1912_Summer_Olympics_poster

Going au natural was considered not only natural, but beautiful, in ancient Greece. The nude athlete is a powerful image in Greece. It is said that when a runner named Orsippus of Megara lost his loincloth in the midst of a sprint, he was said to run even faster, gaining him victory and fame. Running naked became a competitive advantage.

As archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered the site of ancient Troy in the late 19th century, captured the imagination of people the world over, the thinking and customs of the ancient Greece became idealized. The nude athlete in particular was de rigeur in posters advertising the early Olympic Games.

1920 antwerp olympics poster

In fact, from 1912 to 1936, the male body was the main feature of the Olympic poster, with the 1912 Stockholm Olympic poster being the most, how shall we say, intriguing, showing that there’s a lot you can do with a ribbon. And after World War I ravaged Europe, the Olympics came to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920, where the poster also employed a fully nude man, private parts covered this time by a swirling towel.

1924 Paris Olympics poster

The French were not so revealing, but the poster for the 1924 Paris Olympics did emphasize the bare chests and midriffs of virile young men ready to go into athletic battle. The poster for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics was less suggestive, but still featured a yearning half-nude man.

Then, there are the prudish Americans, who featured a man of chiseled musculature, but whose torso was covered by a white t-shirt.

The Germans in 1936, the Brits in 1948 and the Finns in 1952 all did variations on a theme with the male body, until the Aussies came along and changed the look and feel dramatically. They removed the human, and replaced it with, what looks like a card, or invitation to the Olympic Games.

Nude guys were no longer a thing.

1932 Los Angeles Olympics poster

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American Rudy Scholz closes down France_s Henri Galau during the infamous 1924 Olympic Rugby final
Rudy Scholz closes down France’s Henri Galau during the infamous 1924 final

Which national team has been the most successful in Olympic rugby history?

The United States.

Not known for its rugby prowess today, a team from America has taken gold twice in the Olympics. Of course, rugby union was an Olympic event only four times – 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924. After that, rugby did not make an Olympic appearance until the 2016 Rio Olympics. America took gold at rugby’s last Olympic appearance in the 20th century – the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Why rugby no longer made the Olympic list of eligible sports after 1924 is unclear to me. Maybe it was a challenge to amass large teams for overseas competition at the time, as only three teams participated in the Paris Games: host France, Romania, and the United States. The American team was, I believe, primarily a squad of 22 from Stanford University, which had to raise $20,000 to pay for their travel to Europe, their training in England and their time in France.

Another reason may have been that unseemly gamesmanship left a sour taste in the mouths of the IOC.

According to Wikipedia, the Americans apparently were initially refused entry into the country, but still forced their way off their ship. The Americans claim that seasickness and the long trip made them very eager to disembark, while the French immigration officials viewed the Americans as “streetfighers and saloon brawlers.” Indeed there was apparently a fight at the docks between Americans and Frenchmen, getting the rugby rivalry off to a roaring start.

What followed, according to reports, was the following:

  • Games between local French clubs and the visiting American squad were suddenly cancelled.
  • The American team was told to hold their workouts on open lots near their hotel instead of proper fields of play.
  • The Americans were denied permissions to film their first match against Romania under the pretext that a French company had sole rights to film all rugby matches (although they were eventually given permission to do so)
  • And just to sprinkle salt on the wounds, the Americans returned to their rooms to find about $4000 worth of cash and possessions stolen despite a guard being on duty, according to this site.

Apparently, captain Norman “Cleaveland and his teammates were not very happy, and because of their treatment in the press, the American side was now being cursed and spat upon on in the streets of Paris. The American expatriate community in Paris was even staying well clear of them.”

