Olga Fikotova Connolly is a five-time Olympian, and a gold medalist in the discus throw at the 1956 Olympics Games. Her romance and eventual marriage to Harold Connolly, four-time Olympian and champion hammer thrower at the same Melbourne Games is a shining part of Olympic lore.
In 1962, Harold, a teacher by profession, took the family to Finland when he accepted a Fulbright grant to teach English as a second language. Olga hoped to compete in her third Olympiad, at the Tokyo Games, but was consumed by family life, giving her little time to train and get in world-class condition. “My body was not in shape for discus throwing and my dream to compete in Tokyo began to seem unrealistic,” she wrote in a summary of events she had provided to a student researching the Tokyo Olympics.
But sometimes fate gives one a friendly push. Out of the blue, the Connolly’s were informed that officials representing the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee would visit them in Finland. And at the appointed time, “three superbly mannered gentlemen speaking flawless English visited our home.”
They told the Connolly’s of the committee’s plan to stage a large-scale rehearsal of the Olympics a year in advance (what was officially called The Tokyo International Sports Week). With warmth and smiles, the officials requested the participation of Harold Connolly in this competition because as they said, he was “truly one of the most respected competitors in the track and field throwing events and fully deserving of the honor.”
The organizers were reported to have spent about USD one million to organize the Sports Week, a good chunk spent in recruiting and paying for the expenses of over 340 foreign athletes and officials to participate in this Olympic rehearsal. The fact that they visited certain foreign athletes to personally invite them is an act of extraordinary respect. And that respect was not limited to Harold Connolly, as Olga went on to write:
And so, I was pouring tea and offering pastry, and participating in the conversation, all that time having to exercise self- discipline not to show how much I would like see Tokyo also. However, the leader of the delegation noticed. When conversation slowed down, he reached his hand to me and said gently: “Naturally, Olga, you an Olympic champion; and, therefore, if your health permits we expect you also to participate in this pre-Olympic competition. We want you to visit Tokyo and be a part of this event”.
Overcome by his kindness, I could not keep my tears back, but had to speak the truth. “Thank you very much, but I am not in shape”, I said. “It would be charity that I cannot accept.” The officials laughed, spoke to one another for a moment and came up with a plan where I could travel to schools and exercise with kids, learn about them and they learn about me, because many have not ever seen a western woman athlete.”
So at the Tokyo International Sports Week, Harold Connolly competed in the hammer throw, and Olga Connolly visited schools. “Kids found me very tall and climbed up in my arms to touch my hair that was different than theirs. I answered multitude of questions through the interpreter, happily drank ocha at train stations, learnt to eat with hashi.”
And so, she was smitten with Japan, a spark reignited. Thanks to Sports Week, she was committed to the Olympic movement more than ever before, and happily made her return as a representative of the US track team in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympic Games.