Étienne Desmarteau

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameJoseph-Étienne•Desmarteau (Birtz-)
Used nameÉtienne•Desmarteau
Born4 February 1873 in Boucherville, Québec (CAN)
Died29 October 1905 in Montréal, Québec (CAN)
Measurements185 cm / 94 kg
AffiliationsMontréal Athletic Club
NOC Canada
Medals OG
Gold 1
Silver 0
Bronze 0
Total 1


Until it was discovered that George Orton, the winner of the 2,500m Steeplechase event at the 1900 Summer Olympics, was the true holder of the title, Canadian Étienne Desmarteau was thought to be his nation’s first Olympic champion. After moving to Montreal at a young age, he worked as a metal-caster for the Canadian Pacific Railway prior to joining the city’s police force in 1901. Within a year he had gained a name for himself by saving four children and their parents in a store from a potential arsonist. He also became affiliated with the Montreal Athletic Club and won the 56 lb. weight throwing event at the 1902 Amateur Athletic Union Championships against John Flanagan, who had won one Olympic gold medal in 1900, and would win two more at the 1904 and 1908 Summer Olympics at a sport that Desmarteau himself excelled at: the hammer throw. Desmarteu set his sights on the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, but his superiors at the police department refused to give him the time off and fired him after he decided to attend anyways. In the 56 lb. event Desmarteau clinched the gold medal with his first shot, as his nearest opponent, Flanagan, only managed to get within a foot of this attempt. This feat made him one of only two non-Americans, the other being Tom Kiely, to win a gold medal in athletics at these Olympics; the United States captured the other 23. He was celebrated upon his return, and rehired by the police force, and set a new record in the 56 lb. weight throw in July 1905, several months prior to his death from typhoid fever in October. He was made a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Étienne Desmarteau Centre, used as a venue for the 1976 Olympic basketball tournament, was named in his honour.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1904 Summer Olympics Athletics CAN Étienne Desmarteau
56-pound Weight Throw, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
56-pound Weight Throw, Handicap, Men (Olympic (non-medal)) 4