From the Paper Chase
to Olympic Gold
FOOTBALL DOMINATED LATE-NINETEENTH-CENTURY intercollegiate sports, while crew and baseball were supreme before the rise of the gridiron game. Track and field became the fourth major college sport of the 1800s, and, like the other three, was imported from the British Isles. Track, of course, was much older than British history or even written history. One may recall that Odysseus won the foot race in Homer's Iliad when the goddess Athena made Aias slip in manure, causing the victim to spit out cow dung rather than receive the silver bowl which went to the winner. While the silver trophy remained symbolic of track success, track and field in America never attained the status of baseball, crew, or football, or of running in ancient Greece. Track's impact was nevertheless felt by the 1890s outside the college world. Track, along with crew, was important to the development of international intercollegiate athletics, and it was the performance of collegians on track teams which gave America dominance after the Modem Olympics were internationalized in 1896.
American intercollegiate track and field, like crew, baseball, cricket, and football, received its impetus from athletic contests imported