Team USA – 1896 John and Sumner Paine are seated on the floor.
Olympic Gold, Firearms and Booze
The earliest Summer Games were held in Ancient Greece between 776 BC and 393 BC. The idea of reviving the games was first introduced in 1894, at a sports conference in Paris, and the first modern Summer Games were finally held in 1896, in Athens. The shooting events at those inaugural Games were dominated by two Harvard-educated, whiskey-drinking brothers: John and Sumner Paine.
In 1896 John Paine was a member of the Boston Athletic Association, which was sending several track & field athletes to the Olympic Games. The delegation was a modest group of self-appointed, haphazardly financed young men from Harvard and Princeton universities. John decided that on his way to Athens he would stop in Paris to meet his brother, Sumner, who was working as a gunsmith. John quickly convinced his brother to join him in Athens and they rounded up an arsenal of the best pistols available, and over three thousand rounds of ammunition – more than enough, as they eventually only used 96 rounds each.
Once at the Games, John easily won the first competition, the military pistol event. So easily did he win, in fact, that John thought it unsporting to enter any further events and withdrew from the remaining pistol event. With John not entering, Sumner easily won the free pistol match. There’s one very interesting aspect of those 1896 Athens Games that you won’t see repeated in London this summer: Onlookers noticed that during the first day, the Paine brothers paused to take a sips of whiskey from their pocket flasks when the tension was running high. And several eye-witness accounts state, that on the second day, many of the assembled marksmen each had their own pocket flasks as well.
Back in America, Sumner Paine’s title came in handy. One night in 1901, he returned home to find his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher. He expelled the man with the help of four shots from a .32 caliber pistol. Although he was briefly jailed and charged with assault, Paine was released when the police found his medal, and realized he must have missed on purpose. Just like our grandfather used to say, “A smart man knows when to hit his target, and when to miss.”
As for us, tonight we’re going to pour a tipple over one of our handcrafted whiskey stones and toast to the Paine brothers: a couple of gun-toting, whiskey-swilling American boys who knew how to bring home the gold.