here are 10 ways to explore the site.
1. By Name of Athlete.
Pick an Olympian, any Olympian. The site suggests Carl Lewis as an example to get you started. In addition to a bio, there are hyperlinks on every result that take you to other pages full of information -- such as round-by-round of each Olympic 100 meter. Among the “special notes,” one points out that Lewis is listed under “Olympians Who Acted in Movies” for “Alien Hunter” and was one of the bearers of the Olympic flag at the 1996 opening ceremony.
Now, let’s say you want to look up a relative who said he competed in the Olympic Games. “That may discourage some people,” Mallon said. “We have a term for that. We call them ‘Triple Os -- Obituary Only Olympians.’ We get this all the time, a letter that someone’s father or grandfather was in the Olympics in 1948. We look it up and go, ‘Not under that name he wasn’t.’”
However, Mallon and his team are too kind to contact the families and shatter their illusions. “In the early Games, the records are so vague there can be minor differences,” he said. More recently, there are also discrepancies. “I’m still debating about a rower in 1964, about whether to include him or not,” Mallon said. “The evidence is just not that strong.”
In the last few years, Mallon determined that athletes who do not compete but are listed on the final entry list can still be classified as Olympians.
The website even lists horses from the equestrian competition. Just type in “Prince” and 10 names come up. Karen Lende O’Connor of Team USA rode Prince Panache, a brown gelding in 2000, where they won the bronze in the three-day event team competition.
2. By Countries (Including Head-to-Head Match-Ups and Results Comparisons)
Let’s take USA vs. Canada in ice hockey. The Canadian men hold a 12-3 advantage with three draws going back to 1920, while the Canadian women are up 5-3. However, Team USA won in PyeongChang in a thrilling final, which can be found in great detail on another page. And results also include the Youth Olympic Games, with Canadian boys leading their U.S. counterparts 3-2. Team USA prevailed 2-1 in Lausanne earlier this year.
In the comparisons section, swimmer Charlie Daniels won the gold in the 200-yard freestyle in 1904, a result achieved 251 more times.
3. By Sport (Including Those You Never Knew Were in the Games)
The list includes Ballooning, which was held only once -- in 1900 in Paris – and did not have official Olympic status. But the program was ambitious. It included disciplines such as longest distance traveled, greatest height achieved, closest landing to target, balloon inflation, best photograph and kites (small, medium and large).
A sport which did have official Olympic status was tug of war, which was held six times from 1900 to 1920 as part of the track and field competition.
It would take countless hours to go over all of the pages in track and field (listed as athletics) and swimming, but if something happened at the Olympic Games, it’ll be there.
4. Lists, Lists and More Lists
Under the “Statistics” tab is a treasure trove of information and “Lists” is the most fascinating. There are more than 200 separate lists, with more added all the time.
Did you know there are 43 Olympians with a net worth of more than 4100 million? Besides the obvious athletes from basketball, boxing and tennis, the list includes a couple of 2008 rowers named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who are better known for their connection to Facebook. And two Olympians were on the Titanic, both surviving. Dick Williams was 21 when the ship struck the iceberg. He broke down a door to free a fellow passenger who was trapped, but sadly, his own father perished. Williams spent several hours waist-deep in freezing water and the frostbite was so severe that a doctor recommended amputation. Williams refused and went on to play tennis for Team USA in 1924. Click on another page, and you’ll find that Williams won the gold medal in mixed doubles with Hazel Wightman and tied for fifth in men’s singles and men’s doubles.
There are also lists for Olympians involved in James Bond movies (nine, including Team USA’s 1960 decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, who appeared as a DEA agent in “License to Kill,” athletes who fought in WrestleMania (five, all from Team USA, though the list, Mallon said, was compiled by an Austrian), Olympians who competed while pregnant (21, including June Stover-Irvin of the United States, who won a bronze medal in diving in 1952 when she was 3 ½ months along), and even 10 Olympians who died during the Games.
Also under Statistics, you can see what happened on this date in Olympic history. On May 29, a total of 389 Olympians are celebrating their birthday, including gold-medal-winning ice hockey player Amanda Pelkey, who is 27 today, and two-time soccer gold medalist Tobin Heath, who is 32. Alas, 76 Olympians died on this date. Henry Carr, a Team USA sprinter who won two gold medals at the 1964 Olympic Games, died on May 29, 2015 at age 72. He is also on the list of the Olympians who played in the NFL, spending 1965-67 with the New York Giants. Even though we are outside of the usual Olympic windows, 50 events were held on this day in history. They all took place from 1900 to 1928, and a majority were art competitions. Yes, architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpturing were once Olympic medal events.