Since there were only three teams, there were only three rugby matches actually played at the 1924 Olympics: France vs Romania, US vs Romania, and France vs the US. Both France and American handled Romania handily. So the press quite happily had their dream grudge match, a finals between the US and France. Here’s how this article describes the setting:

May 18th started as another hot day in an unseasonably warm string of spring days in Paris. A crowd of between 35,000 and 40,000 people gathered for the rugby final and the awarding of the first medal of the 1924 Olympic Games. As the team entered the stadium from a tunnel, they noted that the Olympic officials had elected to install a tall wire fence around the stadium to restrain the crowd. The American side wore white uniforms, blue belts, and white stockings hooped with red and blue. An American shield was sewed to the front of their jumpers. Wearing white shorts and blue stockings, the French took the field in their famous blue jumper badged with a cock.

All in all, a fairly normal start….except perhaps for the tall wire fence. Very quickly in the match, one of the speedy French players, Adolphe Jauguery, was flattened by an American winger named “Left” Rogers. Jauguery was taken off the field, unconscious and bleeding, and the crowd quickly turned on the Americans.

In the end, Team USA won the gold medal in a hard-fought match 17-3. The American press in Paris, were of course sympathetic and supportive of their American boys.

The headline for this Associated Press report from May 18, 1924, was “Americans Win Double Victory.”

The American Olympic Rugby football team won two great victories today at the Colombes stadium. The first was their defeat of France in the Olympic Rugby match, 17 to 3. The second was a victory over themselves in not losing their tempers under great provocation from what was termed by spectators as unfair and unjust a crowd as ever attended a sporting event. The American players were booed and hissed throughout the game, at the raising of the American flag on the Olympic flagpole was the occasion for a demonstration of booing and catcalling and the strains of the American national anthem were almost drowned out by the din raised by the seemingly infuriated spectators.

And just in case Americans weren’t outraged enough, here is the kicker. Not only was the unsportsmanlike conduct by the French in the battle on the pitch, the American claimed the same was true in the stands.

A fist fight then broke out in the stands and degenerated into a battle royal in which gold headed canes were freely used. The Americans were outnumbered and furthermore, they carried no canes with which to retaliate. When the police managed to disentangle the combatants, B. F. Larse of Provo, Utah and Gideon William Nelson of DeKalb Ill, two American students in Paris, were found to have been knocked out. Both men had to be carried out of the stand. Nelson was unconscious for an hour. When he recovered, it is said, he began looking for a bewhiskered man who carried a heavy cane.

Fake news, perhaps, but kinda fun.

Benjamin Spock with children
Dr. Benjamin Spock

One of the most famous names in America in pediatric health, at least in the 20th Century, was a man named Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book, Baby and Child Care, was a perennial best seller and the bible on child care. The only other book to outsell his in America – the actual Bible.

What I didn’t know was that Spock was a gold medalist, a member of the American eight-man crew that was so dominant at the 1924 Paris Olympics that their time of 6 minutes and 33 seconds was almost 16 seconds faster than the second-placed Canadian crew.

A renown expert in the medical field, an Olympic champion, Spock was a name in America few did not know. And yet, despite a relatively wealthy upbringing, he was not born with confidence and expectations of greatness. As he explains in the book, Tales of Gold: An Oral History of the Summer Olympic Games Told by America’s Gold Medal Winners, Spock explained that his mother was a very devoted tyrant, and his father was a self-made man who was obsessed with status, proud to have been a member of the finest and exclusive social clubs at Yale University.

When Spock entered Yale, I believe around 1921, he wrote:

I felt very unsure of myself. I felt unpopular and unable to compete with other boys. I felt like a sissy, a mother’s boy, and I was timid. I was afraid they might bully me and that I would not be able to do the things they were able to do.

Sports was an acceptable avenue of exploration, and he continued his focus on the high jump, which he trained in at his high school. But try as he could, he could not improve beyond mediocrity. One day in his freshman year, he walked by the rowers in the Yale gym. In rowing, height can be an advantage. Despite his skinny frame, Spock was tall, six feet four inches (1.9 meters), and so caught the eye of the captain of Yale’s rowing team.

“What sport do you go out for?”, said the captain.

“High jumping,” said Spock.

“Why don’t you go out for a man’s sport?” said the captain.

