Eleanor Holm headline news

It was headline news, literally.

For example, the front page of the Riverside Daily Press on July 24, 1935 blared across the full length of the front page, “Gay Cocktail Parties Result in Dismissal of Eleanor Holm Jarrett”.

Under the word “Ousted”, was a lithe Eleanor Holm in a skin-tight swimsuit posing like a Hollywood starlet. The caption read “Eleanor Holm Jarrett, attractive night club queen-swimmer who was dropped from the American Olympic team for indulging in liquor and parties contrary to training rules.” The article started with a provocative lead – “The one member of the American Olympic swimming team who appeared the most certain to win a title, Mrs. Eleanor Holm Jarrett, prepared to return home today.”

Eleanor Holm on cover of Look Magazine

Holm was the Olympic champion in the 100-meter backstroke, having won gold convincingly at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Married to a jazz band leader, Art Jarrett, and very much used to the life as a celebrity, Holm did not take to the third-class accommodations on the SS Manhattan, which was transporting the US Olympic team to Europe and the Berlin Olympics.

According to The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, Holm – a veteran of two Olympiads – she wanted to be where the officials and the press were: first class. When an executive of the company that owned the SS Manhattan invited Holm up to first class for a party, the only Olympian invited, she of course said yes.

Quick to accept, she stayed up until six a.m., matching drinks with the sportswriters. She had to be helped back to her cabin. The next day there was much joking and wisecracking among the non-Olympic first-class passengers about the “training techniques” of the US team. Embarrassed US Olympic officials issued Holm a warning, but she was defiant and continued to drink in public off and on for the next few days. When advised by friends to moderate her behavior, she reminded them that she was “free, white, and 22”.

Wallenchinsky and Loucky described further examples of Holm’s drunken adventures on the SS Manhattan. On the evening of July 23, shortly before reaching Europe, the ship’s doctor found Holm “in a deep slumber which approached a state of coma”, which he diagnosed as acute alcoholism. The next morning, the American Olympic team manager woke Holm up and informed her that American Olympic Committee had voted to remove her from the team.

The next day, the press included the official announcement from Avery Brundage, the US Olympic Committee chairman. “Mrs. Eleanor Holm Jarrett has been dropped from the Olympic team and her entry has been withdrawn on account of violation of training rules. I wish to emphasize that there is no reflection in any way upon the entire team.” According to the press, Holm was requested to return to the United States.

Unfortunately for Brundage, Holm was immediately hired by news gatherer, the Associated Press to write a column, presumably about anything she wanted (presumably since she felt her Olympic career was over and her amateur status no longer a requirement). With press credentials, Holm was in Berlin to stay, and with her star power, she was at all of the biggest social gatherings. According to Holm in the book, Tales of Gold, Brundage didn’t like playing second fiddle to her.

A funny sidelight to Brundage kicking me off the team was that I was invited to everything in Berlin, and he would be there, too. He would be so miserable because I was at all these important functions. I would ignore him – like he wasn’t even alive. I really think he hated the poor athletes. How dare I be there and taking away his thunder? You see, they all wanted to talk to me.

Eleanor Holm at the press gallery at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Eleanor Holm at the press gallery at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Holm said she hung out with Herman Goering, and regularly got autographs from Adolph Hitler. She claimed that famed documentarian, Leni Riefenstahl, filmed her in the pool, although that footage was apparently left on the cutting floor. Despite the socializing, Holm wrote that she trained every day just in case she was reinstated to the team. In the end, however, Brundage would not budge and the world watched a Dutch woman named Nida Senff win gold in the backstroke.

Holm would go on to divorce Jarrett and marry a man named Billy Rose, who produced a hugely popular music, dance and swim show called Billy Rose’s Aquacade, where she would become an even brighter star, swimming with fellow Olympic champions Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe.

Holm passed away in 2004 at the age of 90, her star dimmed by the passage of time. But in the mid-20th century, during the Depression and War years, there were few brighter stars than Eleanor Holm.

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Jules Noel

he great long-distance runner, Emil Zátopek, drank a glass of beer after his tough training every day.

The first ever winner of the marathon, Spyridon Louis, was said to have made a pit stop at his uncle’s tavern for a glass of wine before winning gold at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

But discus thrower, Jules Noël, was a beneficiary of the US government’s decision to suspend the importation and imbibing of alcohol.

From 1920 to 1933, it was illegal to produce, import, transport and sell alcoholic beverages. This teetotaler era in the United States, known as Prohibition, happened to be in force during the 1932 Olympics hosted in Los Angeles, California.   But according to David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky in their book, The Book of Olympic Lists, “in the interests of international goodwill the US government suspended its prohibition against alcoholic beverages to allow French, Italian and other athletes to import and drink wine.”

Anti prohibition protest in New York City
Anti Prohibition Protest in New York City in 1932.

