cassius-clay-1960
Cassius Clay at the 1960 Rome Olympics

In memory of Olympians or people significantly connected to the Olympics who passed away in 2016.

 

Iolanda Balas in Tokyo_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service
Iolanda Balas in Tokyo, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shinbum
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Armin Hary edges out David Sime in 100 meters
German Armin Hary (left) edges silver medalist David Sime third from left in the 100 meter finals at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960.

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.

In addition to just missing out on gold at the Rome Olympics, Sime was recruited by the CIA to encourage a Soviet athlete to defect. You can find my write up on Sime and Russian broad jumper Igor Ter-Ovanesyan here.

Igor Ter-Ovanesyan in 1964
Igor Ter-Ovanesyan in 1964

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.”

David Same, Armin Hary and Peter Radford - silver, gold and bronze medalists in the 100 meter race in Rome 1960.
David Sime, Armin Hary and Peter Radford – silver, gold and bronze medalists in the 100 meter race in Rome 1960.

In other words, was Ter-Ovanesyan really looking to defect? Well,