Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Unique Olympic Record

The story of Otto Herschmann is one of triumph and tragedy. One of the few Olympic athletes to ever win medals in two different sports, Herschmann was also the only athlete to receive a medal while serving as president of his country’s Olympic committee. Unfortunately, his status as a national hero of Austria meant nothing to the Nazis.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Herschmann was 19 when he competed as a swimmer in the very first Olympics (Athens 1896). Competing in the open ocean, on a course marked out by floating pumpkins, Herschmann earned a silver medal in the 100 meter freestyle.

Although Herschmann earned a doctorate in Law, his real passion was sports. After publishing a book on sports (Wiener Sports, 1904), he returned to Athens to compete as an individual fencer but did not win a medal. In 1912, Herschmann became the president of the Austrian Olympic Committee and competed in the team sabre fencing competition, earning his second silver medal.

Following the 1912 Stockholm Games, Herschmann traveled throughout the United States to study the American methods of training. He noted that in America, all athletes received intense training, whereas in Europe, only those not naturally gifted received training. He vowed to change this system in Europe. Perhaps with this in mind he next served as the President of the Austrian Swimming Federation, from 1914 until 1932.

There is no record of Herschmann being connected to Jewish life, but that mattered little to the Nazis. In 1942, Herschmann was sent to the Izbica Concentration Camp. Shortly thereafter he was sent to Sobibor, where he was murdered by the Nazis.

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