Frenchman, Noël, believed that “wine was an essential part of his diet,” according to sports-reference.com. Apparently, the world record holder and eventual gold medalist in the discus throw, John Anderson, led nearly the entire competition. But in the fourth and final round, after Anderson’s leading throw of 49.49 meters, Noël was reported to send a discus way past Andersen’s best throw at the time. But apparently, “the officials were watching the pole vault and did not see it land. Noël was given an extra throw but could not produce his top throw again and he would eventually place fourth.”

Before his mighty but unofficial throw, Noël was said to be “swigging champagne with his compatriots in the locker room between rounds at the discus event.”

True?

In vino veritas!

 

jon-sieben-celebrates
Jon Sieben celebrates his amazing upset.
It took a second after he tapped the wall. But as soon as he realized it, Jon Sieben threw his arms up and fell backwards into the water. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Sieben had pulled off one of the greatest swimming upsets in Olympic history.

At the 150-meter mark in the men’s 200-meter butterfly , Sieben didn’t even deserve a mention, behind the favorites. In fact, Sieben’s name doesn’t get mentioned until about 25 meters to go when the American announcers, including Mark Spitz, realize that Sieben in lane 6 has pulled even with the mighty Michael Gross.

  • Spitz: Gross, look out!
  • Play-by-play Announcer: Here comes Vidal! Here comes Siemen in lane six! This is going to be a horse race! Sieben is about to pull a huge upset! In lane 6, 17-year old Jon Sieben of Queensland Australia, came on in the last 20 meters and he caught michael Gross and beat him to the wall!

Gross had already set two world records in swimming at those 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and was gunning for a third. The massive 2 meter tall Gross from Frankfurt West Germany, nicknamed “The Albatross”, expected to fend off other favorites Pablo Morales of the US and Rafael Vidal of Venezuela, but did not expect to be challenged by the 176 cm tall Sieben from Brisbane, Australia, affectionately nicknamed “The Shrimp”.

As David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky write in The Book of Olympic Lists, Sieben was so overwhelmed with his victory, he didn’t realize he had set a world record as well.

His time of 1:57:04 was more than four seconds faster than his pre-Olympic best of 2:01:17. Sieben was so excited by his victory that it was not until an hour later that he realized that he had broken the world record. The rabidly pro-US crowd gave him a standing ovation, and the outcome was so delightful that the defeated favorites expressed pleasure more than disappointment. Gross, who had refused to appear before reporters following his two gold-medal races, and whose disdain for pomp and press had earned him the nickname “The American” in West Germany, sat beside Sieben after the 200 butterfly preferring to praise the young Australian rather than talk about himself.

Watch the video below to see this stunning upset. Note that the announcer’s throw-away lines about Sieben in the introduction turned out to be true: “Third in the commonwealth games in 1982…a bit of an outsider….but you don’t count out any Australian from medal contention in these Games.”

Oscar Pistorius led away

On July 6, double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, was sentenced to six years in prison for murder. The South African, who competed in the 400-meter sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, was convicted for firing four bullets into his bathroom door, killing his girlfriend Reena Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day three years ago.

In this high-profile long-running set of trials, Pistorius claimed someone had intruded his home and that he fired his gun fearful for his life. Many feel that Pistorius was let off easy, his six years not coming close to what many thought would be a 10- to 15-year sentence.

In the long history of the Olympics, Pistorius joins a small group of Olympians who served time for murder, according to one my favorite go-to books, The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. In their list of 20 Olympians Who Did Time in Prison, there are four other Olympians who went to the slammer for murder.

James Snook
Dr. James Snook

James Snook: Snook was a member of the gold medal winning US Free Pistol Shooting team at the Antwerp Games in 1920. At the age of 48, then a professor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State, Snook confessed to the murder of his mistress, Theora Hix. He was put to death in the electric chair after being found guilty of taking a hammer to Hix after violent sex at a rifle range.

Humberto Mariles
Humberto Mariles

Humberto Mariles: This two-time gold medalist and bronze medalist equestrian from Mexico competed at the 1948 Games in London and the 1952 Games in Helsinki. One August summer day, Mariles experienced an extreme fit of road rage when another motorist forced him off the road. According to Wallenchinsky and Loucky, “at the next traffi light Mariles pulled out a gun and shot the man.” Mariles was sent to prison but was pardoned by the President of Mexico.

Ludovit Platchetka
Ludovit Platchetka

Ludovit Plachetka: Plachetka was a middleweight boxer from the Czech Republic who won his first match at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics against a boxer from Swaziland before being eliminated by a boxer from Uzbekistan. According to Wallechinsky and Loucky, Plachetka went from Olympian to felon in less than a year. Apparently he was in an ongoing dispute with his girlfriend over visitation rights of their child that escalated to the point where Plachetka shot to death the mother of his girlfriend. He would have shot his girlfriend if not for gun jamming at that moment. The former boxer/bouncer was sentenced to 13 years.

As for Pistorius, six years may seem like a long time for him. But a top sports officials in South Africa has said the sentence includes time served, and that with good behavior could be out in time to train and participate in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to the Daily Mail, “Tubby Reddy, CEO of South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said he had ‘no problem’ with the idea of the ‘Blade Runner’ returning to the national team and representing his country at the highest level – despite widespread condemnation of Pistorius’ crime and six year sentence.”

