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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1956 Dutch Olympic Team Rehabilitation lunch at Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen
The Rehabilitation Lunch for the 1956 Dutch Olympic Team, organized by the Dutch Olympic Committee at the Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen, Holland.

“Melbourne is THE black page in the Olympic History of the Netherlands,” wrote Ada Kok in an email to me. Kok was not only a two-time Olympian in 1964 and 1968, she was the President of the Dutch Olympians Association for 11 years.

And when she was president, you could join the association only if you were an Olympian. Thus, the unfortunate members of the 1956 Dutch National Team were forbidden from competing once the Dutch government decided to boycott the Melbourne Games. As related in a previous post, some of the Dutch national team, including world-record swimmer, Cocky Gastelaars, were already in Melbourne preparing when the decision was made.

Ada and Cocky
Ada Kok and Cocky Gastelaars

“Some athletes were already present in Melbourne to train and they were whistled back home by the Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch Government,” wrote Kok. “For Cocky this was a traumatic decision as this was her chance to win a gold medal being a world-record holder. But not only was Cocky disappointed. Then, we had a lot of potential gold medal winners who were part of this Dutch Olympic Melbourne Team in 1956. The sad thing was they all just received a telegram to announce the Olympic Team was not travelling to Melbourne, and for those who were already in Melbourne, they were ordered to leave the Olympic Village, not to wear their Olympic outfits anymore and travel home immediately.”

Kok provided me with a copy of that telegram dated November 7, 1956, seen below.

telegram Dutch boycott

DUTCH OLYMPIC TEAM                                                                                                              HEIDELBERG-VICTORIA-ASUSTRLIA

AT EXTRAORDINARY MEETING THE DUTCH OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION TO WITHDRAW DUE TO HUNGARY STOP LEAVE OLYMPIC VILLAGE – FIND OTHER PLACE TO STAY STOP WEAR CIVILIAN CLOTHES – IF IMPOSSIBLE REMOVE BADGE STOP WAIT FOR PAULEN LEAVING 11 NOVEMBER FLIGHT 845 FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS STOP CANCEL ALL HOTEL RESERVATIONS BUT RESERVE HOTEL WINDSOR PAULEN AND CHARLES LEAVING 15 NOVEMBER SORRY ALL THE BEST

NOC  (National Olympic Committee )

To a world-class athlete preparing years for this moment, the telegram above must have been a dagger in their backs. “No further explanation,” wrote Kok. “This was so sad! And this caused over the years a lot of bad feelings among the Dutch Olympians from 1956.”

It took a while, but in 2014, a step was taken to recognize these athletes whose lives were so abruptly and rudely changed that day in November 1956. Erica Terpstra, who was the President of the Dutch Olympic Committee, worked with Ada Kok to arrange a day of

Yamanaka Rose and Breen
1,500 meter winners: Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, Murray Rose and George Breen

What was it like?

It’s December 7, 1956 – 15 years to the day that Japan infamously entered World War II by declaring war on the Allies by bombing Pearl Harbor, and executing a series of simultaneous attacks on Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Malaya.

Japanese swimmer Tsuyoshi Yamanaka is stepping up to the edge of the pool, readying himself for the 1,500 meter race against world record holders, American George Breen, and Australian Murray Rose. All three were born prior to the beginning of World War II, and all grew up listening to the propaganda of their respective countries during the war years.

But Yamanaka was in Australia. And while Australian attitudes to the Japanese today are overall quite positive and respectful, my guess is that in the 1950s, the many of the physical scars of the Pacific War may have faded, but not the mental ones. Memories of Australian POWS being forced to build the Burma Railway through the jungles of Thailand among others were powerful, and likely involuntarily arose when an Aussie confronted a Japanese.

I don’t know. And perhaps, Yamanaka was oblivious, as all high performance athletes tend to be towards distractions. What we do know is that the 1,500-meter race at the Melbourne Olympics brought war enemies together in a celebration of friendship, encapsulated in a photograph after Rose took gold and Yamanaka took silver, and seen by millions around the world.

Rose and Yamanaka
Murray Rose and Tsuyoshi Yamanaka

In this documentary on Murray Rose, the famed Aussie swimmer explains the symbolism of that time and that photograph:

Murray Rose: When I was growing up, I was part of a propaganda campaign for the Australian war effort. Fast forward a few years, and I’m swimming at the Olympic Games, and my main rival and competitor is Tsuyoshi Yamanaka-san. We embraced across the lane line and a photograph of that time was taken and was picked up by newspapers all over the world. For one main reason – the date was the seventh of December, 1956, the fifteenth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. So it became symbolic of two kids who had grown up on opposite sides of the war and had come together in the friendship of the Olympic arena.

As the commentator John Clarke further explained in the video, Rose “did the Olympic Movement an enormous amount of good because it exemplified what Murray called the Olympic spirit.”

To watch Rose, Yamanaka and Breen battle it out, pick up the documentary entitled “Murray Rose – Life Is Worth Swimming” at the video below at the 21-minute mark.

