Abel R. Kiviat
track and field
A member of the United States track and field team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, Kiviat participated in one of the greatest competitions of the 20th Century. During this time, Americans dominated the 1500-meter race, and Kiviat was the best among American runners; he had broken the world record three times leading up to the Games. In what would be called "the greatest race ever run" up to that point by chronicler Cordner Nelson, Kiviat took the lead on the last lap and stood poised to win the gold medal. As the favorite, Abel expected to win and with only 50 meters left, he had a slight lead over the pack, including fellow American Norman Taber and Britain's Arnold Jackson. Kiviat, Taber, and Jackson pulled away from the rest of the field in the final meters, but unfortunately, Jackson had a bit more than the Americans, finishing in 3:56.8, with Kiviat and Taber finishing in 3:56.9. In what would be one of the earliest photo finishes, Kiviat was awarded the silver medal.
Following the race, many were surprised that Kiviat had finished second and speculated that he had spent too much time concentrating on Taber and forgot about Jackson. Kiviat, however, later said: "Of course you always watch your rival in any race, but that's not why I lost. To this day (1960s), I still don't know why I lost. (But) why did I run so conservatively?" During the Games, Abel was a one-time roommate of the great Jim Thorpe (1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon winner). According to Jewish Sports Legends, Kiviat was the oldest living American Olympian at the time of his death at age 100 in 1992.
Abel, one of the world's best middle-distance runners in the 1910s, simultaneously held the world indoor records in the 600-yard, 1000-yard, and one-mile events (he is the only person to ever accomplish that feat). An outstanding all-around athlete, Abel loved playing football and baseball while in high school, but realized his slight 110-poung frame could not take the pounding in football. A resident of Staten Island, New York (and the only Staten Islander to ever compete in the Olympics), Kiviat continued to play baseball, and was named PSAL first team at shortstop in 1909; that night, he also won the half-mile and mile in the PSAL Championships! In August of that year, while still in high school, Kiviat set his first world record by winning the 2/3 mile run (2:47.2) at the Canadian National Championships.
By 1911, Abel was one of the best runners in the country; he won the AAU 600-yard and 1,000-yard indoor championships, the first time anyone had won both races (he would repeat the feat in 1913, winning both races on the same night). That year, Abel also established the U.S. Indoor Mile record (4:18.2), and broke the world record in the 1500-meters three times in a span of 13 days, including his performance at the 1912 U.S. Olympic trials; his time of 3:55.8 would stand for five years. Kiviat won nine U.S. national championships between 1911-1914 at various distances. Following World War I, Abel continued his racing career, specializing in indoor running. After retiring in 1925, he maintained his interest in the sport by serving as a press steward at major events.
At the 1984 L.A. Games, Kiviat was honored as a torch-bearer, and carried the torch again at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Abel was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1985, and is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The Abel R. Kiviat Memorial Track and Field is held annually at Curtis High School in Staten Island.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. June 23, 1892 - d. Aug. 24, 1992
New York City
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
PHOTOGRAPHS AND OTHER IMAGES
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)