He’s someone whose history is somewhat stuck between two countries, the U.S. and Canada.
He was a Canadian, but for many decades was claimed by the U.S. and thought to be American by most Canadians, if they thought of him at all. In fact most Canadians today have ever heard of him, and probably not many Americans remember him either.
Yet George Washington Orton was extremely well-known in his day. A world class athlete, first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal, a brilliant scholar and promoter of social programmes involving athletics
Mark Hebscher, sports broadcaster and now author delved into the mystery of this forgotten yet amazing Canadian in his new book, The Greatest Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of”.Listen
It took Hebscher some two years to ferret out information on G.W. Orton, although over 100 years ago he was famous in the athletic world, and virtually a household name. In the late 1800’s, Orton was a star athlete in Canada, but when he left to the U.S to continue his studies, the Canadian press lost virtually all interest.
Canada was still a young country at the time, and there was a sentiment that Canadians who left for the U.S were “traitors” of sorts.
The Americans for their part thought he was one of theirs. After all his name, George Washington Orton was just so American and he competed while at the University of Pennsylvania, and often with the university letter “P” on his jersey in international competitions.
Able to speak several languages, author, world class competitor in long distance running, he was also a skillful competitor in hockey and lacrosse, and all this in spite of the fact he had suffered a brain injury as a three year old that left him unable to walk for years along with a permanent loss of most function in his right arm.
Hebscher’s book also covers some other interesting details about early developmental aspects of sport in North America, and how many Canadians were involved in promoting sport in the U.S.
The book points out how this Canadian helped promote several sports in the U.S, including track, hockey, lacrosse, and North American style football, being the first to propose putting numbers on football jersey’s so that fans could better follow individual players and thus increase interest as a spectator sport.
He also promoted the social aspects of sport for children helping with the promotion of playgrounds for children.
Indeed he was incredibly accomplished at many things and was also a family man, although his marriage suffered as he was away from home so often either competing or involved with other duties.
He never hid his Canadian background, but also in typical Canadian fashion never made a big deal of it, nor for that matter of his multitude of accomplishments.
It is clear that if he were alive today, Canada would love to claim him, and perhaps now, thanks to this revelation in Hebscher’s book, he will finally get at least a degree of public recognition from his homeland.