Nate Cartmell was one of the most heralded track athletes of the early 1900s for the University of Pennsylvania and when teamed with legendary coach and Hall of Fame member Mike Murphy, the duo was unstoppable.
Cartmell first ran for the Red and Blue in the fall games of 1903 as a freshman, finishing second to Dick Dear, a Washington, DC native, who had met Cartmell at southern Interscholastic meets and influenced him to come to Pennsylvania. Dr. J. K. Shell, himself a noted athlete, was the head coach of the University's track team that year.
For the first time in the history of the Intercollegiates, they were taken away from New York City’s Berkely Oval, and Franklin Field was selected for the spring meet of 1904. Murphy was at Yale that season and brought his team to Philadelphia to compete. Among his athletes was Torrey, a fine 100-yard dash man who was picked to have an even chance of winning the 100 over Schick of Harvard, who was the favorite to win the event. But they did not count in the athletic abilities of Penn freshman Cartmell, who was selected in the same preliminary heat as Torrey. The athletes dressed in an improvised shed on the South Side of the field, and those not then in competition, together with some of the coaching contingent, went to the unfinished walls of Weightman Hall to watch the race. Murphy was among those spectators, and naturally had his eyes on Torrey. The race began and down the lane they ran. Torrey flashed ahead but Cartmell was always abreast, and in a driving finish, forged two feet ahead. Coaches are not allowed near the finish and Murphy, from his position, could not see who won.
As Cartmell ran across to the dressing shed for his sweater following the race, Murphy yelled down to the freshman. "Who won? Torrey?" And Nate, naturally elated at his feat of knocking out a favorite, yelled back, "No, Sir. I did." Thus began the relationship between the great coach and his protégé.
Cartmell went on to finish second in the 100 and the 220 at the IC4As in 1904 and was selected to compete for the United States Olympic team. The rookie held his own, winning two bronze medals in his first International competition, one in the 100 and one in the 200.
After taking a year away from Penn, Cartmell returned in 1905 and Murphy came as the head track coach that same year. For three straight seasons, Cartmell and Penn proved triumphant in their track endeavors. In 1906, the Intercollegiates were held at Harvard and Penn finished second overall, while Cartmell placed first in the 100 and first in the 220. The following year, Cartmell again came away victorious in both events at the Championships and the University of Pennsylvania won the Intercollegiate Track Championship held in Cambridge.
For Cartmell's final season as a collegiate runner, he did not disappoint as captain of the Penn track team. The 1908 Intercollegiates were held at Franklin Field, and although Penn finished second behind Cornell, Cartmell earned a three-peat in both the 100 and 220-dash events. Penn's prolific sprinter went on to compete in the 1908 Olympics and won a gold medal as part of the sprint medley relay team. He also won a bronze medal for the U.S. in the 200 and recorded a fourth-place finish in the 100.
A storied track career followed Nate Cartmell through his days at Pennsylvania, and he continued his climb of track prominence after graduation. As one of only five American males to win at least three Olympic medals in the dashes, Cartmell went to compete overseas in 1909. After a loss to Bobby Kerr of Canada in the Olympic Games of 1908, Cartmell had unfinished business when he heard Kerr was again running in 1909. On a curved course, Cartmell proved the mettle that coach Mike Murphy had instilled in him, and easily defeated the Canadian and set the fastest amateur time in England in the process.
Cartmell went on to compete in what was called the Professional Championship of the World in the 220. The race was held on December 18, 1909 at Stoke-on-Kent, with the eyes of the British Empire set on the event. Cartmell won the race and title by a margin of four yards in the time of 21.5 seconds.
"Nate Cartmell is still a renowned track entity in that he is only one of five athletes to win three medals in the sprint events. He was one of a kind in his time and was one of the leaders to bring Penn track to the forefront in the early 1900s." - Dave Johnson, Penn Relay Carnival Director