To Spock, who yearned to be seen as a man’s man, these were the words that struck his soul. To be seen as having potential in one of the most respected and manly of sports at the time – rowing – was a revelation. “I was elated. The captain of the crew thought that I might be crew material! That had never occurred to me.”

Benjamin Spock
From the book, Tales of Gold

Granted, the Yale squad was one of the worst crew teams in the United States. As Spock described, their technique was outdated. “You’d lie way, way back to get the length of the stroke and pull the oar up almost to your chin and shove it away.” But during Spock’s freshman year, the rowing committee at Yale decided it was time to change things up, so they hired a coach out of Washington named Ed Leader, who transformed the stroke and the team.

In two years under Leader’s leadership, Yale’s rowing team went from worst to first, and Spock’s eight-man crew defeated a crew made up of US Navy officers fairly handily, earning the right to compete at the Paris Summer Olympic Games. In Paris, the American eight from Yale were considered favorites with perennial favorites, The Thames Rowing Club of Great Britain. Fortunately for the US, the Thames Rowing Club had in Paris only four members of the crew which won the prestigious Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta the previous year, perhaps paving a golden path for Spock and his team.

Baby and Child Care coverAs Spock wrote about his team’s gold-medal-winning finals, “the race itself was an anticlimax. We won by, I think, 3-and-a-half boat lengths. You’re not meant to win a race that short by as much as a boat length.”

Spock graduated from Yale, and then got his doctor of medicine at Columbia University, launching a career to become America’s most famous pediatrician. Interestingly, Spock became very critical of putting children or young adults into “excessive competition”, worrying that parents were putting too much pressure on their children. “The problem is,” he wrote in 1985 in Tales of Gold, “that Americans are meant to be the best in everything.” He even had thoughts about parenting in Japan, arguably an early hotbed for prototypical Tiger Moms.

I was visiting Japan, and if any country is worse than the U.S. for competitive youngsters, it is Japan. Their educators told me that a shocking number of elementary school children commit suicide and that the number is going up every year. They commit suicide because they don’t think they’re getting grades high enough to satisfy their parents. What kind of society is that in which children have to kill themselves because they can’t compete?

Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku
Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku

In the summer of 1921, Johnny Weissmuller broke the world record for the 100-yard event in open water. The previous owner of that record was Duke Kahanomoku, the amazing Hawaiian swimmer who won five medals over three Olympics spanning the years 1912 to 1924.

As Weissmuller won race after race, and broke record after record, the lanky, broad-shouldered boy from Chicago was building a reputation for invincibility. No one could beat him as he crossed over into 1922. But many at the time believed that, until he defeated the champion from the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Duke Kahanamoku, Weissmuller would not be considered the fastest swimmer in the world.

At the end of June, 1922, a faceoff was looking very likely as the AAU National Championships were being held off the beaches of Honolulu Hawaii, where Kahanmoku lived. And the press, according to David Davis, in his well-written biography of Duke, called “Waterman“, were licking their chops in anticipation of this battle of the titans.

The newspapers played up their differences. Duke was symmetrically muscular with a powerful upper body and thighs that seemed custom-made for springs. Johnny had “wide shoulders, flat belly, no hips or buttocks, long, slender, smooth-muscled legs and arms,” according to sportswriter Paul Gallic. Duke was a pure sprinter; Johnny was versatile enough to win at distance events up to 500 meters and at other disciplines besides the freestyle. Duke was old school: reserved and circumspect. Johnny was jazz age: he liked to play the rogue and was an inveterate skirt chaser…. The anticipation that Duke, the human fish, would face off against Johnny, the human hydroplane, was keen.

Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku 2In the end, the public did not get to see Kahanamoku swim against Weissmuller in the AAU National Championships. Weissmuiller was there. The Duke, he was there. But only Weissmuller entered the pool.

According to Weissmuller’s coach Bill Bachrach, in David Fury’s biography of Weissmuller – Twice the Hero – Kahanamoku wisely pulled out of the competition, with some prompting by Bachrach himself. The coach said he gave Kahanamoku his stopwatch and time him himself.

