Meet Walter Winans, the Ultimate Two-Event Olympic Medalist
By VICTOR MATHERFEB. 24, 2018
Walter Winans, a 3-time Olympic medalist, was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1981. Credit Thompson, via Getty Images
With her victory in the snowboarding giant slalom on Saturday Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic joined the short list of athletes who have won medals in two different disciplines in the same Olympic Games. She also won the gold medal in super-G.
But no matter how impressive her accomplishments, she has a way to go to surpass Walter Winans, a forgotten American Olympian who was one of the great renaissance men of his time. Winans won a gold medal in shooting in London in 1908, then won a silver in Stockholm in 1912. But he also won a gold medal that year in a different event entirely. Sculpture. Yes, the Olympics held art competitions from 1912 to 1948. The categories included architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.
The art competitions were no sideshow, but a serious part of the Olympics program. Igor Stravinsky was even recruited as a judge for the 1924 music competition in Paris. (He stingily awarded no gold, silver or bronze medals.)
Winans’s winning sculpture, “An American Trotter,” beat out a strong field of eight that included silver medalist Georges Dubois, a French hurdler, who entered the seemingly more appropriate “Model of the Entrance to a Modern Stadium.” Also in the field was Prince Paolo Trubetskoy of Russia, a friend of Tolstoy, and Rembrandt Bugatti of Italy, younger brother of the car manufacturer.
Winans is the only person ever to win gold in a sport and an art. Alfred Hajos won two gold medals in swimming in 1896, in the 100 and 1,200 meter freestyle, then turned up in 1924 seeking architecture gold. But his design for a sports stadium could only muster a silver.
Winans was to the manor born, grandson of Ross Winans, a railroad builder, and was descended from Count Goswyn de Wynants, chief counselor to Charles VI of Brabant.
Winans grew up in Russia, where his father was building the Moscow and St. Petersburg Railroad. He never really worked — his New York Times obituary delicately refers to a “lack of interest in business” — but devoted his life, lived mostly in Europe, and his ample inherited resources, to athletics and the arts.
Winans was an author as well, churning out books on shooting, sculpting and horses. They included “How to Drive a Trotter,” “Deer Breeding for Fine Heads” and “Shooting for Ladies.”
As a marksman, he won 12 straight British revolver championships, and he took a prize in Vienna for a display of 60 heads of big game animals, out of 2,000 he had killed. Winans did not just sculpt trotters, he also showed and raced them. He was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame (as an “immortal”) in 1981.
And he died as you might imagine he wished. At 68, he hopped into the sulky for a trotting race at Parsloes Park in London. Just before the finish, the two-time Olympic gold medalist dropped the reins on his horse, Henrietta Guy, slipped out of his seat and fell dead. But not until he had crossed the finish line. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/sports/meet-walter-winans-the-ultimate-two-event-olympic-medalist.html?rref=collection%2Fnewseventcollection%2Fwinter-olympics-2018&action=click&contentCollection=olympics®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection