• At the Nazi Olympics, held in Germany in 1936, Adolf Hitler hoped to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race. However, African-American track star Jesse Owens, who was representing the United States, demolished that myth by winning four gold medals. A German athlete named Luz Long helped him to win one of the gold medals. To qualify for the long jump finals, Mr. Owens needed to make one of three attempts to jump a certain distance. Unfortunately, Mr. Owens committed faults on his two attempts. At this time, Mr. Long introduced himself to Mr. Owens and said, “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed.” Because Mr. Owens had faulted due to stepping on the take-off line instead of jumping before he reached it, Mr. Long put a towel on the ground a few inches before the take-off line, and Mr. Owens used that as the mark for his takeoff. On his third and final attempt, Mr. Owens qualified easily. The following day, Mr. Owens won the gold medal in the long jump, and Mr. Long won the silver medal. The two athletes, one black and one white, walked off arm in arm. Hitler was not pleased.
• At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, high winds made sailing dangerous. In fact, Singapore teammates Joseph Chan and Shaw Her Siew were thrown into the water and injured in a competition. Sailing in a different race nearby was Canadian Lawrence Lemieux, who immediately stopped racing to win a medal and instead started racing to save two lives. He first hauled Mr. Chan aboard, then sailed to rescue Mr. Siew. After rescuing the two men, victory was impossible for Mr. Lemieux, but he finished 22ndout of 32 boats. The authorities decided to award Mr. Lemieux second place for this, the fifth race of a seven-race competition because he was in second place when he started his dramatic rescue. All competitors agreed that this was fair. Unfortunately, Mr. Lemieux did not win a medal at the Olympics; however, at the ceremony for the medal winners, the President of the International Olympic Committee told Mr. Lemieux, “By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice, and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal.”
• In 1956, the Olympics came to Australia — so did satirist Stan Freberg. He opened his comedy concerts by parodying the carrying of the Olympic torch, which was then making its way from town to town in Australia. Mr. Freberg, wearing a blue suit, would arrive at the comedy concert venue carrying the Olympic torch and make his way to the stage — where he allowed a confederate to use the torch to light his cigar.
• Women’s gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the major star of the 1984 Olympic Games, in large part because she won the gold medal in the all-around competition by scoring a perfect 10 in her final event: the vault. Before the 1988 Olympic Games, Kristie Phillips was repeatedly compared to Ms. Retton. In 1986, she said, “I guess it’s good exposure for me to be Mary Lou Number Two, but I’d rather be Kristie Number One.”
• At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, Soviet Olga Korbut captured the hearts of sports fans everywhere with her open personality that reflected happiness or sadness and with her incredible flexibility and gymnastics skills. Fans were so taken with her that at one point when the television coverage broke away for a commercial, the announcer said, “We’ll be back with the Olga Korbut show in just a minute.”
• After boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali, won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he wore it constantly. He even wore it to bed, even though he had to sleep on his back to keep the medal from digging into his skin. His father was just as proud of the medal as young Cassius, and he celebrated by painting the front steps to their home red, white, and blue.
• At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, John Walker, the 1,500-meter track champion from New Zealand, drank a few beers in order to come up with enough urine for his mandatory drug test following his gold medal-winning performance. Finally succeeding in his objective, he held the bottle up and said, “I’m very proud of this. It was harder than running the race.”
• At the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896, a woman named Melpomene wanted to compete in the marathon, but no women were allowed to compete back then. She ran anyway — not on the road the men ran on, but off to the side, so often she had no decent surface to run on. She finished one-and-a-half hours behind the winner.
• Jackie Joyner-Kersee became an Olympic gold medalist through lots of rigorous practice and training. When she was young, her family built her a long-jump pit near their porch. To get sand for the pit, Jackie and her sisters went to a nearby playground, filled empty potato chip bags with sand, then carried the sand back home.
• To get ready for the 1996 Olympic Games, softball shortstop Dot Richardson installed a batting cage in her apartment, and she practiced whenever she felt like it. One day, she discovered this note on the door to her apartment: “Please train for the Olympics a little earlier in the evening. Thanks.”
• At the 1896 Olympic Games in Greece, American swimmer Gardner Williams performed poorly. He was used to swimming in indoor pools, and when he jumped into the very cold Bay of Zea to swim in the 100-meter race, he yelled, “I’m freezing!” — then climbed back onto the pier.
• At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Native American Billy Mills pulled off a major upset when he won the 10,000-meter race. His victory was so unexpected that after Mr. Mills won the race, a Japanese race official was forced to ask him, “Excuse me, what is your name?”
• Before the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Olga Korbut was motivated to succeed. In fact, a 1970 entry in her diary stated, “1972, Munich, Olympic Games — 1st place.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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