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How an Olympic Gold Medalist Died in the Electric Chair

An educator and researcher, Patty has degrees in psychology, sports, and medicine.

The 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, first to displayed the five Olympic rings. This was also the year James Snook competed.

The 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, first to displayed the five Olympic rings. This was also the year James Snook competed.

What Happens After the Olympics?

What happens to dedicated athletes after their final Olympic events? For some, there is scandal. This is illustrated by the four women's badminton pairs from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. All four pairs sandbagged in their preliminary or semi-final events, performing obviously below their capabilities in order to gain an easier match in the final round.

After warnings were issued, all four pairs were disqualified. It was sad to watch. It was a particularly bad show since the pairs included China and South Korea, who lost face for their countries and endured harsh criticism back home after the Games. There was punishment awaiting them at home rather than the national-hero treatment.

The aftermath of the Games can be depressing. Many Olympic athletes began training at a very young age, often in the early years of elementary school, training before and after school during the week, every weekend day, and every day during school breaks.

Some athletes leave home to live with their trainers, and while they receive academic tutoring, they spend at least eight hours per day training in their sport. Sometimes, the moms go with their children to live at a gymnastics camp or other training venue.

For athletes, entering one or two Olympic Games is a full-time-plus job, with more than full-time physical, mental, and emotional investment. After the Games, all of the training suddenly ends—and the experience can be an enormous shock. This shock can affect even the most well-adjusted competitors.

The post-Olympics shock may be magnified if the athlete comes in 4th place and does not medal at all after years of hard work. What might result from such a shock?

Olympic Burnout and Recovery

From time to time, we hear about an Olympic gold medalist brought up on drunk driving charges after the end of a grueling Olympics performance. This usually occurs back home, during the letdown following prolonged Olympic training and participation. It happened to Oksana Baiul (Winter Games 1994) and Michael Phelps (Summer Games 2008) without lasting calamity, but for someone in the future, driving under the influence might be deadly.

Some ex-Olympians also gain weight, such as the beloved singles skater Oksana. She lost it eventually, but not before the media treated her cruelly. She also did this despite Russian competitors calling her a criminal for her driving citation. Other sports figures gain weight and become ill as a result.

The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, reported a bout of severe depression between the Beijing and London Olympic years, with a 25-pound weight gain, an infamous photo of himself and a lit bong, and a loss of interest in swimming.

Increasing numbers of swimmers interviewed alert the public that swimming competitively physically hurts. It is not easy, and the body can only peak so many times before a competitor burns out mentally. After training from an early age and winning numerous medals in four Olympiads over 16 years, the Phelps' mind and body were likely screaming, "No, we cannot start over and do it again!"

The overall effect was the delay of training for some of the men's swimming events in London 2012. However, Michael avoided further burnout, recovered, and won additional medals in 2012. Not all of the burned-out athletes fared so well during the modern Olympics of the last 100 years. In fact, one gold medalist committed murder.

Life After Competition and Murder Among the Buckeyes

Ohio and Ohio State University have produced many famous Olympians—over 200 in all and additional Olympic Class competitors each year. Training is hard work and succeeding after competition is over can be harder work.

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Among these OSU athletes is the track and field star Jesse Owens, the black man who won four gold medals in Germany in 1936 in front of Adolph Hitler. After the Olympics, Owens had difficulty finding any living-wage employment. After attempting several types of careers, Owens became a racehorse owner.

Other Ohio Olympians have also experienced difficulty in maintaining employment after the Olympics, but still another set has produced successful coaches, business owners, and speakers. This includes the 1984 all-around women's gold medalist, Mary Lou Retton. She has a happy marriage, a business, a charity foundation, and four children—and she still looks 16!

Jumping ahead to London 2012, the silver medal in women's 3-metre springboard synchronized diving went to Abby Johnston from Upper Arlington/Columbus, Ohio, and Kelci Bryant from Duke University. Both seem happy and ready to resume education and careers. We wish that was true for all our athletes.

Who can forget Ohio's LeBron James in the 2012 Summer Games and the controversy surrounding his NBA career? Despite changing teams and moving out of Ohio to the anger of fans (and moving back to the Cleveland team and angering fans again) his future basketball career is sound.

Twins Paul and Morgan Hamm, both medalists in men's gymnastics, had more serious difficulties—Paul with assault against a taxi driver and both with injuries. Others have experienced life-shattering events of a greater magnitude—including murder.

Gold medal winner Dr. Snook lost control of his life and became a murderer after his stint in the olympics.

Gold medal winner Dr. Snook lost control of his life and became a murderer after his stint in the olympics.

Pistols in Belgium and Ohio

After the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, one of the gold medalists on the U.S. pistol team entered into an affair that he felt he could not end.

Ohioan James Howard Snook, born in West Lebanon, Ohio, became a veterinarian after the Olympics, training diligently at the Veterinary School at OSU in Columbus. He made other accomplishments as well, becoming the head of the Veterinary Department and inventing a surgical tool used in animal spaying.

