Ass-kicking Athletes of Antiquity: James Connolly

Modern day Olympians spend almost their entire lives training for events. You can bet the second the Jamaican athletics coach heard sonic booms coming from Usain Bolt’s house he spent every waking moment molding him into the human shotgun blast he is today.

Go back a hundred years though and excelling at a sport well enough to represent your entire country wasn’t a good enough reason to be given time off, as James Connolly discovered. Even after he became the first Olympic champion the world had seen in 1500 years!

Born in 1868, a time when the Olympics as we know them didn’t even exist, Connolly decided at a young age to dedicate his life to being able to karate kick gravity clean in the face. Showing an aptitude for sport, Connolly quickly established himself as a formidable physical presence by dominating every childhood sport he took part in. However, his childhood, though filled with bitchin’ air kicks and nothing but victory, not receiving an adequate education irked Connolly fiercely.

As with virtually everything in his life up to that point, by sheer force of will, Connolly was able to secure a place at Harvard University, we expect his interview consisted of nothing but him pointing at his own thighs. While he was studying as a freshman in 1896, the first Olympic games in a thousand years were announced to take place in Athens. Connolly, dropped the 40 lead-lined books he was carrying at this news and excitedly ran to see the dean.

However, instead of being granted a leave of absence TO REPRESENT AMERICA, Connolly was told if he wanted to go compete in Athens, he’d need to leave Harvard and then reapply when he came back with all of the medals. After giving the dean (we hope) the biggest are-you-stupid look in history, Connolly angrily strolled off and told Harvard to kiss his ass.

As the only representative of Boston’s Suffolk Athletic Club, Connolly reportedly had to pay his own way to Athens (although these were his own reports, so the Club actually comped him. But let’s print the legend!). Again, we’d like to point out this man was representing America itself on the world stage and he had to buy his own ticket to do so (except he didn’t). Little is recorded about Connolly’s actual trip the Greece, however, Wikipedia claims that he chased down a thief who stole his ticket. Of course you’re free to not believe that, but we should mention that this is far from the most badass thing Connolly did, so if it’s a lie, it’s a stupid one.

While at the Olympic Connolly, understandably, won several events, including the triple jump. But here’s the thing, Connolly only won a silver medal because at that point in history the gold medal didn’t exist. which hasn’t stopped every source that records his victories saying he won gold. That’s right, Connolly was such a winner, people have retroactively re-written history to give him the gold medal he rightly deserved.

His victory in the triple jump secured his place in history as the first person since ancient times to win an Olympic event. But here’s where Connolly’s story gets awesome, even though he was the first Olympic winner in centuries and returned for a half-dozen more Olympic events, competing well into his 30s. Connolly’s physical achievements were massively overshadowed by his career as a writer. How good were the books this guy wrote for people to want to talk to him about those instead of the fact he won AMERICA’S FIRST EVER GOLD MEDAL?

Remember how Connolly stormed out of Harvard without ever receiving a proper education from them? Well after winning a theoretical gold medal and writing a half-dozen books, Harvard begrudgingly invited Connolly back as an old man to give a lecture on his writing and receive an honorary doctora. A lecture we hope consisted of nothing but Connolly alternating between pointing at his balls and his medals, because he turned down Harvard. And we don’t blame him. They didn’t support him when he tried to excel, so why should he perpetuate their cause?

Here he is, thinking about Harvard again.

Here he is, thinking about Harvard again.

So during the next Olympics, spare a thought for the first ever modern Olympic champion, who despite earning a gold medal so hard we gave him one from the future and paying his own way to the Olympics, exploded from obscurity and lived a not-so-quiet life of writing books.

Dude, you've got a gorgeous girl on your arm -- show no fear.

Dude, you’ve got a gorgeous girl on your arm — show no fear.

Karl Smallwood is a freelance comedy writer that you can hire! His work has been featured on, and you should probably click those links to make sure he isn’t lying. He also runs his own website where he responds to the various pieces of hate-mail he’s gotten over the years, in fact, he got so much hate-mail that he wrote a book about it that you can buy on Amazon. When he isn’t writing, Karl also Tweets and uploads pictures of himself drinking on Facebook.


“Four score and a headlock ago…”

Karl also documented The Most Hilarious Overreactions to Scary Movies. For a more political motivated ass-kicking athlete, check out Karl’s article on how Abe Lincoln wrestled his way into the history books.

More from Karl Smallwood

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