Events and People

Athletic Stars of the Sesquicentennial

The few spectators who braved high temperatures and pouring rains to attend the American Athletic Union (A.A.U.) National Track and Field Championships at the Sesquicentennial were able to view record-breaking athletic performances by many former and future Olympic athletes. A previous blog entry discusses the accomplishments of Lillian Copeland, a triple gold winner in shot put, discus, and javelin. In addition to Copeland, other well-known athletes traveled to Philadelphia to attempt to win championships.

Phillip Osif, a student at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, gained national press attention when he won the six mile race in both the junior and senior men’s divisions at the Sesquicentennial competition. Osif beat Louis Gregory of Newark to win the junior title on July 3, 1926. Two days later on July 5, Osif trailed Ove Anderson from Finland for three miles before passing him to easily win the senior championship with a championship record time of 31:31. Osif continued to compete for the Haskell Institute throughout 1927. A member of the Pima tribe from Arizona, Osif was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977.

Another championship record was set by Clarence “Bud” Houser in the men’s discus competition. A well-known athlete in the weights events, Houser won gold in both shot put and discus at the 1924 Olympics while a student at the University of Southern California. The winner of the discus event at the 1925 A.A.U championships, Houser successfully defended his title in 1926 and set a new championship record of 153 feet 6.5 inches. Houser won gold again in discus at the 1928 Olympic games and was known for developing a technique of rapidly rotating around the circle before releasing the discus. After retiring from competition, Houser became a practicing dentist in California. He was inducted into USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1979.

Several women, some of whom would also compete in the Olympics, broke several championship records as well. Frances Davies, Jessie Glover, Florence Belle, and Rosa Grosse, competitors on the Toronto athletic team, won the 440 yard relay in 51 seconds, equaling the world record. Elta Cartwright tied the championship record for the 50 yard dash with a time of 6.1 seconds, successfully defending her title in the 50 yard dash from the 1925 championship. Nicknamed “Cinder” Elta, Cartwright qualified for the 1928 Olympic games in the 100 yard dash. While traveling to the Olympics in Amsterdam, Cartwright fell ill. Although she was able to compete, she was eventually eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100 yard dash. After retiring from athletic competition, Cartwright became a teacher.

Cartwright, Houser, and Osif are just a few of the many athletes who competed at the A.A.U. National Track and Field Championships at the Sesquicentennial. Despite the high caliber of competition, one newspaper reporter estimated that the inclement weather conditions caused as few as 350 spectators to attend one day of the competition. While the competition, like many other events at the Sesquicentennial, suffered poor attendance due to weather, hosting the athletic championship provides another example of one of the many ways that Sesquicentennial officials attempted to draw crowds to the Exposition.