Firefighting at the 1900 Olympics
The Olympics have had some interesting sports take center stage over the years but none had as many strange events as the 1900 Paris Olympics. These specific Olympics were unique for several reasons: 1) Firstly, these were the first games in which women could participate. Hélène de Pourtalès from Switzerland became the first female Olympic champion, she won a competition in yachting¹. 2) Secondly, these were the last Olympics to not award gold medals, instead, the winners were given silver, and the runner up received bronze. Retroactively, the IOC awarded golds to the winners, silver to second, and bronze to third, to bring early Olympics in line with the current records. 3) Lastly, theses Olympic games were presented as part of the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, and thus featured many strange sports among them: balooning, croquet, 200m swimming with obstacles, and also some even more unique “demonstration sports” such as: fishing, pigeon racing, kite flying, and firefighting². The firefighting event stands out because it was one of the more documented demonstration sports and in fact the American report of the 1900 Games, prepared by AG Spalding, devoted a whole page to the competition. In the competition, there were two categories, one for volunteer firefighters, the other for professionals. In the the volunteer category, Portugal came in first place with its volunteer team from Porto. Leyton, Great Britain took silver while Budapest, Hungary came in third and was retroactively awarded a bronze. In the professional category Kansas City, MI won first place and Milan, Italy came in second. How Kansas came to represent the U.S. in the firefighting competition is also an interesting story, one that dates back to 1882 when a man named George C. Hale was appointed Chief of the KCFD. Chief Hale held this position for 20 years and during this time he patented more than 60 firefighting inventions including the Hale water tower, a swinging (horse) harness, and the telephone fire alarm.