Fred C. Thomson

The gold medalist in the Grenade Throw of the first Inter-Allied Games in 1919 was an American named Fred Thomson.

The Grenade Throw originated as a sport intent on replacing the Javelin Throw during track and field competitions. Indeed, a nationalist fervor that swept the United States on the eve of the American entry into the First World War demanded events that would prepare young men for the grueling demands of combat on the Western Front in France. By 1918 many colleges had adopted grenade throwing as a sport in favor of the javelin throw. After the war ended with the armistice in November of 1918, the sport remained in the Inter-Allied Games of 1919.

Man in football uniform
Fred Thomson in American football uniform. Image: George Grantham Bain collection, Library of Congress.

When the grenade throwing competition ended, the Americans swept the medal podium and Fred Thomson took the gold with a throw of 245 feet 11 inches. The silver was awarded to Harrison Thomson (no relation) and D.C. Wycavage received the bronze. In truth, Fred Thomson was an ironic champion. The victor arrived in France late in 1918 and did not partake in any combat. Furthermore, Thomson was an Army chaplain and not a common soldier in the American infantry. However, Thomson was already an established athlete before the war and the games in 1919. While attending Princeton University, more specifically the Princeton Theological Seminary, he won the All-Around Champion award from the Amateur Athletic Union in 1910, 1911, and 1913. Moreover, his brother, Samuel Thomson, won the title for best all-around American Athlete in 1919, while Fred was in Europe with the army. In addition to his collegiate athletic achievements, Fred Thomson was an avid American football player.

Despite this athletic success, Thomson never competed in the Olympic Games or any other major athletic event after the Inter-Allied Games in 1919. Nevertheless, he remained a public figure. During his military service in Europe, he was introduced to the world of filmmaking. First, he served as a technical advisor in the 1919 film Johanna Enlists starring Mary Pickford. Thomson was intrigued by this new form and initially intended on becoming a director when his service to the army ended.

Moview poster
Poster for the 1921 film Just Around the Corner.

However, in 1921 when an actor failed to report for the film Just Around the Corner Thomson found that his fortunes lay in front of and not behind a camera. The film proved to be successful and Thomson decided to undertake acting instead. Some of his films included The Love Light in 1921, The Eagle’s Talons in 1923, The Dangerous Coward in 1924, The Lone Hand Texan in 1924, Ridin’ the Wind in 1925, and Hand Saunders in 1926. In short, his movie career resulted in more success than his already prestigious athletic career. However, his career, although successful, was not to last as he died of tetanus at the age of thirty-eight in 1928.

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