PHILADELPHIA, PA – The University of Pennsylvania’s alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette (TPG), featured Michalis “Mike” Dorizas, “the Big Greek,” for his athletic and academic achievements. Born in Constantinople, where he graduated from Robert College, he represented Greece in 1906, 1908 and 1912 in throwing events at the Olympics. At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, Dorizas won the silver medal in javelin
In 1913, he moved to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania, “where he studied philosophy and continued to compete in track and field as well as football and wrestling,” TPG reported, adding that Dorizas was “a member of the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame’s second class,” and “was described by Penn Athletics as a competitor of ‘mythical proportion.’”
Known as the “Big Greek,” descriptions at the time noted that “one newspaper ran a story saying that ‘his thigh is 29 inches, equal to the girth of an average freshman.’ … Another story tells of a grudge match between a Penn State wrestler and Dorizas, which filled Weightman Gym with spectators, where Dorizas took three minutes, 50 seconds to pin his opponent— the longest bout of his career,” TPG reported.
“Most of his bouts were far shorter as he dusted off his competitors to win three straight U.S. intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling championships, never losing a single match,” TPG reported, noting that Dorizas “also broke the collegiate javelin record with a throw of 169 feet, 6 1/4 inches to become a track and field All-American while playing guard for the Quakers’ football team.”
According to Penn Archives, “for a long time Dorizas was known as possibly the strongest man to ever attend Penn and actually broke a strength-testing machine during a physical examination when he first enrolled to earn his master’s degree,” TPG reported.
Dorizas earned a master's degree in philosophy in 1915 and “remained at Penn to earn his doctorate and teach geography at the University” but also “served in the U.S. Army in France during World War I and later made three trips around the world,” TPG reported.
After the war, he served as a Greek-Turkish-English interpreter at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and as a geographer with the American Section of the International Commission on Mandates.
Dorizas was “a popular professor until his death in 1957,” TPG reported, adding that he “not only showcased photos of his exploits across Europe but also his feats of strength.” According to a Gazette article in 1943, “Dorizas told his students that while traveling in the Gobi Desert, he was attacked by a band of Mongolian bandits before winning them over by lifting one up with one hand,” TPG reported.
“On hearing this, the students gave Mike an ovation that rocked the foundations of Logan Hall,” the Gazette reported, noting that “when asked for an encore performance, Dorizas selected ‘an innocent victim’ from the crowd and lifted him up with one hand, ‘over eight feet in the air.’”