Helene Mayer's Salute at 1936 Berlin Games
Helene Mayer’s Heil Hitler Salute at the 1936 Games
This is not a Hollywood script.

An Olympic fencer, gold medalist at the 1928 Amsterdam Games and six-time national champion in Germany, Helene Mayer was a golden girl and likely eager to participate in her country’s Olympics in 1936.

While studying international law in the US in the early 1930s, she got surprising news. Her membership in a major fencing organization, The Offenback Fencing Club, was rescinded. The reason? Her Jewish heritage.

Mayer was surprised to learn that her father was Jewish. And apparently, she denied that fact. As explained in the fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists by David Wallechinsky and Jamie Loucky:

She was the perfect embodiment of the Nazis’ conception of Aryan womanhood, except for one detail – her father, a doctor who had died before the Los Angeles Olympics (in 1932), was Jewish. Mayer did not think of herself as Jewish, particularly after her father’s death.

Naturally, the German authorities were not going to invite Mayer to the Berlin Games three years later. The Hitler regime intended to allow not a single Jewish athlete to compete. But the German authorities were also desirous of pulling off a public relations coup by hosting the Olympics, showing the world that Germany was a nation of superior standing, representing world peace and inclusion. Under pressure, they decided to ask two Jewish athletes to compete on the German national team – a high jumper, as well as a fencer – Helene Mayer.

While she received pressure from Jewish groups in the US to not go to the Olympics, Meyer was overjoyed to return to Germany for the Berlin Olympics. She was open for her love for her home country.

Helene Mayer portrait

And while she did not win the women’s individual foil championship for Germany, she placed second, good enough for silver and a spot on the medal stand. Quite amazingly, when the Hungarian national anthem was being played for gold medalist Ilona Elek, Mayer, one of only two Jewish athletes added to the team, reluctantly by the German authorities, held out her right arm in a Heil Hitler salute. As is described in this article, the image is striking: “Her face is determined. Her posture is perfect. Her arm points strong and fierce. She leaves no doubt as to what she is doing.”

What was Ilona Elek, whose father was Jewish, thinking when she saw Meyer to her left show her definitive support for the Arayan Race. What was Meyer feeling, as she stood in

It was round 3 of the gold medal championship bout in the light middle-weight division at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Broadcasters for the American Broadcasting Company, Marv Albert and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, already seemed convinced that the gold medal was going to go to the American, Roy Jones Jr, who was battling the South Korean, Park Si-hun.

“Jones just picking away and stepping away,” remarked Albert. Jones had already scored a standing 8 on Park, and the broadcasters argued that Se-hun should have had another standing 8. With only 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, Marv Albert said “Park Si-hun is taking a thrashing. It was back in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics that Frank Tate won the gold in this light middleweight division. Roy Jones looking to join him in the record books.”

When the broadcast came back from the commercial break, the American announcers were pretty sure of the outcome. “Roy Jones severely outclassed his opponent, Park Si-hun of Korea, as we await the decision,” said Albert. “And Jones scored from outside, scored from inside and he scored from the middle distance,” said Pacheko. “Almost anywhere he chose to stand and give angles, he out-boxed, out-punched, out-sped and out-talented Park.”

Jones landed far more punches than Park over the course of the three rounds, 86 for Jones, 32 for Park. “Should be a no question, but you never know,” intoned Albert just before the announcement.

The decision: Park Si-hun wins, 3-2 on points.

Albert’s reaction: “Well there it is! Park Si-hun has stolen the bout!”

Park Si-hujn and Roy Jones Jr_1
Boxing: 1988 Summer Olympics: USA Roy Jones Jr. victorious with South Korea Park Si-Hun after Light Middleweight (71 kg) Final at Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium. Seoul, South Korea 10/2/1988 CREDIT: John Iacono (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X37085 TK33 R6 F21 )

Was this a home ring judgment? After all, Koreans still recalled the loss of Kim Dong-kil to American, Jerry Page, in the light welterweight semi-finals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. As you can see in this recording of that fight, it was definitely a close fight. I am not so big a boxing fan that I can explain in detailed fashion why one fighter deserves a decision over another, but I would reckon that Page won the first two rounds, and that Kim came on strong enough in the third to possibly win the third round….but all up, I can’t argue with a Page victory.

However, my amateur eyes tell me that Jones indeed did “thrash” Park in 1988. And as David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky explain in their fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists, Park seemed to fight unimpressively throughout the Olympic tournament, gaining their title as the most “underwhelming winner” in any Olympic Games. “Probably no gold-medal-winner in Olympic history has been less deserving of his prize than Park Si-hun, who benefited from five ‘hometown’ decisions.”

In Park’s first bout, he beat Abdualla Ramadan of Sudan, who retired after two illegal blows to his hip and kidney. Park then defeated East German, Torsten Schmitz, in a unanimous decision, even though observers thought Schmitz had won. Then Park