Dr. Snook was well accomplished and lived happily, from all appearances, with his wife and family. His life seemed positive for a decade after his wonderful Olympic win, but after seven years, around 1927 and before the stock market crash, something went wrong.

Dr. Snook entered into a three-year affair with a female medical student named Theora Hix. Alleging that he feared Hix would kill his family (he had taught her to shoot a pistol), Dr. Snook maintained that he hit her in the head with a hammer, slit her throat, and killed her solely in order to protect his loved ones.

The jury did not believe this story. The ensuing murder trial included graphic descriptions of intimate activities considered shocking and perverse, even in the Roaring Twenties. Also shocking was the revelation that Theora Hix reportedly had several other lovers simultaneous to her affair with the veterinarian.

Dr. Snook was executed in Ohio's electric chair at the old Ohio Penitentiary on Neil Avenue in Columbus in February 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression.

Dr. James Howard Snook was buried in Section 87 at Green Lawn Cemetery after an early morning funeral service at King Avenue Methodist Church, just south of the OSU Campus at King and Neil Avenues, and a few blocks north of the penitentiary. Family disguised his tombstone to read "James Howard. 1879–1930." Buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on the Near South Side of Columbus, Dr. Snook's headstone does not list his real surname. This omission was perhaps intended to protect the name of the veterinary tool he invented (the "Snook Hook") or to prevent his grave and body from being vandalized by the public.

To learn more about his story, I recommend reading Gold Medal Killer: The Shocking True Story of the Ohio State Professor. I find this book captivating in its storytelling. It opens a window onto OSU history that I had never known before.

Mapped: Dr. James H. Snook's Activities


  • The Columbus Dispatch Archives; 1930.
  • Ohio Exploration Society. Dr. James Howard Snook. 2000. Retrieved 7-31-2012.
  • The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. James Howard Snook. Retrieved 7-31-2012.
  • Wilson, Rusty. The Ohio State University at the Olympics: A Biographical Dictionary of Athletes, Alternates, Administrators, Coaches and Trainers. McFarland; 2009.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS


Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on August 01, 2012:

I found your hub very interesting. Voted up.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 01, 2012:

I agree that the boy's condition might have been medical. I knew him only ages 4-6, but he never seemed to speak or interact with others much or to have much awareness of his surroundings.

Plus, to enter the Olympics from USA, students must gain admittance into the USA Taekwondo organization, and not all applicants are accepted. Then they have to fight for a spot on a 4-person team. That's not many slots. That all was a big promise to make.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on August 01, 2012:

That is so sad. That boy must have some emotional baggage carrying around. That Taekwondo school made a promise they couldn't keep and there is no way to be sure you will have someone in the Olympics unless they display raw talent. This child's problem could be medical.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 01, 2012:

ThoughtSandwiches - Some Asian countries have a proverb that I adopted: "When you reach the top of the mountain, climb higher!" This is a sort of planning for the next dream, I think.

If you ever see a scene made of cork in a thin glass case in a Chinese restaurant, this is a sort of proverb as well - 'anything perfect is dead.' So, there is always somewhere else to proceed, if we can see where to look for it.

Michael Phelps felt bad about swimming a race without a medal at all, but he got his sense of humor back and won a couple more in 2012. I think he did so much in Beijing, it is impossible for mind and body to do ALL of that again.

Cardisa - I think it cannot be an easy life to train for so many years for 1 or a few events to be performed a few times over 8 or 16 years of Olympics. There is not much life except school and sport. Where does one begin afterword, I wonder? It must be disorienting, at least. I hope that Mr. Bolt and the others will be OK.

Difficult also are some trainers that make promises to a trusting public. In my neighborhood, a morbidly obese child at age 4 (a boy that was constantly overfed by his mom) was recruited into a Taekwondo school that promised 100% that the boy would be in the Olympics in 10 years. After a few years of high-priced training, the school dropped him as untrainable, because of increased obesity. The family moved, but I hope they received help, especially the child, who was not healthy.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on August 01, 2012:

Wow, I was glued to every word and I am just realizing what goes on with our athletes after these bigger than life events. Usian Bolt is said to party, drink and become quite the party boy when he's home. Some folks are worried he may not perform at his usual standard. I can imagine Alia Atkinson's feelings right now after a bronze medal slipped just out of her reach.

As a spectator we assume that these people are fine and when they do something out of the ordinary we say they are just being that way because they are stars. I will never again criticize another athlete who does something weird or out of the ordinary after competing in one of the events.

There are many who have also committed suicide, go on drugs and become virtually useless. Thanks for sharing this, you really enlightened me.

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on August 01, 2012:

hi Patty,

This is very interesting information that I was completely in the dark about. As I was reading it I was caught up in the thought that no matter what your accomplishments in need to keep on striving (rather like...what have you done lately type of thing).

I can easily imagine how difficult it would be (mentally) to keep pushing after the burnout phase hits. What do you do after you reached the pinnacle of your dream...find ANOTHER dream? That's not always easy.

Excellent job!


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