His Own Man, by Tim Johnston on Dr. Otto Peltzer, the German world record holder of the 800 meters and other distances back in the 1920s. Some of you will remember Mr. Johnston as Great Britain's eighth place finisher in the Mexico City Olympic Marathon. He was the man just behind Derek Clayton and ahead of lumineries like Gaston Roelants, Kenny Moore, George Young, Naftali Temu, and Ron Daws on that day.
Mr. Johnston is still searching for photographic documentation of Dr. Peltzer's series of indoor races in North America in 1928 when he raced against America's best middle distance men.
If any of our readers have access to or knowledge of where to find photos of those Madison Square Garden, Boston and Chicago races, please do not hesitate to contact us at: email@example.com.
Interest in track and field was phenomenal in those days as seen in issues of the Chicago Tribune. See following link. These races made the top of the sports pages. I've learned so much about Lloyd Hahn and Ray Conger as well as Peltzer from Tim Johnston's writing.
Please note that footnotes are not in a standard convention. This was due to editing difficulties with Google Blogs. The two pictures below were taken from Google Images.
Hahn Conger Peltzer Race
So sit back and enjoy this account of track and field in a truly golden age.
|Dr. Otto Peltzer|
*Curiously, in view of the problems he would have in 1932, Peltzer makes no mention of the unusually hard track surface; See Capter 16.
Before leaving New York, he had met Mike Murphy, coach to Yale University, who claimed to have invented the sprinters’ crouch start. They had had long technical discussions on foot placement, which Peltzer took up again with the Californian coaches. With remarkable prescience, he insisted on the importance not so much of the actual start, but of the ensuing pick-up phase. He felt that it was important that, in the start position, the feet should be placed relatively close together, so that the initial strides, while the runner was accelerating, were also short and close together. He was introduced to an eighteen-year-old high-school sprinter called Frank Wykoff, who had just set a new national record for the 100 yards*.
*Wykoff would go to run a new world record of 9.4 seconds and win relay golds in three successive Olympics, contesting the dominance of American and world sprinting of black athletes.
See Alan Katchen, Abel Kiviat, National Champion, Syracuse University Press 2009, p. 76.
In Beyond Glory, the story of the battles for the world heavyweight boxing title in the 1920s and 30s, (many of which were held in the Garden), David Margolick described a knock-out punch as materialising out of ‘an atmosphere made milky by tobacco smoke and resin dust’*.
*David Margolick, Beyond Glory, Knopf Doubleday 2010, p. 40.
Even Willis Carrier’s new, centrifugal air-conditioning was said to be insufficient to disperse the haze of cigarette and cigar smoke. For his part, Paavo Nurmi claimed to find the swirling clouds of cigar smoke ‘invigorating’.
*Otto's Stamford Bridge record of 1:51.6 for the imperial distance was in any case intrinsically faster.
His compact build (1m 75 for 70 kg) and short, quick stride made him ideally suited to the tight indoor tracks. The previous year, in winning the Knights of Columbus Mile at the Garden in 4:12.2, he had come within one-fifth of a second of Nurmi’s indoor world best. Second in that race, five yards back, had been Edvin Wide. The press, wrote Peltzer in his memoirs, hyped up the rivalry among the three men, but as far as he was concerned, there could only be one winner: Lloyd Hahn. Nonetheless, he would give it his best shot.
*In melting-pot America, the mother-tongue newspapers of the country's various ethnic communities were-and still are- of great significance in providing news and forming opinions.
*Phil Edwards, Peltzer's future rival, multiple medallist in three consecutive Olympics (128, 32, 36).
For his part, in summing up his U.S. experience, Otto emphasised the extreme competitiveness of life in America, including in sport: everything was geared towards success, coming first, and—ultimately—making money. In his view, while competition was to be encouraged, it should not be the be-all and end-all. Everyone should work eight hours a day, and complement their working day with sport. By eliminating superfluous, time-wasting activities, it was perfectly possible to train for two hours a day, five times a week. He ends the chapter on his American tour by setting out a series of principles drawn from a new edition of his book, The Athlete’s Training Manual. Many of these, written almost ninety years ago, have a remarkably modern resonance.
Please note that footnotes are not in a standard convention. This was due to editing difficulties using Google Blogs.