SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Our marathon man of trivia is A.J. Jacobs, who once read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica to learn more and get a book contract. Why didn't he just write 50 Shades of Knowledge? A.J. joins us now to talk about Olympic facts, some of which may actually be true.
A.J., thanks for being with us.
A.J. JACOBS: And thank you for having me.
SIMON: Let's start with the marathon, A.J. Apparently, one of your favorite athletes in history was Spiridon Louis, who was the winner of the first modern marathon back in 1896.
JACOBS: He's a hero of mine. This was the Olympic Games in Athens. And why he's heroic is that in the middle of the race he stopped at a tavern and had a glass of cognac, or wine. Some people - there's a bit of a debate. But there's booze, nonetheless. So he sort of combined the marathon and a pub crawl, which I think is a lovely idea if there's an entrepreneur out there who wants to take advantage of that.
SIMON: Lots of attention these Olympics to Oscar Pistorius, the great South African runner who'll be competing in the 400 meters using carbon fiber prosthetic legs. You say he's not the first person to compete in the games with an artificial limb.
JACOBS: No. Back in 1904, there was an American gymnast named George Eyser, and he won three gold medals for the vault, parallel bars and rope climbing, which they don't have anymore. But he lost his leg when he was a kid in a train accident, but it didn't stop him. And the only mystery to me is why this has not been made into a movie. I mean, this is like "Chariots of Fire," but, you know, times three.
SIMON: Boy. You found out something about a Japanese pole vaulter who was in the 1936 Olympics.
JACOBS: Right. This is a heartwarming story. There were two Japanese pole vaulters who tied for second place, but they refused to participate in a tiebreaker. So instead, they cut their medals in half and they fused them together. So they were half silver, half bronze. So brilver or sonze or whatever you call that. I'm not sure.
SIMON: Excuse me. Let me mark the date. I actually learned something talking to you.
SIMON: A fact a gather that you're on to. Dr. Benjamin Spock, the great child care expert, who was responsible for ruining the lives of both of our parents - considering what we became - he was an Olympic gold medalist.
JACOBS: That's right. I didn't know this. But in the 1924 Olympics he was on the American rowing team, and he won the gold medal. And it turned out he loved boats. He lived for about 20 years on a houseboat later in his life. Not on the actual boat that you row. That would be a little tight.
SIMON: A.J., thank you very much once again.
JACOBS: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: A.J. Jacobs, editor at large at Esquire magazine and the author most recently of "Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection." Are you there yet, A.J.?
JACOBS: I was there and then I sort of drifted off. But always working.
SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.