Dorothy Tyler Odam in Berlin
Dorothy Odam-Tyler competing in Berlin in 1936.

Dorothy Odam-Tyler of London competed in four Olympics, which is an amazing fact. But she did so over a 20 year-period in a land devastated by war. A world record high jumper, Tyler-Odam won the silver medal in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics, the only athlete to have won medals before and after the Second World War.

World War II took place from 1939 to 1945, resulting in the deaths of over 60 million people. Quite ironically, the host cities selected for the XI Olympiad in 1936, the XII Olympiad in 1940, and the XIII Olympiad in 1944 were respectively Berlin, Tokyo and London – the capitols of the three of the most prominent players in the Second World War.

As it turned out, Olympics of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled due to war. In other words, the Olympic spirit, or rather the Olympic legend of suspending war in order to conduct an Olympiad was not able to overcome the nationalism and militarism of the mid-20th century.

In 1936, war was not imminent. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany, but had not yet made explicit his need for “elbow room”. Thus the 1936 Games in Berlin were his opportunity to show the world that the German way was the way of the future.

Dorothy Odam, as she was known in 1936, was still only 16 years old when she appeared in Berlin. According to Mike Fleet in his wonderful biography of the English high jumper entitled Thanks and No Thanks Mr Hitler, Odam-Tyler had an eye-opening experience. “The politically uniformed teenager had a further rude awakening, as hundreds of Hitler Youth members marched about proudly swinging their swastika armbands, many with shovels and brooms at the slope of their shoulders.”

thanks and no thanks mr hitler

Despite the militaristic atmosphere and the grandeur of the opening ceremonies, the teenager was able to keep her emotions intact, and battle to, essentially, a tie in the high jump. Utilizing a scissor-jump approach, Odam-Tyler was one of three of the remaining athletes to jump 1.6 meters on her first attempt. Only two others were able to clear that height, but not without failed attempts.

Unfortunately, the rules were not in Odam-Tyler’s favor, according to Fleet. In today’s world, Odam-Tyler would have been considered the winner for making the top height with the least number of missed attempts. But in 1936, they re-set the bar higher. In the next round, Ibolya Csak of Hungary was the only one to clear 1.62 meters. Odam-Tyler cleared 1.6 meters again, taking silver, and becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic medal.

During the war years, Odam-Tyler worked for the Royal Air Force in the war effort, still finding time to train. She was now married to Dick Tyler, but they were soon separated as he joined a tank regiment that served first in North Africa, and then in Burma. And fortunately, they both survived the war.

Dorothy Odam-Tyler was now 28, and the Olympic Games were scheduled for the summer of 1948 in London. Her motivation was to win gold and wipe out the memory of her loss in Berlin 12 years before. And despite the time that had been sacrificed to war instead of training and competition, the bar continued to be raised, literally, in what was a thrilling competition.

As the field thinned, only three remained at 1.62 meters, including American Alice Coachman and French women Micheline Ostermeyer. At 1.64, Ostermeyer failed to make the cut. Odam-Tyler and Coachman continued their duel. First they both cleared 1.66 meters, setting an Olympic record. Then they both cleared 1.68. But at 1.70 meters, both failed in their three attempts. Due to the tie-breaking rules, Coachman was declared the winner, and became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

As for Odam-Tyler, she won her two silver medals in two Olympiads 12 years apart, bookending one of the most violent and largest wars in the history of mankind. One could

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Bud Collins and Dick Enberg
NBC announcer Bud Collins, left, with Dick Enberg in the television booth at the All England Club for the 1982 Wimbledon. Photo: Walter Looss JR. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

I was a big tennis fan when I was growing up in Queens, New York, getting lessons at Cunningham Park, and playing with friends on the awful concrete court on the grounds of the Queens General Hospital. And I remember in the 1970s watching Breakfast at Wimbledon on NBC, with Bud Collins, when Bjorn Borg was the dominant male tennis player of the time, routinely defeating Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner. And I remember the epic five-setter in 1980 when John McEnroe lost to Borg at Wimbledon. Bud Collins was always there.

Collins passed away on March 4, 2016.

But what I just learned is that Bud Collins, who essentially began his journalistic career as a college student for his school paper, went, somewhat on a whim, to the 1948 London Olympic Games as a spectator. The goal was to cheer on a fellow Baldwin-Wallace College student, William Harrison Dillard.

A few years ago, Collins wrote this wonderful article for ESPN, recalling his early days in Berea, Ohio, where he literally delivered newspapers (Cleveland Plain Dealer) on the Baldwin-Wallace campus and its environs as a 14-year old. When he became a BW student, world-class hurdler Dillard also decided to join BW. Dillard could have gone to Ohio State, the alma mater of Jesse Owens, the last American to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters in 1936, but as Collins relates in the article, Dillard wanted to stay closer to home.

harrison dillard 1948
William Harrison Dillard in 1948 at the London Summer Games.

 

Collins continues to write this amazing story of how Dillard was pretty much expected to win gold in the 110 meter hurdles easily at the re-boot Olympics in 1948, the first Olympics since Berlin in 1936, postponed for 12 years due to world war. (in fact, Dillard served in the US military, seeing significant action on the Italian front.) But for some reason, at the Olympic trials, Dillard competed poorly and would not be asked to compete as a hurdler. He did place third in the 100 meters, so was put on the team to possibly compete in the 400-meter relay team.

So when young Bud Collins, and his editor on the school paper, decided to use their savings and borrow money so they could go to London, there was only a slim possibility of watching their buddy, “Bones” Dillard, compete at the 1948 Olympic Games. As it turned out, in a London still climbing out of the rubble of World War II, Dillard was crowned the fastest man in the world, and a budding journalist named Bud Collins was there.

Thank you Bud, for the memories.