Frederic D. Tootell '23

Frederic D. Tootell '23

One of the finest athletes of his era at Bowdoin, Fred Tootell was the first Polar Bear to claim Olympic gold and became a well-known and highly respected coach and administrator in American track and field.

Tootell showed his promise as an athlete at Bowdoin, earning All-Maine and All-New England honors as a football tackle as well as starring for Bowdoin’s legendary track and field coach, Jack Magee. Already an outstanding 100-meter sprinter, Tootell had his first exposure to the hammer event at the direction of Coach Magee. As a senior, Tootell captured the national collegiate championship in the hammer throw with a distance of 175’ 1”. He also held the Bowdoin record in the event for nearly 40 years with a distance of 185’, which at the time was also the world record.

By the end of his final year at Bowdoin, Tootell’s aspirations were to coach track and field and to compete in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. In Tootell’s era, coaching the sport would have classified him as a “professional” and voided his Olympic eligibility, so he enrolled at Tufts Medical School to further his studies and prepare for the Olympic trials. Shortly before the trials, Tootell suffered a leg injury that required a cast; despite that setback he dominated the competition and joined the United States Olympic track and field team at the “Chariots of Fire” Paris Olympics. The cast was removed the morning of his competition in Paris, and with a toss of 174’ 10-1/8” he became the first American-born winner of the Olympic hammer throw.

Later that year he began teaching and coaching at Mercersburg (PA) Academy. Perhaps with his best years still ahead of him—in one track and field exhibition that year Tootell threw the hammer over 200’ on six consecutive attempts; he had trained in the sport for only five years and was the first man to break the 200’ barrier—his coaching career made him ineligible for future international competitions. Hired to coach track and field and cross country at Rhode Island State College in 1925, Tootell spent 32 years as head coach at Rhode Island, and his track and field squad captured 12 New England intercollegiate titles and the National Intercollegiate Championship in 1941. His harriers went undefeated from 1930 to 1937 and in that span accumulated a 99-28-1 record overall. In 1936 he was the coach of the United States Olympic team in field events at the Berlin Games. He was also the director of athletics at the University of Rhode Island from 1953 to 1962.

He was a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and University of Rhode Island Hall of Fame, and Sports Illustrated named him one of Maine’s top 50 athletes of the 20th century. In addition, the award honoring the most outstanding field performer at the Maine State Collegiate Track and Field meet is named in his honor, and the physical education center at URI bears his name as well. A native of Salem, New Hampshire, and Methuen, Massachusetts, Tootell lived the last 40 years of his life in Kingston, Rhode Island, and had five children. At Bowdoin, he was a pre-med and language major. His brother, the late William E. Tootell, was a member of the Class of 1938. Fred Tootell died on September 29, 1964, on the same day he retired from the University of Rhode Island.