28 November 2009

Object #4 Granite Ball

“The circle is the first, the most simple, and the most perfect figure.”

-Proclus (411-485), Greek philosopher

I found this simple, not quite perfectly spherical granite ball in Japan. It is added to a growing collection of spheres. It exact purpose is unknown and a discussion amongst friends in Japan make the most likely original purpose a shot put. While it might seem strange to imagine someone substituting stone for metal, rural areas in Japan often craft impromptu objects when official versions couldn't be had. If this seems unlikely consider the story of Robert Garrett.

Robert Garrett represented the United States in the first modern 1896 Olympics in Athens. Born to a well to do family, Garrett had been the captain of the Princeton track team. In an age before an organized Olympic committee, the Olympics were truly amateur and there was little or no support for the athletes. Almost anyone could participate, but everyone was responsible for getting themselves to the games. Garrett being wealthy not only paid for himself, but paid the cost of the transatlantic crossing for three of his team mates. While he specialized in the shot put he also participated in various jumping events. After a suggestion by a professor that he try out the discus as well, Garrett commissioned a blacksmith to make a discus based on various classical sculptures in New England museums. With this as his only guide the blacksmith made a metal discus which weighted 30 pounds. After several attempts Garrett quickly gave it up as impossible.

At the games Garrett won the gold in the shot put, as well as silver in both the high jump and long jump. Watching the discus event he discovered that the true discuses were made of wood and weighted less than 5 pounds. At the urging of others he entered the event at the spur of the moment. Having never practiced in the event Garrett spun wildly before releasing the discus. With little or no control the discus flipped end over end in the air and the first throw went foul. The other athletes and crowd enlivened by Garrett's enthusiasm and comically unconventional style cheered him on. Throw two, much to the joy of the crowd, nearly hit someone in the bleachers, but the third and final throw was fair and won him the gold metal.

In the following Olympics in Paris Garrett won two bronzes in the shot put and standing triple jump. He also participated in the discus again; all three throws hit trees.

Later in life he became a banker and a collector of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts eventually donating his collection of 10,000 pieces to the Princeton library.

I love people like Robert Garrett.