Forrest Smithson – OSU’s First Olympic Medalist in 1908

Forrest Smithson was born in Portland in 1884 and attended Oregon State (then OAC) where he was an AAU track champion in 1907 and 1909. While attending Oregon State, Smithson competed in the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where he won gold in the 110-meter hurdles on the final day with a then world record setting time of 15.0 seconds. He became not only the school’s first Olympic medalist, but he and two other Oregonians that same Olympics were the first medalists for the state of Oregon.

A devout Christian, Smithson was a student of theology at Oregon State who eventually become a Baptist Minister. He is probably best known for a famous picture of him clearing a hurdle at the Olympics with a bible in his left hand.  Many thought the picture was of the Olympic finals race, further depicting his legend. But no official accounts depicted him carrying such unlikely cargo and one actual picture of the finals does not show the Bible in his hand.  The story, as it turns out, was that Smithson posed for the picture after his victory to make a political protest against Sabbath competitions.  Smithson understood the powerful forum for social criticism that Olympic victories allowed.

The first picture is the famous Forrest Smithson Bible picture.  Second is a picture of the final race where he is second from the right. The final picture shows an actual gold medal from the 1908 Olympics that I’m sure Smithson kept in a safe place… probably right next to his Bible until his death in 1962.

olimpiaa[1] second from right 1908-medal[1]

 

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