American David Sime, who lost to Germany Armin Hary in a photo finish in the 100 meters race at the 1960 Olympics, passed away on January 12. He was 79.
This obit in the New York Times is a good summary of his life, the championship runner who played baseball at Duke, and then opted to go to Duke University School of Medicine instead of playing for the Detroit Lions in the NFL.
The newspapers called him “The Flying Sikh”. On top of that, the sprinter from India was sporting unusually a beard and a topknot on his head.
Most significantly, Milkha Singh was fast!
It was the finals of the 400-meter race at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and the international press gave Singh a chance at being a rare track and field champion from Asia, certainly the first from the newly independent nation, India. As David Maraniss describes in his book Rome 1960, Singh burst out of the blocks in lane 5 in the finals of the 400 meter race in the 1960 Olympics, keeping pace with South African Malcolm Spence in lane 3. Halfway through the race, Singh very much had a chance at gold.
But as they entered the second half of the race, American Otis Davis and German Carl Kaufmann began to emerge from the middle, and surge to the front. They pulled away from Milkha and Spence. At the end, Davis barely edged out Kaufmann. And despite a desperate push, Singh could not wrestle the bronze from Spence.
It was fourth place for Singh, finishing out of the medal, but entering into the consciousness of Indians, a symbol not of failure or misfortune, but of how hard work can take an Indian to world-class levels.
And in the scheme of things, Singh’s life experiences as a child pale in the face of the challenges he faced in Rome. When the British Indian Empire fell, and the state of Pakistan was split off from India, primarily to create separation between Hindu and Muslim populations. The so-called partition, a mass migration of Muslims into Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs into India, was a time of tragedy, when neighbor set upon neighbor, when families were split, and people were murdered depending on what religious beliefs they were believed to hold.
Milkha Singh witnessed this first hand in his home, which was located in the nation that became Pakistan. Driven from his town, his family joined the migration. Inevitably, the family encountered the hatred head on, and Milkha witnessed the deaths of his parents and his siblings. An orphan, separated by surviving family members, Milkha made his way across the border into India.
Soon after the Rome Olympics, when Singh returned to India a star, he was asked by the Indian government to participate in a track competition in Pakistan. And Singh refused. It is the kind of script that could only appear in a movie. And of course, this was the dramatic finish to the 2013 movie, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (“Run Milkha Run”), starring Farhan Akhtar, who does actually look like Milkha Singh in his youth (although far more muscular).
In the end, the prime minister of India appeals to Milka Singh’s responsibility as a soldier of India to defend his country’s honor at this track meet in Pakistan. In reality, very little time has passed since the Partition. Milka Singh did indeed run, as the film would have you believe, from the ghosts of his past, from his Pakistani rival, Abdul Khaliq, and find, perhaps, a peace within himself.
Singh would go on to compete. He appeared in Tokyo at the 1964 Summer Games, running in the 4×400 Relay, but unable to help his team beyond the heats. He was apparently an inspiration to the British champion, Ann Packer, whom he greeted with warm confidence before the 1,500 meter finals, telling her she would win, and she did. More importantly, Singh continues to inspire and make an impact. While he reportedly sold the film rights to his story for one rupee, he stipulated that a share of the profits would be given to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust, which assists poor and needy sportspeople.
It was February 22, 1980. The American men’s ice hockey team were in a locker room in upstate New York, preparing for a game against the Soviet Union in the Olympic Winter Games. Bill Cleary was the head coach of ice hockey power, Harvard University, and he stopped by the locker room to wish his friend, Coach Herb Brooks, good luck. They talked, and then Cleary left the room.
“Then I see the trainer chasing after me and says Herb wants me to go back in to talk to the boys. So I went back and this is what I said: ‘I know what’s going through your mind. You feel isolated here in upper state New York, oblivious of what’s going on in the rest of the world. But you have captivated our entire country and everyone is pulling for you. There are 20 guys pulling for you more than anyone. And that’s the 1960 team. There is only one outcome. You’re going to win!'”
To Cleary, member of the 1960 US ice hockey team, the first American team to win gold in the Olympics, being an Olympian is an honor. When he attended his first Olympics in 1956 in Cortina Italy, he remembers being 21, a kid who never left Boston thrust into the incredible beauty of the majestic Alps. “I thought the sky was so beautiful and was so close it was going to come down on you. Heaven was right there. And we were marching in the parade during the opening ceremony, not long after World War Two and the Korean War, and in came the Russians, the ogres.” But they weren’t there to fight. They were there to compete in sports. “That’s what makes the Olympics so special,” said Cleary. “Olympians can do more for world peace and good will than all the politicians in the world.”
But Cleary believes being an Olympian is also an obligation, an obligation to demonstrate a bond across nationalities and generations, to continuously uphold an Olympic spirit. He remembers the performance and the behavior of the US Men’s ice hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Games. He didn’t like the addition of professional athletes, but when they reacted to poor performance at the Games by vandalizing the locker room, he was miffed. “I was really upset about that. They should have been proud to compete, but instead they were burning their uniforms. We are Olympians. We should take great pride when we represent our country.”
