How an Olympic Gold Medalist Died in the Electric Chair
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 the media did call her fat. 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 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.
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.
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 . I find this book captivating in its storytelling. It opens a window onto OSU history that I had never known before. Gold Medal Killer: The Shocking True Story of the Ohio State Professor
Snook's Ghostly Presence
Many believe that they have seen the ghost of Dr. James Snook as he haunts Green Lawn Cemetery at night.
Mapped: Dr. James H. Snook's Activities
Site of the Snooks funeral before dawn. If held later, crowds would have protested a church funeral.
Location of a boarding house that Dr. Snook rented for meeting Theora Hix near OSU Campus Medical Complex.
Site of a weed patch in which Dr. Cnook taught Theora to shoot. Two teenaged boys discovered her body here one day.
The area now is home to Nationwide Arena and an Entertainment Complex
An Ohio Historical Area
- The Columbus Dispatch Archives; 1930.
- Ohio Exploration Society. Dr. James Howard Snook. 2000. http://www.ohioexploration.com/drjamessnook.htm Retrieved 7-31-2012.
- The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. James Howard Snook. http://vet.osu.edu/education/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.
The book kept my attention and educated me about the accomplishments and foibles behind Olympic training and participation.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Patty Inglish MS