Also see my post about the novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, a moving story of the Australian POW experience.

Emil Zatopek wins gold at the 1952 Helsinki marathon.
Emil Zatopek wins gold at the 1952 Helsinki marathon.

I recently ran in a 5,000 meter race, the first time I had competed in any official competition. It was for charity, so all I wanted to do was finish. I ran about 5k on my weekend runs, so I was confident I could complete the race. There were others who ran the 5k after just running the 10k race, which blew my mind.

Today, world-class athletes will rarely compete in multiple long-distance runs as the strategy and mindset differ from distance to distance, in addition to the general punishment on the body. However, not only did legendary runner, Emil Zátopek win the 5,000-meter race and the 10,000-meter race in Helsinki in 1952, he triumphed in the 42-kilometer marathon. The legend from Czechoslovakia won the three longest of the long-distance Olympic races and Emil Zátopekset the world record in each competition, all within one week. And his time record-setting time in the marathon of 2 hours, 23 minutes and 2 seconds was accomplished in the very first marathon he had ever run.

As discus thrower, Olga Connolly (nee Fitkotova), related in her autobiography, “The Rings of Destiny”, Emil Zátopek was the most sought-after star in the 1956 Games in Melbourne, where Connolly won gold. “Not only every athlete wanted to shake his hand, but every coach wanted to learn from Zátopek, every reporter wanted to interview him and every photographer wanted an ‘unusual’ or ‘intimate’ picture. At first the crowds of invaders searched for him in the dining room, later they sought his living quarters. Soon he found people walking freely in and out; eventually he developed the reflex of leaping into a broom closet each time he heard unfamiliar steps in the corridor. Zátopek complained that perhaps no other machinery was more effective in destroying the chances of a champion than excessive publicity.”

The Connolly's and the Zatopek's
The Connolly’s and the Zatopek’s

As it turns out, Zátopek did not medal at the Melbourne Games.

While the media wanted to know the secrets to Zátopek’s success, he revealed them to his friend, Connolly. “Before we settled to dinner, Emil ceremoniously unwrapped two bottles of Pilsner Urquell, the best Czechoslovakian beer, and divided the contents among my glass, his and Dana’s (his wife).”

“‘Emil, this is quite a celebration,’ I said. ‘You can’t have much beer left.’ I knew how jealously he protected the small case of beer he carried all the way from Prague. He sighed, ‘Well, it goes fast. Everybody is after me for a glassful, so I’ll soon have to manage without the ‘elixir.’ Zátopek was accustomed to drinking a glass of beer a day and claimed it helped to replenish body fluids lost in his daily twenty miles of running.”

“‘Medicinal beer drinking’ was one of the few topics on which Emil enjoyed anyone agreeing with him. In most other instances he preferred being opposed – always ready to engage in polemics, he was a master of aggravating arguments. Behind Zátopek’s receding forehead lay extraordinary mental faculties. He could recall minute facts from conversations he had held years before, and in several weeks abroad he could master the basics of any language. Years later, if he met his foreign friends again, he astonished them with his handling of Finnish or Urdu.”

It’s worth watching the above video to get to the last line of the narrator: “Here’s one Czech that will always be honored.”

adidas-vs-puma

Way before there was a Nike, there was Adidas and Puma. The basketball shoe wars of today are echoes of the battles that took place between two rival German shoe manufacturers. And in these battles emerged a hugely lucrative sports marketing business that benefited both maker and athlete. At the Melbourne Summer Games in 1956, the son of Adidas owner, Horst Dassler, convinced officials to prevent the shipment of Puma shoes from passing through Customs. At the same time, the Adidas shipment came through allowing him to give away shoes to eager Olympians. When American sprinter Bobby Morrow won three gold medals in Melbourne, he was wearing a free pair of Adidas running shoes. When Americans saw Morrow and his triple-striped shoes on the cover of Life Magazine, Adidas sales jumped. Bobby Morrow_Life 12-10-56 The German champion sprinter of the 1960 Games in Rome also got free shoes, and a whole lot more. Armin Hary was the first runner other than an American since 1928 to win the 100 meter race and lay claim to the fastest man on the planet. And when he crossed the finish line, it was in Puma spikes. Yet, when he stood on the winners platform to receive his gold medal, he was wearing the stripes of Adidas. (Go to this site to see the pictures.) Hary was clearly playing Adidas and Puma against each other, not only receiving shoes, but also payments.

In 1964, the human bullet, Bob Hayes was in the middle of a bidding war between

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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

Ron Clarke at Melbourne OlympicsAt the tender age of 18, Ron Clarke carried the Olympic torch through the Melbourne Cricket Ground up the steps to light the Olympic cauldron. Clarke would go on to break 17 world records in middle distance running, as well as take the bronze medal in the 10,000 meter race in Tokyo in 1964.

The self-described “accountant who also runs”, had a reputation for being a sportsman, and would go on to become the mayor of Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Here is a film clip of Ron Clarke showing his training routine as he prepared for competition in Europe before flying over to Tokyo for the 1964 Games, where he would captain the Australian athletics team.