In contrast, Cleary remembers a time in Czechoslovakia he will never forget. In 1983 Coach Cleary took his Harvard hockey team over to Prague. It was Christmas time, but you could tell the locals were having a tough time, he said. On the second to last night of this tour, the interpreter informed him that a fellow Olympian from the 1960 Czech ice hockey team wanted to see him. And when they pulled into a small coal-mining town called Koln, Cleary stepped off the bus to be greeted by Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek.
“And all of a sudden Dvoracek, he sees me, and shouts ‘Bill, Bill!’ He brings me inside to a room and says ‘coffee, beer, coke?’ He wanted to know what my life was like, about my teammates, about the US. It was almost like he was interrogating me, he had so many questions. Finally, I said I got to go and prepare the team for the game. We warm up, and at the end of the warmups, they play the national anthems. I see my friend Dvoracek and he grabs the microphone. He tells the audience, ‘I want you all to welcome my good friend Bill Cleary. We have not seen each other in 25 years. Our countries are not friendly, but we are friends. We are Olympians and we are friends.’ I am getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it.”
After the game they met again, and Dvoracek brings out a scrapbook with pictures of his hockey career until it comes time for me to leave. “He was sad, kind of tearful that I was
In 1964, there was an expectation that athletes would defect. It was the time of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, George Smiley and James Bond. The Cold War was real, and spooks were everywhere. According to a Sports Illustrated article from November 2, 1964, though, rumors were often just rumors.
In the Olympic Village, sportswriters had recurrent visions of Soviet athletes popping over the back fence and dashing for the U.S. Embassy. One report got around that Broad Jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan was practically under house arrest. The truth was that if concern was rampant among Soviet worriers over life in post-Khrushchev Russia, there was no panic and defections were not likely. Ter-Ovanesyan seemed to have complete freedom of movement and freedom of speech.
It wasn’t just 1964 that people thought Ter-Ovanesyan was susceptible to defecting. There was an actual attempt to do so in 1960. At those Games in Rome, American sprinter, David Sime, was in the running for a medal, if not the gold medal, in the 100 meters. Sime (sounds like “rim”) was pulled into the spy vortex, and was recruited by the US government to assist in persuading an athlete from the Soviet Union for defection. The mark was Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, a 22-year old at the time, who appeared to have a Western flair and a love for things Americana. He self-taught himself English. He listened to jazz. And his idol was Jesse Owens.
According to David Maraniss’ fascinating account in his book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, Sime approached Ter-Ovanesyan on the track during a practice. They talked. They liked each other. They agreed to meet again for dinner. When they met for dinner, they talked about Ter-Ovanesyan’s life in the Soviet Union, which he claimed was pretty good: “In the Soviet Union, he was taken care of; he had an apartment, a car, a teaching slot at the sports university. ‘And they give me a lot if I win a medal here,’ he said. Sime said he did not know what the United States could offer, except freedom, maybe set up him up as a track star out in sunny California, out near the film stars and beautiful people and fast cars.”
In other words, was Ter-Ovanesyan really looking to defect? Well,
After the Rome Olympics in 1960, there was probably no athlete more well known than Abebe Bikila, the barefoot marathon champion.
So when Bikila arrived in Japan in 1961 for the Mainichi Marathon in Osaka, he was treated like a rock star. Everyone wanted to take a picture of him. Everyone wanted to meet him. In particular, a businessman named Kihachiro Onitsuka, who ran a shoe company, wanted to meet Bikila, and more than anything, hold his feet in his hands.
Bikila’s coach, Onni Niskanen, was concerned as the roads in Osaka were in parts made of gravel and other parts poorly conditioned tarmac. He explained that “I didn’t dare take the risk of bruised feet. Wami (Biratu) had to run barefoot as he had never run with shoes on.”
So as fate has it, the desire of one met the needs of another, thanks to the introduction of Kohei Murakuso, 5 and 10 thousand runner in the Berlin Olympics, Kihachiro Onitsuka was brought to the room of Abebe Bikila. As related in the book, Bikila – Ethiopia’s Barefoot Olympian, by Tim Judah, Onitsuka really tried to impress Bikila with the possibility of injury, as well as the benefit of a shoe that grips the road. Here is how Onitsuka remembers the conversation:
Onitsuka: I am here to support you and supply you with shoes. I hope you will win this race with my shoes!
Bikila: I have always run barefoot and I have won many times. I don’t need shoes.
Onitsuka: The roads in Japan are very rough and that’s why you should wear shoes.
Bikila: The roads may be rough but I don’t need shoes.
Onitsuka: Your bare feet are excellent, they are like cat’s paws. But still, shoes could improve your records.