Bachrach sent Johnny into the 25-yeard Punahou pool, and he swam at his top speed as the Duke timed him for 100-years. Kahanamoku was stunned as he watched Johnny swim faster than the Duke had ever done, confirmed by the stopwatch held by his own trembling hand. There was fear in the Duke’s heart, because he knew if he raced on the morrow he would be beaten by this relative newcomer to the swimming wars. The next day, all newspapers announced that the Duke had taken ill, and had left Honolulu to recuperate.

The flip side of this battle of egos was that Kahanamoku never intended to compete in the AAU event. According to members of the Kahanamoku camp, the Duke was actually in poor health, having lost some 10 kilos and was in no condition. And apparently, he was readying for his departure to Los Angeles. According to Davis, Olympic track sprinting champion, Charlie Paddock was adamant that Kahanamoku was not afraid of Weissmuller. “Duke did not quit the swim game because of Weissmuller. He quit because of personal reasons, one of them being that it is necessary to work to make a living, and you cannot work while traveling around the country swimming as an amateur.”

Of course, another consideration is that Kahanamoku was 14 years older than Weissmuller, and whose prime years went untested as the 1916 and 1920 Olympics were cancelled. So if Kahanamoku did decide to dance around possible encounters with the young and future king, it would not be hard to understand.

Regardless, whether you were Team Weissmuller or Team Kahanamoku, you had to wait until the 1924 Olympics before the two would go head to head. And as the two stood at the edge of the pool, just prior to the finals of the 100-meter sprint, Duke is reported to have offered this win-win proposition: “Johnny, good luck. The most important thing in this race is to get the American flag up there three times. Let’s do it.”

At the end of the race, only Americans stood on the winner’s podium, the crowd saluting two of the century’s greatest champions.

 

Sgt Pepper cover

 

If you were on the eclectic cover of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you were likely a giant in your field. Carl Jung, Lenny Bruce, George Bernard Shah, Sonny Liston, Marilyn Monroe were among the 50+ people on that epic montage with the Beatles.

Just over the shoulders of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney was the downcast visage of Johnny Weissmuller, one of the most well-known people of the 20th century.

Not only did Weissmuller dominate the sprint races in the Olympics in the 1920s, he was the most enduring face of Tarzan on the silver screen, starring in 12 films featuring the beloved Edgar Rice Burrough’s creation. But Weissmuller as Tarzan would never have existed if not for Weissmuller as ultimate swimming machine. When Weissmuller arrived in Paris in June 1924 for the Olympics, the world had incredibly high expectations as Weissmuller held most of the world’s swimming records from 50 to 500 yards.

It was all so easy that at the 1923 AAU National Indoor Championships in Chicago, Weissmuller won the freestyle in the 50, 100, 220 and 500-yard competitions, as well as the 880-yard freestyle relay. But according to David Fury, author of Weissmuller’s biography entitled Twice the Hero, Weissmuller threw in a gimme. When told that there was only one more race – the 150-yard backstroke – which was not one of his events, he replied, “It is tonight.” Despite not actively competing in the backstroke, he set a world record.

In 1923, Weissmuller was in his prime and ready for the 1924 Paris Olympics. But when he was 15 years old, he was a tall, wiry youth who worked as a bellhop at a hotel in Chicago to help his family make ends meet, who also happened to enjoy swimming. He had a friend in the famed Illinois Athletic Club (IAC) who trained under Bill Bachrach, considered one of America’s best swimming coaches.

Thanks to his friend, Weissmuller eventually got a chance to show Bachrach what he could do in the pool. According to Twice the Hero, Weissmuller recalled, “as I look back now, my stroke was terrible. I plunged into the water and started to swim my head off. At the end of the 25 yards – 75 yards from my goal – I was completely exhausted. I was ashamed of myself. It was then that I received the most important lesson – in swimming or in life. Bachrach told me to swim for form and not for speed. Throughout my career I swam for form. Speed came as a result of it.”

