The 21-year-old Frenchman Paul Masson arrived in Athens without any significant international pedigree. Yet he took the track cycling events at the newly built Neo Phaliron Velodrome by storm, winning three of the six titles on offer: the 2km sprint, the 10km and the one-lap time trial.
His first success came in the 2km sprint – six laps of the track - in which he was one of just four competitors. After early pacemaker Rosemeyer of Germany dropped out, the race came down to Masson, his compatriot Leon Flameng and Stamatios Nikolopoulos of Greece. Masson crossed the line in 4 minutes 58.2 seconds. Despite the fact that he had denied local favourite Nikolopoulos who came in second just under two seconds behind, the Greek crowd showed their appreciation, cheering the French flag as it was raised in Masson’s honour.
In the 10km event, Masson was again up against Flameng and Rosemeyer, along with Adolf Schmall of Austria and a pair of Greeks, Mr Colettis and Mr Constantinidis. Greek interest was ended straight after the race started as the two Greeks collided. Masson produced a winning time of 17 minutes 54.2 seconds, edging out compatriot Flameng in what would today be termed a photo-finish.
Finally, in the time trial, Masson cycled 333m against the clock in a time of 24.0 seconds, to win ahead of Nikolopoulos (25.0 seconds) and Austria’s Adolf Schmal (26.6 seconds).
Only one man has enjoyed great success in the track cycling at a single Games – the USA’s Marcus Hurley who won four golds in 1904 – and Masson’s record has only been equalled three times, by his compatriot Robert Charpentier in 1936, Great Britain’s Chris Hoy in 2008 and Jason Kenny in 2016. After the Athens Olympics, the Frenchman turned professional, adopting the name Paul Nossam (Masson spelled backwards), however, he never managed to recapture the dazzling heights of his Olympic performances, with his best subsequent result being a bronze medal at the 1897 World Professional Sprint Championships in Glasgow.
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