An Olympian in a class of his own
As of 2014, only five athletes have won medals at the Olympic Summer and Winter Games. Edward Eagan is the only one to have claimed gold at both. A light-heavyweight champion in the boxing competition at Antwerp 1920, the intrepid American went on to top the podium in the four-man bobsleigh at Lake Placid 1932.
A gifted studentThe son of a railway worker, Eddie Eagan was born in the US city of Denver in 1897 and had a very modest upbringing. A talented scholar studied law at Yale and Harvard and then earned a prestigious Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University. In the meantime, he pursued a successful amateur boxing career, skippering the Yale team and gaining selection as a light-heavyweight for the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920, this after serving as a lieutenant in the United States artillery in France during World War One.
An international boxing greatCompeting in the main hall at Antwerp’s Zoological Gardens, Eagan saw off South Africa’s Thomas Holdstock in the quarter-finals, Great Britain’s Harold Frank in the semi-finals and then Norway’s Sverre Sorsdal to become Olympic champion in his weight class. On returning from the Games he continued his studies at Harvard before taking up his scholarship at Oxford. After becoming the first ever American to win a British amateur boxing title, he embarked on a two-year tour of the world, taking on the best amateur boxer in each country he visited and winning every single bout. By the time he contested his second Olympic Games at Paris 1924, he was a fully qualified attorney. This time he fared less well, losing in the first round of the heavyweight competition to Great Britain’s Arthur Clifton.
From boxing to bobsleighAfter turning 30, Eagan accepted an invitation from his friend Jay O’Brien, the head of the USA’s Olympic Bobsleigh Committee, to join the team led by Billy Fiske, the winner of the gold medal in the four-man at St Moritz in 1928. “Guess what. I’m on the United States bobsled team,” he told his wife before heading off to Lake Placid for the 1932 Olympic Winter Games, without ever having set foot in a bobsleigh before.
Undeterred, Eagan partnered Fiske, Clifford Gray and O’Brien in USA 1, with the quartet dominating the first three legs and eventually winning by more than two seconds from Henry Homburger’s USA 2. “That run will always be vivid in my memory,” said Eagan. “It took only about two minutes to make, but to me it seemed like an eon. My hands seemed to be slipping, but still I clung on.”
A unique achievementEagan’s feat in winning medals at both the Olympic Summer and Winter Games has since been matched by Jacobs Thllin Thams (in ski jumping and sailing), Christa Luding (speed skating and track cycling), Clara Hughes (speed skating and road cycling) and Lauryn Williams (athletics and bobsleigh). He is, however, the only member of that elite club to win golds in his two events, though his compatriot Williams came very close to matching the feat at Sochi 2014.
Following his Olympic exploits, Eagan resumed his career as an attorney in New York and served as a lieutenant colonel in the US Army in World War Two. He died, aged 69, of a heart attack on 14 June 1967. In 1983 he joined the likes of Jesse Owens and Mark Spitz as an inaugural inductee of the United States’ Olympic Hall of Fame.