Carl T. Osburn
You would think that the affinity that Americans have for guns would make competitive shooting a more popular sport, but one of the nation’s greatest Olympians is largely unknown. U.S. Navy Capt. Carl Osburn won 11 Olympic medals with his rifle between 1912 and 1924. He held the record for most U.S. medals until swimmer Jenny Thompson surpassed him eighty years later in Athens.
A gold medalist at the 1920 games in Antwerp, the flamboyant sprinter previously served as a Marine field artillery officer in World War I. His defeat by Brit Harold Abrahams at the 1924 games was depicted in the 1981 film, “Chariots of Fire.” Paddock was killed in a plane crash during World War II while serving on the personal staff of Maj.Gen. William Upshur.
Harry B. Liversedge
Along with his two Navy Crosses and a Bronze Star, Brigadier General Harry Bluett Liversedge, USMC could list an Olympic medal among his awards. Liversedge won bronze in the shot put at the 1920 games in Antwerp.
He later commanded the assault on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, culminating in the raising of the US flag on the summit, which was immortalized in one of the most reproduced and parodied photos in history.
Clanan first started fencing at the U.S. Naval Academy and proved to be a natural by quickly establishing himself as a world class swordsman, winning a total of three medals at the 1928 and 1932 games. Less than one year after winning bronzes in team foil and team epee in Los Angeles, he was one of the 73 people killed when the airship USS Akron crashed in 1933.
Bass was the last man to win gold in rope climbing because the sport was discontinued after his victory in the 1932 games. He would go on to have a distinguished career as a submarine commander during WWII, eventually be promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. He joked that the downside of his Olympic notoriety was that people were still asking him to climb ropes even decades later.
What does the world’s greatest athlete do when he needs a real challenge? He joins the Marines. Mathias won gold in the decathlon at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics before serving as a Captain in the USMC. He went on to spend four terms in Congress as a representative for the state of California.
At the 1948 London Olympics, U.S. Navy officer Cowell lost the gold in the 100 meter backstroke to fellow American Allen Stack by a tenth of a second. The U.S. Naval Academy presents the Robert. E. Cowell Award to the member of the graduating class who has demonstrated outstanding swimming ability, leadership and good sportsmanship.
A member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, First Lieutenant Billy Mills, USMCR was lightly regarded when he entered the men’s 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He shocked the world by winning gold in one of the games’ most thrilling runs. Robbie Benson portrayed Mills in the 1983 film about the events surrounding the race, “Running Brave”.
At the 1968 games in Mexico City, “The Mighty Burner” won a gold medal as a member of the 4×400 relay team and an individual silver medal in the 400 meters. The world record set by the realy team stood for 24 years. James achieved the rank of major while serving in the USMCR.
“Butch” Keaser became the first African American to medal in wrestling when he won silver at the 1976 games in Montreal. Keaser graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served five years in the Marines, rising to the rank of captain.
A member of the original Dream Team, Robinson scored gold in Barcelona in 1992, and gain in Atlanta in 1996 (having also won a bronze in Seoul in 1988). The NBA Hall of Famer was nicknamed “The Admiral” because he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served two years of active duty – though he never rose above the rank of lieutenant (junior grade).
Other Sailor and Marine Olympic Medal Winners
The 1920 and 1952 gold medal winning teams in eight oared rowing were from the US Navy.
Navy officers William T. Denton and William Galbraith won silver while Thomas F. Connelly took bronze in gymnastics events at the 1932 Olympics.
Josiah Henson won bronze in wrestling 1952, as did Peter Blair in 1956. Both were graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Marine Josh Culbreath won bronze in the 400 meter hurdlers in 1956.
1972 long jump champion and 1976 silver medalist Randy Williams joined the USMC in 1980.
Sailor Brian Ledbetter was a silver medalist in yachting in 1988.