In the brilliant biography of Duke Kahanamoku, entitled Waterman, author David Davis wrote that Bachrach instantly saw the potential in young Weissmuller.

Johnny Weissmuller age 17_Twice the Hero
Johnny Weissmuller age 17, from the book, Twice the Hero

It didn’t take long for Bachrach to realize that he had found an unpolished gem. Johnny stood six feet three inches. He was lanky yet powerfully build, with impossibly wide shoulders. Beneath a mass of gleaming black hair, he sported a cocky, devil-may-care grin that concealed a Teutonic work ethic. Bachrach bemoaned Johnny’s horrible thrashing in the water but was impressed enough to present him with a golden ticket: membership to the IAC and access to the indoor pool inside the twelve-story clubhouse on Michigan Avenue.

For a year, Bachrach kept Weissmuller out of competition, working step by step, first on his arm movement, and then on his legs. Weissmuller was a devoted student, understanding and mastering the relaxed arm stroke, as well as the leg kick of the greatest sprinter of the time and Olympic champion, Duke Kahanamoku. He mastered the fast start of his teammate and Olympic champion Norman Ross, and mimicked the lane turn of another great swimming champion, Harry Hebner.

Weissmuller was such a good student, Bachrach asked his prodigy to take a leap. Quit the hotel bellhop job, and deal with short-term financial insecurity in exchange for the possibility of becoming the world’s greatest swimmer. Weissmuller had big dreams and they weren’t on the hotel lobby floor.

In January, 1921, only three months after Weissmuller was introduced to Bachrach, Weissmuller participated in a contest at the IAC pool. Apparently he was so nervous he false started three times, but still ended up second in this unsanctioned race. A couple of months later, Bachrach entered Weissmuller into a 500-year freestyle competition, in which he came in second to Ross. Bachrach wanted to see how his boy would react to the pressure, and on the whole, he handled it well. Bachrach kept Weissmuller under wraps for five more months until he thought he was ready for prime time.

Finally entered into an official AAU competition in August, 1921 at the Duluth Boat Club in Minnesota, the 17-year old was up against world-class competition. And on that one day on August 6, Weissmuller, seemingly out of nowhere, won the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle, 120-yard freestyle and 150-yard freestyle races.

A star was born. Because from that point on for another 7 years, Johnny Weissmuller would emerge victorious in every single competition he entered.

Paris_2024_Olympic_bid_logo.svg

It was 1921 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to vote on the host city of the 1924 Olympiad. Delegates from Amsterdam, Holland, as well as Rome, Italy were confident with its bid to host the 1924 Olympics. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was 58 years old, and had overseen the birth and growth of the Olympic movement for over 30 years, and announced in Lausanne, he was ready to retire, and that he had a favor to ask of his fellow IOC members.

Would they be so kind as to select Paris, France, his hometown, to be the host of the 1924 Olympic Games?

The IOC members could not turn down the father of their movement, and thus Paris was selected as host of the 1924 Games, much to the chagrin of the delegates for Rome, who stormed out of the meeting. But the Dutch, who had bid for the 1912 Olympics, and ceded to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920, were also selected at this 1921 IOC meeting to host an Olympics, the next one in 1928.

Eventually, the IOC drew up a charter that states a host city must be selected 7 years in advance, probably assuming that changing economic or political conditions might result in regrets over a decision made so far in the future. Possibly they used the 1921 case as its benchmark. But nearly 100 years later, the IOC may need to look confidently into its crystal ball and decide yes, let’s select, both Paris and Los Angeles for the next two Summer Olympics.

On September 13, 2017, the IOC will meet in Lima, Peru to select the host city of the 2024 Summer Olympics among the two surviving candidates – Paris and Los Angeles. There has been speculation for months that they may also select the host city for 2028.

