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Tug-Of-War, Men

Date17 – 20 August 1920
LocationOlympisch Stadion, Antwerpen
Participants41 from 5 countries
FormatSingle-elimination tournament.

This was the last appearance of the tug-of-war in the Olympics, which made its first appearance at the 1900 Olympics, and was also held in 1904, 1906, 1908, and 1912. Presumably the sport was discontinued because of the many controversies that surrounded it. There were several inter-national disputes at the earlier Olympics, but the 1920 Olympic tug-of-war event was conducted in peace.

Great Britain won the tournament easily, winning all six of its pulls. Their team consisted of several former and current members of the London police. Three of the team members, Frederick Humphreys, Edwin Mills, and James Shepherd, won their third medals and second gold medals. They had been on the silver medal team in 1912 and the gold medal team in 1908. John Sewell also won a second medal, having been on the 1912 runner-up team.

The writing of the Official Report of the 1920 Olympic Games was restricted mostly due to the financial problems of the Organizing Committee that occurred after the Games were finished. It resulted in a simple typed report, of which few copies still exist. In addition, the report was not well written and contained many discrepancies, one of these being the results of the tug-of-war competition. Because of this, for a long time, it had been uncertain which team had really won the tug-of-war silver medal during these Olympics, because both the Americans and the Dutch claimed to have won that silver medal.

This may be illustrated by the fact that in the Official Report, the final result of the competition in “Traction á la corde” (Tug-of-war) was:

1 Grande-Bretagne (Great-Britain) 2 Hollande (The Netherlands) 3 Belgique (Belgium)

The Official Report gave a detailed description of the tug-of-war competition, which was held on 17-18 August. The last sentences of that description read:

“L’Italie déclara forfait devant les Etats-Unis. Les Etats-Unis devaient tirer contre la Hollande pour la seconde place, mais, par suite d’une erreur, l’équipe hollandaise quitta Anvers et ne revint pas pour ce match. Les Etats-Unis se trouveurent de ce fait en seconde place.”

According to this description, “the Dutch team should have pulled against the American team for second place, but because the Dutch team had already returned home, the second place was then awarded to the United States.” However, this is incorrect. The Dutch team did complete in the Bergvall competition for second place, defeating Belgium two pulls to none. In fact, in the third-place competition, the United States may have left early, and not pulled against Belgium for the bronze medal. It is not certain if the final match took place, but Belgium certainly won the bronze medal.

We list nine British athletes although only eight could pull at a time. We originally included Ernest Thorne and still have him in the results. The great-granddaughter of Alfred Read, however, has contacted us with documentary evidence that her great-grandfather was on the team and won a gold medal, and provided photographs. Thorne is not in the photographs, but it is possible that Read and Thorne pulled in different matches – there are no detailed results for tug-of-war from the 1920 Antwerpen Olympics.

1Great BritainGBRGold
George CanningFred HolmesFrederick HumphreysEdwin MillsJohn SewellJames ShepherdHarry StiffErnest ThorneAlfred Read
Wim BekkersJan HengeveldSijtse JansmaHenk JanssenAnton van LoonWillem van LoonRinus van RekumWim van Rekum
Edouard BourguignonAlphonse DucatillonRémy MaertensChristian PiekHenri PintensCharles Van Den BroeckFrançois Van HoorenbeekGustave Wuyts
4United StatesUSA
Carl BrosiusStephen FieldsSylvester GranroseLloyd KelseyJoseph KszyczewskiWilliam PennJoseph RondJoseph Winston
Adriano ArnoldoSilvio CalzolariRomolo CarpiGiovanni ForniRodolfo RambozziCarlo SchiappapietraGiuseppe TonaniAmedeo Zotti

Round One (17 August 1920)


Match #1 GBR 2 – 0
Won in 13.4 / 18.8

Semi-Finals (18 August 1920)


Match #1 GBR 2 – 0
Won in 29.4 / 38.0
Match #2 NED 2 – 0
Won in 1:11.0/43.2

Final Round (19 August 1920)


Match #1 GBR 2 – 0
Won in 28.2 / 13.4

Classification Round 2-3 (20 August 1920)

Contested by teams losing to the champion team.

Match #1 BEL 2 – 0USA
Match #2 NED 2 – 0
Won in 1:03.4 / 2:03.0

Classification Round 3rd Place (20 August 1920)

Contested by teams losing to the champion and runners-up.

Match #1 1BEL USA
Match #2 2ITA USA