Despite Bikila’s resistance, Niskanen weighed in with the view that shoes might be a good idea on this terrain, and Bikila gave in to the word of his coach. Bikila did indeed win the marathon fairly handily, and it was reported that
Peter Snell was an Olympic champion at the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and the New Zealand runner came to Tokyo in 1964 with high expectations to repeat. Like all high performance athletes in a new environment, he quickly wanted to establish a training routine that would create a comfort level and allow him to maintain conditioning. He found his routine in a park just outside the Olympic Village in Tokyo – Meiji Park.
But first, Snell had to deal with the police. He tells his story in his autobiography, No Bugles No Drums.
We reached the village in the late afternoon and were smartly into T-shirts and shorts and off on an exploratory run through the village. After a circuit of the track and a prowl around the various facilities, we went out one of the back gates and, led by Jeff Julian, ran into a wooded area with a maze of fine metal and clay tracks. This was Meiji Park, which has a shrine in the middle of it, and it looked perfect for training.
But we encountered an early difficulty. At the entrance, we were halted and gesticulated at by a policeman who eventually made it known to us that in this park we could walk but we could not run. Realising we might be offending some religious belief, we decided as guests of the nation to handle the situation diplomatically – so we walked until we were out of the policeman’s sight before breaking into a run again.
The winding paths of the park gave us an excellent 10-minute circuit and it was obvious that it could play a vital part in our Games preparation as we wanted to run for at least half an hour every morning before breakfast. And, despite the policeman, we succeeded in doing it. Actually, as more and more teams arrived, more and more athletes began running about and I think the Japanese eventually decided it would be preferable to let us run thought the park than add our numbers to the already heavy road traffic.
He ran into the night along the Appian Way, torches held by Italian soldiers lighting the way, the only sound the onlookers would notice is the pidder padder of his barefeet on the road.
A complete unknown, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, won the marathon at the Rome Olympics in 1960. He was a member of the Imperial Bodyguard in Ethiopia, a country where people got around by running, commonly without shoes. When Bikila arrived in Rome, he tried on various pairs of shoes, but he could not find a pair that did not hurt and cause blisters.
Bikila and his fellow runner Abebe Wakjira decided to run barefoot. This was a decision that embarrassed them. They felt people were laughing at the poor Ethiopians who could not afford shoes, so they stayed hidden in their tent until the marathon began.
But Bikila’s triumph had a tremendous ripple effect over the decades. Not only was Bikila a victory for Ethiopia, he was a symbol of pride and achievement for all of Africa. Bikila became the role model so important to sparking the imagination of other would-be long-distance runners in impoverished Africa.
Wrote David Maraniss in his book Rome 1960, “as the first black African to win a gold medal, Abebe Bikila paved the way for what would become a long and illustrious line of East African distance runners. Many were from Ethiopia but even more hailed from Kenya, led by the brilliant Kipchoge Keino, who won the metric mile at Mexico City, outpacing the American Jim Ryun, and took home the steeplechase gold four years later in Munich.”
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. 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
He ran with a silky smooth stride. He grooved around curves with grace. And he won the 200 meter finals at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome….wearing sunglasses.
Livio Berruti, who hails from Torino, Italy, was the most celebrated of the celebrity in Rome at that time, the essence of cool that hot Italian summer.
American Ken Norton was favored to win the 200 meters, but he faded quickly as Berrutti raced to a world record time of 20.5 seconds to win gold. David Maraniss described in his book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, how Berruti felt as he emerged victorious. “He approached the finish line knowing that he still held the lead, and threw himself at it, sprawling on the dark red track, overcome ‘with that kind of liberation you feel when you’ve faced a difficult test and managed to pass it.'”
Amidst continuous cheers of “Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti!”, his fate as an Italian sports legend was sealed.
As for the shades, Maraniss explains that Berrutti was shortsighted, to the point that he could not see other runners or the finish line without them. So he wore prescription glasses that tinted in the sunlight, wearing the same pair whether competing or sitting at home.
In Tokyo, Berrutti finished fourth in the 200 meter race. And immediately went up to the Olympic champion, Henry Carr, and congratulated him a race run well.
The baton hand off in relay races are critical. The slightest misplay and you lose. The US 4X100 relay team in Rome, which had the fastest time in the finals, was disqualified because of a mis-timed hand off between two runners.
So when you see a picture like the one above, you can imagine only disaster. American Ulis Williams was handing off to anchor Henry Carr in the finals of the 4X400 relay race in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As Ulis told me, he saw his closest competition fall in behind Williams to get the inside lane. That’s when Williams put on the jets around the curve approaching the exchange lane where the anchor awaited.
“I put on the speed and got five or six yards on him,” Williams explained to me. “Henry (Carr) took off, but he didn’t take off fast enough. He was too close on my approach, and I didn’t want to spike him. I took a chance and leaned forward to give him the baton, so I took a short step, didn’t plant my lead foot. I concentrated so much on handing him the baton that I slammed hard into the ground.”
It was a scary moment for lead runner, Ollan Cassell. “I dragged Ulis off because I didn’t want him to get a DQ for interference.” Williams said he tore the skin right off his upper thigh, but all he remembers is celebrating with his teammates at the finish line.