George Louis Eyser (August 31, 1870 – March 6, 1919) was a German-American gymnast who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics, earning six medals in one day, including three gold and two silver medals. Eyser competed with a wooden prosthesis for a left leg, having lost his real leg after being run over by a train. Despite his disability, he won gold in the vault, an event which then included a jump over a long horse without aid of a springboard.
Eyser was born on August 31, 1870 in Kiel, Germany as the only child of Georg Sophus Jasper Eÿser and Auguste Friederike Henriette Eÿser (née Marxen). When he was 14, his family emigrated to the United States (Eyser obtained US citizenship in 1894). The family first lived in Denver, Colorado, but George moved to St. Louis, Missouri sometime around 1902-1903 where he worked as a bookkeeper for a construction company. There, he joined a local gymnastics club Concordia Turnverein Saint Louis. At some point in his youth, he lost most of his left leg, which had to be amputated after a train ran over it. It was replaced by a wooden prosthesis which allowed physical activities such as running and jumping. A keen sportsman, Eyser pursued training, aiming for the 1904 Olympics.
The 1904 Olympics, held in St. Louis, were the third Olympics and the first ones where gold, silver and bronze medals were introduced for the first three places. Cups or trophies were given to the winners at the previous games. The 1904 games in general had a confusing program of events, which were spread out over several months, and the gymnastics competition was no different. There were two sets of gymnastic events: International Turners' Championship, which was held on July 1–2 and comprised the all-around, triathlon, and team events, and Olympic Gymnastics Championships, held on October 29, which comprised seven individual apparatus events and the combined event. The individual all-around was a combination of the gymnastic triathlon competition and the athletics triathlon. The team competition was a combination of individual scores from the individual all-around. The parallel bars, horizontal bar, vault, and pommel horse scores for each gymnast were summed to get the "combined" score.
Eyser competed in both sets and did poorly in the first one. He was placed 10th in gymnastic 9-event all-around competition, which included 3 routines on both the horizontal bar and parallel bars, two on pommel horse and one on vault. Eyser was 71st in another gymnastic all-around event, which included the same devices, but smaller number of routines. He also competed in the athletics triathlon, but finished the last with the results of 8 m (26.1 ft) in shot put, 15.4 s in 100 meters sprint and 4 m (13 ft) in the long jump.
Eyser performed much better in the second competition set. On a single day of October 29, he won 6 medals in total, of which 3 were gold (parallel bars, long horse vault, and 25-foot rope climbing), two silver (pommel horse and 4-event all-around), and one bronze (horizontal bar). His main rival was another American, Anton Heida, who also won 6 medals, 5 gold and one silver. Heida shared gold with Eyser in the vault, was second after Eyser on parallel bars, but won the horizontal bar, pommel horse, all-around and team competitions. In the team competition, which was then held by the clubs, Concordia finished fourth.
Prior to 2008, Eyser was the only person with an artificial leg to have competed at the Olympic Games. Later, in 2008 Natalie du Toit,a South African swimmer who lost her left leg in a traffic accident, participated in the 10 km swimming marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and finished 16th., and in 2012 Oscar Pistorius, a South African double-leg amputee runner, participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in the 400-metre race and the 4x400 relay.
After his Olympic success, Eyser continued competing for Concordia, with the club winning the 1908 international meet in Frankfurt, Germany, and the 1909 national meet in Cincinnati, Ohio. He died on March 6, 1919 in Denver, CO.