Yao Ming supports Beining 2022 Bid
International and NBA basketball star Yao Ming.

It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even clear one of the lowest bars for choosing the host city for the Winter Games: snow.

A telling first line from the New York Times regarding the IOC awarding the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing. This is the first time the same city has ever been awarded the Summer and Winter Games, probably for the obvious reason that cities big enough to host the Summer Games simply don’t have big mountains or enough snow to host the Winter Games.

The reality is, the lack of snow did not prevent Beijing from being selected. Perhaps the main reason for Beijing’s success is that the Winter Olympics are currently considered a very expensive proposition by host cities, limiting the competition significantly. The only other candidate for these games was Almaty, Kazakhstan, which actually has snow.

In fact according to Andrew Zimbalist in his insightful book, Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, the Olympics in general, and the Winter Games in particular, have had a declining number of applicants and candidates in the 21st century due to rising cost. As a recent example, he cites that Vancouver, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 is a billion dollars in debt for bailing out investors in the development of the Olympic Village, resulting in cuts in service to education,

Frank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic TrialsFrank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic Trials
Frank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic Trials

“I was 10 years old when Sammy won his first and second Olympic medals at the 1948 Games,” Frank Gorman of diving legend, Sammy Lee. “We were not able to view his triumphs on television in those days but the newspapers were full of good coverage  and I thought that he was the greatest competitor in London.”

Gorman, who won silver in the 3-meter diving competition in Tokyo, would often go as a younger, less known diver to competitions without the support of a coach. If Sammy Lee was there, he always lent a hand. “I finally got to meet Sammy at the USA National Diving Championships in the early 1950s at Yale University. I might have been the youngest competitor and was there without a coach. During the workout I met Sammy and before long he was helping me with some of my dives. I was thrilled to have the World Champ watching me. Sammy was low-key, patient and explained clearly what I should do to improve my efforts. In future years I frequently showed up at meets without a coach and Sammy was always there for me.”

Søren Svejstrup also competed as a diver at the Tokyo Games, had a very similar interaction with Lee. “I went to a meet in Los Angeles in 1960,” wrote Svjestrup. “I was all alone, and still not experienced in diving meets. And I did not know how to do a good twisting dive from the 10 meter platform. The dive I executed was a handstand, fall over where I end up diving feet first after a half salto. I’m sure no one had seen such a dive in the US because everybody laughed, but not Sammy. He told everybody that it was a classic European dive and he would give it a high mark. And if anybody wanted to try the same dive, he would like to see it. Nobody did. At the meet, Sammy scored me a ten. I was grateful, and of course I lost my heart to Sammy forever.”

Sammy Lee and Soren Svejstrup
Sammy Lee and Soren Svejstrup

Dr. Sammy Lee, a medical MD who served with the US Army Medical Corps in Korea, winner of the James E Sullivan Award as the most outstanding athlete in the United States in 1953, and a repeat champion in the 10 meter platform dive, winning gold in London in 1948, and Helsinki in 1952. In addition to countless stories of helping divers all over the world, he coached Olympic divers Pat McCormick, Bob Webster, and Greg Louganis. August 1 is Dr. Sammy Lee’s birthday! And on this day

Soren Svejstrup, greeted in Tokyo upon arrival (from the collection of Soren Svejstrup)
Soren Svejstrup, greeted in Tokyo upon arrival (from the collection of Soren Svejstrup)

Diver, Søren Svejstrup of Denmark, was performing well after the first round of the ten-meter dive competition in 1964. In the second round, Svejstrup was in fourth place and closing in on a medal opportunity. But in the end, despite error-free dives, he could not make it to the finals.

Without the pressure of the competition, the next day, Svejstrup took a ride in a car around Tokyo with friends, enjoying life as a tourist for a change. The following day, however, the 19-year old woke up in a world of pain. First the Danish team doctor told him to rest, before being taken to a hospital, where the doctors could not figure out the issue. Finally, Svejstrup was taken to a university hospital where they told the diver that his appendix was rotten, and had to be removed right away.

“At the theatre they gave me an injection in my spine, and a mirror so I could watch the whole operation. The doctor was very nice, and said ‘we will give you the smallest mark on your stomach possible, so you can look nice when you dive from the 10 meter back in Denmark’.”

It was as if his body told him, “I was patient with you. Now you need to listen to me.” As Svejstrup explained to me, “my appendix knew what to do, and what not to do.”

DickRoth_display_imageOn the other hand, swimmer, Dick Roth, simply did not listen to his body.

Roth had had a long day after the opening ceremony at the National Stadium. He went to bed around 9pm but couldn’t fall asleep, feeling pain in his stomach. He threw up several times during the night, and finally at 6am he woke up and was taken to the infirmary.

They probed and tested the 17-year old, and then sent him to a hospital at a US military base a couple of hours away. They told him they had to cut out his appendix. The surgical team was ready to operate. All he had to do was sign a paper allowing the surgery.

Roth said “No”. Several hours later, Roth’s parents were located and brought in. They were ready to sign the form – they did not even want to imagine the possibility of their son’s appendix bursting in the middle of a competition, lifetime opportunity or not.

Roth insisted on delaying the surgery, somehow convinced his parents not to authorize the surgery.

And that was it. Roth went on to set world record in the 400-meter individual medley, and take gold for the US.

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On December 6, 1956, Hungary and the Soviet Union faced off in the pool at the Melbourne Olympic Games in arguably the most famous water polo match ever.

It was only a month earlier when a spontaneous uprising by Hungarians against their Soviet overlords throughout the country was crushed by tanks and troops from the USSR. And as the fickle finger of fate always has its way, Hungary ended up in a match with the Soviet Union in the Olympic water polo semifinals.

As this fascinating Smithsonian article explains, this was not just a water polo competition. This was war.

“Within the game’s first minute, a Russian player put a hammerlock on a Hungarian and was sent to the penalty box as the crowd jeered. A Hungarian player scored the first goal, punching a Russian player on the chin with a windmill motion while shooting. The Hungarians scored three more goals, including two by Zador. They taunted the Russians, who were being shut out and becoming increasingly frustrated. Two more Russians were sent to the penalty box after slugging Hungarian players.”

Freedom's FuryThe picture up top is of Emil Zador, who was punched at the end of the match as he turned his head away from the competition for a moment, his bloodied visage a reminder that the removal of politics from the Olympic Games was a whack-a-mole experience at best.

But even more amazing than that picture is the film from that match! Here is a clip from the 2006 documentary, Freedom’s Fury, narrated by Mark Spitz. In addition to interviews of the players from that game are the spellbinding images of grappling and punching in the pool.

Hungary would go on to beat Yugoslavia to win gold. Emil Zador, the famous bloody face, stayed

don schollander_Life Magazine_30Oct1964

Don Schollander was Mark Spitz before Mark Spitz, winning four swimming gold medals and setting three world records at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. At that time, the 18-year old blonde from Lake Oswego, Oregon was one of the most popular people in Japan. As a staff writer for the Greensboro Daily New put it, “The Japanese have gone wild over him. His mother and father have given to a Japanese orphanage some 80 boxes of gifts Don received from his Japanese fans.”

And yet, when he participated on a popular game show in America called “To Tell the Truth”, several months after the 1964 Games, two of three judges failed to identify the golden boy.

The one person who wasn’t selected by the judges was contestant #1, John Farrow, the sister of actress Mia Farrow.