“[T]he little-known story of the 1896 Olympics, the first in 1,500 years…. Reisler weaves a handful of narrative threads…. writes well about the oddities…. [and] skillfully records the cries and struggles attending a nearly miraculous rebirth.” –Kirkus Reviews
“This fun and accessible read is recommended to all coming Olympics watchers interested in putting today’s games in historical perspective. The photographs, appendix of award winners, and notes will add to the reader’s experience.” —Library Journal
From the Inside Flap
The first US Olympic team—a ragtag group of fourteen men, mostly Ivy Leaguers, with little support from the country—stood at the top of the podium for an amazing eleven events at the inaugural modern Games in 1896. Their unexpected triumphs caused a swell of national pride and paved the way for generations of US Olympians. Author Jim Reisler chronicles the American sports scene in the nineteenth century, the men of influence who established a modern Olympics, and how a squad of semi-talented Americans, competing without the backing of the Amateur Athletic Union or their universities, went off to Athens anyway and won the hearts and minds of the world.
Only four of the fourteen Americans could be called “world class” at their events. Yet, on the first day of the Games—following a grueling journey to Greece—Boston’s James Connolly won the triple jump (becoming the first Olympic champion in 1,500 years); Princeton’s Robert Garrett took first in the discus, an event in which he had never competed; and all three American sprinters won their 100-meter heats. As American triumphs mounted, so did headlines, legitimizing the Games back home. But somehow the team’s story has been largely forgotten. Even more forgotten is the team’s champion, William Milligan Sloane, a Princeton professor of classics whose role in establishing the modern Olympics has never before been adequately explored.
Recalling the events of the 1896 Olympics, revealing the inside story of how the United States team was put together, and telling the individual tales of fourteen fascinating athletes, Igniting the Flame is an inspiring account of how the American Olympic movement caught fire.