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Local doctor excelled at 1900 Olympics


February 16. 2013 2:50PM


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The area's first Olympian was also its most decorated, though his medals hardly had the glamour attached to them that today's victors enjoy.


Dr. Walter Tewksbury, a dentist who served the Tunkhannock community for decades before his death in 1968 from pneumonia at age 92, could at one point in history lay claim to the title of the world's fastest man.


He traveled to Paris in the summer of 1900 for the Games of the Second Olympiad. He won the 200 meters (22.2 seconds) and the 400 hurdles (57.6 seconds, an American record), placed second in 60 and 100 meters, and took third in the 200-meter hurdles.


That's two gold, two silver and a bronze for the man who twice tied the world record in the 100 meters (10.8 seconds), including the Olympic semifinals.


"In those days, the Olympics wasn't much of a thing. No one made a fuss about it," his daughter, Pam Emerson said to The Times Leader in 1999. "We never saw a sign of any medals or anything. I vaguely remember dad saying that he may have been one of those who sold his to make some money for these little side trips."


The 1900 Olympics were anything but to many competitors. While the first Games in Athens were held over a 10-day period, the Paris Olympics took place over a five-month span coinciding with the World's Fair.


It was the first time women participated. Twenty-two of the 997 athletes were female (for comparison, 24 countries were represented). There were five events in which mixed teams (athletes from more than one nation) were allowed -- polo, rowing, soccer, tennis and tug of war. The first sport women participated in was croquet.


Medals as we know them today were not awarded to event winners. Some participants did receive medallions in the traditional gold, silver and bronze. Some received paintings and other artwork, still others received monetary prizes.


The French officials had told the Americans there would be no races on Sundays, but they staged the 400 hurdles on that day. They also incorporated a water jump as one of the hurdles."(Friend and fellow American runner Alvin Kraenzlein) went to Paris on Sunday," Tewksbury told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1965. "The only reason I was there (at the Olympic stadium) was to help a friend of mine in the mile. I had to borrow shoes, a uniform - everything," he said. "I didn't have a thing."


Tewksbury still won the event, and Kraenzlein still won four other golds.


Tewksbury was born in 1876 in Ashley, and attended Wyoming Seminary -- until they expelled him for blowing up an outhouse at the school. He still advanced to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied dentistry and, in his junior year, went out for the track team. He won IC4A championships (precursor to the NCAA) in the 110- and 220-yard dashes while with the Quakers in 1898-99.


In 1996, he was posthumously named to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.


As well as serving as a dentist in Tunkhannock for five decades, Tewksbury founded the Tunkhannock High School track team during the 1920s.


The Tewksbury Memorial Committee honors Tunkhannock track athletes and contributors to the program with awards in Tewksbury's name. They also hold a series of summer races dedicated to him to grow and develop the sport for runners of all ages.




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