6. Timeliest List: Olympians Who Contracted the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
As of today, 46 Olympians and two referees have had documented cases of COVID-19, with 19 deaths. NBA player Kevin Durant and college coach Patrick Ewing are the biggest names from Team USA. Bob Beck, one of only three U.S. modern pentathletes to win two Olympic medals (bronze in individual and team in 1960), died on April 2 from the effects of the coronavirus at age 83. He also competed in fencing and modern pentathlon in 1968.
For historical perspective, seven athletes died in the Spanish Flu Pandemic, including two Americans. One was Martin Sheridan, who competed in six different field events in 1904 and 1908, winning four medals (three gold) and was the non-pulling captain of the tug-of-war team. He competed in nine events in the Intercalated Games of 1906, winning two golds and three silvers. Sheridan was also known for saying “This flag dips to no earthly king,” after Ralph Rose refused to dip the Stars and Stripes as he passed the Royal Box at the 1908 opening ceremony. Sheridan was one day shy of his 37th birthday when he died.
7. Athletes With More Than One Name
Olympedia calls this “Doubles,” and it is under the Athletes tab. For example, Jazmine Fenlator competed in bobsled for Team USA in 2014, then competed for Jamaica as Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian in 2018. She’s one of the easier athletes to trace.
Mallon said when adding results for each Olympics it’s often hard to figure out if an athlete has competed before.
This is especially tricky for women who get married and drop their maiden names and athletes who switch their allegiance to another nation, especially Kenyans who go to Qatar or Bahrain and change their names.
“Sometimes months or years later we find out that it is the same athlete,” Mallon said.
“The best way to search for them is to disregard their last name and search by their first name and date of birth. However, even date of birth doesn’t work very well because there are errors all the time on the entry forms.”
Mallon said he and his team usually finish updating the site by the last day of the Olympic Winter Games, but the summer Olympics can take a month.
8. For The Record
Some Olympic mysteries are still unsolved. Under age records, the youngest Olympian is listed as Dmitrios Loundras of Greece, who won a bronze medal on the parallel bars in 1896 at age 10 years and 216 days. However, Olympic historians believe a young French boy who was the coxswain for two Dutch rowers may have been as young as 7. Mallon said he and other people “have searched assiduously for that kid.” One of the Dutchmen emigrated to the United States and Mallon tracked down his son in the 1980s. “The son knew nothing about it, never heard that story and didn’t know the kids’s name,” Mallon said.
9. Who’s Got the Most Hardware?
Of course, one of the most popular records is medals won, with swimmer Michael Phelps the G.O.A.T. with 28 total medals, including 23 gold.
However, before Phelps, Mallon believed discus thrower Al Oerter of Team USA was the greatest Olympian. “This was a guy who never won the Olympic Trials, was never the favorite going into the Olympics, never held the world record going into the Olympics and won four straight gold medals throwing the longest throw of his life every time,” Mallon said. “What an unbelievable competitor. When people say, ‘Yeah, he only won four medals, Phelps won 28 medals and 23 gold,’ I say, ‘Well, the discus weighs 2 kg. If there was also a 1 kg discus, a 1.5 kg discus and a team discus for each weight, I guarantee Oerter would have won 24 gold medals.” Among the female Olympians, Mallon points to Teresa Edwards. “She won four golds and a bronze in five straight Olympics,” he said. “That’s incredible, but since you can only win one medal in basketball, you don’t hear as much about Teresa Edwards and the great Olympian that she was.”
10. Did You Know?
Some information deserves to be highlighted. At the bottom of every page is a “Did you know” factoid.
“The 1948 Olympic ice hockey tournament saw two U.S. entries, one affiliated with the international Ice Hockey Federation and one affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Both were barred from entering, but the former competed anyway, only to be disqualified later.”
Or, “After the Dutch government voted not to support he 1928 Olympics due to events being held on Sundays, the organizing committee launched a successful ‘crowdfunding’ campaign.”
And if, by some chance, you know something that Mallon doesn’t or spot an error on the website, feel free to point it out.
“We know there’s mistakes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how hard we try to be 100 percent accurate, if people find mistakes, let us know.”