A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style

tamara press_tokyo 1964
Tamara Press – The Olympic Century XVIII Olympiad

Tamara Press was a phenomenon, winning gold in the shot put and discus in Rome, as well as gold in the shot put in Tokyo. She was a large woman, and as American gymnast, Ron Barak, told me in an interview, a hulking woman, fortunately with an equally hulking sense of humor.

“I was in line one day in the Olympic Village cafeteria, and right behind me, Tamara Press was waiting in line with a couple of Soviet teammates. My wife, who was fairly tiny, came rushing in. US officials had given wives of the gymnastic teams sweat suits so they could get in and out of the village. Barbie was coming to meet me for lunch, and was a bit late. She spotted me and hurried over. Focused on me, she somehow didn’t see Tamara, and butted right in front of her.”

Ron Barak 1
USA gymnast, Ron Barak

“Well, Tamara Press is a very nice person. She comes up to her from behind, grabs her elbows gently and firmly and bench presses my wife above her 6 foot frame, holding her high up like a piece of lumber. Her head was pointed to the ceiling and her back was pointed to the ground. Tamara proceeded to spin her in a revolution above her head, before finally putting her down behind Tamara in line. Barbie’s eyes were wide open in shock.”

“Because I saw Tamara smiling, I was relieved to know that we were not headed for an international incident. Everybody was watching, rather quiet at first. When Tamara quickly repeated the maneuver and this time set Barbie down in front of her and waved her finger not to cut in again, the whole place exploded in laughter. I was happy to know that I would not have to rescue my wife from someone who towered over me by at least half a foot, and easily outweighed me by more than a hundred pounds.”