Foot-Races are marquee Olympic events from ancient times and also in the modern (from 1896) revival. Yet such a difference in training, equipment, and world-records just in recent years. UP knows the foot-race well, and trains the best in UP Cross Country and Track & Field. Our own include: Josh Ilustre, ’16 representing Guam in the men’s 800 for the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Derek Mandell, ’08, who represented Guam in the men’s 800 twice, at both the 2012 and 2008 Summer Olympic games.
The first of the Holy Cross presidents at UP, Fr. Michael Quinlan, C.S.C., was a firm believer in physical fitness and competitive sports. He insisted on sports as an element of the educational mission. Hence the Columbia Colosseum, a quonset-type building with a 12-lap track and seating capacity for 1600 spectators. That is, already by the fall of 1902 our campus was furnished with an indoor track, marking the beginning of a distinguished UP legacy of accomplishment in Track & Field.
One of the prized exhibits in the University Museum is a pair of track shoes worn by Eugene “Gene” Schmitt, 1915 graduate of Columbia University Preparatory School. Old leather shoes, light-weight, unpadded, uncushioned, and wearing short sharp rusted metal spikes.
As a student-athlete, Schmitt excelled as a middle distance runner for Columbia in 1914 and 1915, competing mostly in the 220 and 440 yard races and the half-mile relay; and selected as team captain for 1915. In the 1914 scouting report (Columbiad, June 1914), Schmitt is described as “… one of the finds of the year in the 220 and 440 events. Possessing an abundance of endurance he runs like those never-tiring Spartan youths of old. His specialty is the relay.” [Spartans = Ancient Greeks!]
The 1915 season round-up (Columbiad, June 1915) gilds the lily a bit, painting disappointed frustration as high praise: “Gene was our star 440 yard dasher and he was never satisfied with lower than second place and only on one occasion was he bound to accept this latter position at the finish.” Gene valued by the student sports’ reporter as an indefatigable competitor. This respect and awe is perhaps best seen in this account of the last meet of the year, which was also Eugene Schmitt’s last track competition for Columbia. The team captain took the first leg of a relay race. During the relay Gene was “spiked badly and had to run the last two hundred yards with one shoe off and his heel terribly lacerated. His remarkable grit saved the relay for his team.” (Columbiad, June 1915). The shoes on display at the Museum show no discernible signs of blood, but Gene’s spirit continues with three grandchildren who competed for UP in soccer and tennis in the 1980s. Indeed, the fourth generation walked the commencement stage again this past May, so that today Gene Schmitt’s legacy counts four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who are proud Pilots and enthusiastic members of the University of Portland Alumni family.