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Olympics reassigns a 1900 medal — and its winner — from Britain to France

The International Olympic Committee agreed this week to reassign credit for Lloyd Hildebrand’s silver medal in the men's cycling 25 km race at the 1900 Olympics from Britain to France.
International Olympic Committee
The International Olympic Committee agreed this week to reassign credit for Lloyd Hildebrand’s silver medal in the men's cycling 25 km race at the 1900 Olympics from Britain to France.

The medalists in the men’s Olympic 25 kilometer cycling race stood on the podium nearly 124 years ago -- but now, the silver medal in that competition is being credited to a different country.

Team GB long claimed Lloyd Hildebrand’s silver medal, but because the British citizen competed under French colors, his win is now being credited to France. A French historian recently raised Hildebrand’s case to the International Olympic Committee, saying the athlete lived nearly his entire life in France and was closely tied to a sports club there -- and not to one in Britain.

The International Olympic Committee “agreed to rectify its historical records” to reflect the change on Thursday, citing recent research about Hildebrand's career and the rules governing the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

How’s that work?

Until now, both Britain and France included Hildebrand in their own tallies of Olympic medalists. Because of his citizenship, the IOC’s official results page attributed his win to Great Britain. Now, that will change.

"We were aware of the change of status for the medal and have ourselves benefited in such circumstances before,” Team GB told NPR in an email. “We shall try and win one back later this summer!"

It’s important to remember that this change is from just the second “modern” Olympics. In that era, the competition was less well-known -- and the registration process was much more informal.

Back then, “athletes had only to send the number of their license, established by the national federation where they were regularly competing, and pay the entry fees to compete at the Games,” the IOC said. In the years since, some early Olympians have sometimes had their records switched from one country to another.

Earlier this year, French sports historian Stéphane Gachet wrote to the IOC, making the case that Hildebrand, who grew up and raced in the Paris area, should be considered one of France’s athletes.

What about Hildebrand?

Lloyd Augustus Biden Hildebrand was an accomplished cyclist who won or placed in singles and tandem races in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The IOC says recent research found that Hildebrand “was born and brought up in France, and competed for a French club before and after Paris 1900.” But the IOC's account diverges a bit from the argument Gachet laid out in March. He says Hildebrand was born in Tottenham, England, citing records that include a 1924 French death certificate for Hildebrand that listed his birth in the Middlesex city.

Despite Hildebrand’s British citizenship, Gachet wrote in a letter to the IOC President Thomas Bach, he had longstanding roots in France, spending decades in Levallois-Perre on the northwest outskirts of Paris. It was from that base, the researcher said, that Hildebrand raced as part of the Club des Sports.

Because of the absence of national Olympic committees in the early Olympics’ registration process, Gachet wrote, “nationality then takes second place” to an athlete’s club affiliation.

Even before his Olympic outing, Gachet wrote, Hildebrand “always raced under the colors of the Club des Sports.”

Newspaper accounts about Hildebrand’s Olympic cycling medal reported that he represented France, the researcher said, with reports portraying Hildebrand as part of an all-French podium of the top three finishers.

And now, the official Olympics record reflects the French sweep in the event, crediting Hildebrand's win to France alongside gold medalist Louis Bastien and bronze winner Auguste Daumain.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.