LA_2024_Olympic_Bid_Logo.svgBut which city should go first in 2024, and which city will take the longer-term plunge, agreeing to host 11 years later? Delegates from both bid committees are saying that they are only considering 2024. But from the IOC’s perspective, locking up two cities for the next two Olympics would be a relief as cities and nations are now commonly reluctant to bid for this biggest of big tent events.

Rich Perelman, who edits the insightful newsletter The Sports Examiner, recently posits a scenario for the upcoming selection prior to key IOC visits with the bidding committees in LA and Paris in May. Perelman believes that the IOC needs to reward Paris who has been active in hosting Olympic-spots events, and help turn the tide in Europe, which has seen major cities like Rome, Hamburg and Budapest drop bids due to weak support in their own countries.

Perelman explains that later may be better for LA. Even though Los Angeles has fantastic facilities ready to go, particularly an Olympic Village infrastructure that Paris does not currently have, the city of angels still has significant transportation infrastructure issues, among other things, that they could use the time to resolve.

So if one assumes that the members of the IOC vote to select Paris as host of the 2024 Olympics, then Perelman believes that the IOC, driven by president Thomas Bach, have to make a strong offer to Los Angeles to accept the rights to host in 2028. Such inducements would include start-up funding for four year from next year, say USD10 million a year, and perhaps early access to monies from television rights and sponsorships prior to 2022, which is when such payments would normally be made for a 2028 host city selected in 2021.

Interestingly, I have yet to see a scenario if the IOC vote to select Los Angeles as host in 2024. Would Paris agree to wait 11 years and host in 2028?

In 1921, Los Angeles also bid to host the 1924 Olympics, but failed. In 1923, the IOC met in Rome to decide on the host city of the 1932 Olympics, nine years later. The IOC selected Los Angeles. And the circumstances then may be similar to the circumstances today. The IOC had only one bid for 1932 – Los Angeles. If Paris wins the bid in September, the IOC may think they have only one bid for 2028 – Los Angeles. Will history repeat?

Simmons Kelly Kurtz Laurie Rampling
Left to right, clockwise: Jean Simmons, Grace Kelly, Swoosie Kurtz, Charlotte Rampling, Hugh Laurie

These are famous actors and actresses of the silver and small screen. What do they all have in common?

  • Jean Simmons: scouted in 1945 in London, presumably after World War II, Simmons moved to Hollywood and began an acting career that made her one of the most famous faces in the world, starring in such films as The Actress, Guys and Dolls, The Big Country, and Spartacus.
  • Grace Kelly: an acting icon, Kelly became America’s modern-day princess when she famously married Prince Ranier of Monaco, after starring in such films as High Noon, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and High Society.
  • Swoosie Kurtz: Emmy Award winner and two-time Tony Award winner from Omaha, Nebraska, who is better known on American television programs Carol and Company, Sisters, and Mike and Molly.
  • Hugh Laurie, an Oxford, England native who rose to fame as a comedy duo called Fry and Laurie, with Stephen Fry, and became a household name in America in the hit drama series, House, M.D.
  • Charlotte Rampling, British siren who starred in such films as Georgy Girl, The Damned, The Night Porter, Stardust Memories and The Verdict. She was recently in the news for her controversial comments regarding Blacks and acting.

The answer is….their fathers were all successful Olympians!

Charles Simmons: was part of the British bronze-medal winning gymnastics team in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, and father of femme fatale, Jean Simmons.

John Kelly: 3-time gold medalist, two at the 1920 Antwerp Games in single scull and double sculls (rowing), and a gold in double sculls at the 1924 Paris Games, who was father of Princess Grace.

John B Kelly Sr
John B. Kelly

Frank Kurtz: a bronze medalist in the 1932 Los Angeles Games in the 10-meter platform dive, Kurtz was the father of Swoosie.

Frank Kurtz
Frank Kurtz and daughter, Swoosie

Ran Laurie: Like John Kelly, Ran Laurie was a rower who took gold in the coxless pairs at the 1948 London Games, whose partner on that gold-medal winning team was Jack Wilson. As mentioned above, Hugh Laurie starred in hit series, House, and coincidentally,