At some point of his youth George Eyser lost most of his left leg. It had to be amputated after a train ran over it, and was replaced by a wooden prosthesis which allowed physical activities such as running and jumping. Despite his disability he still took part in the 1904 Summer 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, as opposed to cups or trophies 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, held on July 1-2 and Olympic Gymnastics Championships, held on October 29.
Eyser competed in both competition sets and did poorly in the first, but performed much better in the second 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 or 7.62 meter rope climbing), 2 silver (pommel horse and 4-event all-around), and 1 bronze (horizontal bar). A fact that makes his gold in the horse vault discipline so significant is that, it then included a jump over the long horse without the aid of a springboard.
Prior to 2008, Eyser was the only person with an artificial leg to have competed at the Olympic Games. In 2008, Natalie du Toit, a South African swimmer who lost her left leg in a traffic accident, participated in the 10 km marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and finished 16th.