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The 1904 Olympic Underdog

George S Lyon Olympian

In the run up to Rio 2016 we had a look back at the last men’s Olympic final from 1904 in St Louis. If this story is anything to go by we will certainly have all eyes on Rio.

George S Lyon was a force to be reckoned with. Not that anybody knew that when he took to the tee in the 1904 Games. The 46-year-old Canadian was an insurance salesman, suffered from diabetes and hay fever and was a self-taught golfer who had only been playing for a couple of years. After being a champion pole-vaulter and a keen cricketer Lyon took up golf late in life and, like most of us, “caught the fever there and then” on his first round. George S Lyon was never supposed to win the only Olympic gold medal to be awarded to an individual golfer in history. He was also certainly never supposed to lose said medal, or have it melted down during the Great Depression. But he went on to do both and his stunning performance, both on the course and his celebratory walk to receive the medal, deserve to be remembered in golfing history.

Back then the tournament was comprised of many different golfing components and was spread over four days, with medals being awarded on the basis of a match play competition. By this point there were only three countries in contention for a medal: the lone Canadian Lyon, a single Brit and 70 Americans. It quickly came down to a two-man race to the middle podium, our underdog Lyon was facing a young and successful American champion. Chandler Egan was only 21, fresh out of Harvard and the reigning US Amateur champion – leaving with the gold medal around his neck was practically a done deal.

From the offset however Lyon threw Egan off his game. Surprising him, and the rest of the spectators, with the length of his shots and the style of his swing. Lyon drove the green on the first hole, par-4, on three separate occasions and went on to win by a 3 & 2 score. When he was called to collect his medal and trophy he walked on his hands across Glen Echo Golf Club singing “The Wild Irish Rose.”

Lyon’s response to his win was that typical of an underdog: “I am not foolish enough to think that I am the best player in the world, but I am satisfied that I am not the worst.” Lyon was just like any other amateur player. He caught the bug, played with a “unique” and often mocked swing style and kept his Olympic trophy on the dining room table, selling his gold medal to put food on it for his family.

His Olympic triumph was by no means a fluke, Lyon set the record for winning the Canadian Amateur Championship eight times and won the Canadian Senior’s Golf Association Championship ten times from 1918-1930. He made it to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and recently has been commemorated in his home town with a plaque for his achievements. Lyon travelled to London to defend his title in 1908 but the golf competition was cancelled after a dispute between the British and Irish over the definition of “amateur”. This resulted in the US pulling out and Lyon being handed the gold medal since he remained the sole competitor. Unwilling to “win” in this way he returned to Canada empty handed.

So with the top four out of the running for this year, Olympic Golf might be making the case for another win from an underdog. We certainly wouldn’t want to miss that…

By Emily Graham, Marketing Executive

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