By Peter Joffre Nye
Athletic prowess runs in the Gronkowski family. New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski’s great grandfather was Ignatius (Iggy) Gronkowski, who rode in the 1924 Paris Olympics road race.
For the 1924 Olympics, all sports team directors were on their own to find housing. As a result, Iggy Gronkowski (1897-1981) and his six teammates had to make do sleeping in a horse barn outside Paris. The riders complained that they were often woken up in the night when horses kicked the walls of their stalls, stomped around, and were noisy when they munched straw.
The 188-km road race was not the mass start we’re familiar with but an individual time trial. Riders had one-speed bikes. The course went out into the countryside, and riders were on their own in traffic and dealing with intersections and railroad crossing—some riders, including American Victor Hopkins, were forced to wait till a train passed through.
Iggy finished 45th among 72 starters, in 7:34:41.8. He was the second U.S. rider, behind Bonlicault, 33rd, time of 7:15:51.6. The US team finished 11 of 22 teams.
Harry Hopkins, whose father is U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame Inductee Victor Hopkins, said his dad talked about how the USA cycling team was promised entry into the Tour de France if they finished first in the team competition. American road racing in that era was something that clubs occasionally organized, with events usually 100-km or less. So the Olympics 188-km TT a tough task for the Americans. So, American participation in the Tour would have to wait for more than another half century.
In another interesting historical side note, the 1924 group photo including Iggy Gronkowski (second from left) looks as if the men had shaved their legs. They could be the first U.S. team with shaved legs.
Peter Joffre Nye, a longtime board member of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, is working on an updated edition of his book “Hearts of Lions: The Epic Saga of American Road and Track Bicycle Racing.”