Friday, February 15, 2019

V 9 N. 9 The Peerless Four by Victoria Patterson, a book review

The Peerless Four
a novel
by Victoria Patterson
Berkeley, CA
212 pages

The Peerless Four  is a fictional account/novel about the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics when women were first allowed to compete in track and field on a very limited basis.  As we know from earlier reportings in this blog, the opening of events to women was done with great reluctance and trepidation by the men who ruled the Games.  Because of these male sentiments, women had already organized a world games for themselves without the approbation of the old boys' clubs that ran the world.   Pierre de Coubertin who is given credit for founding the modern Games was very hesitant, and thought women should only be present to hand out awards.  The ancient Greeks banned women entirely, even from spectating, on threat of death.  So it was a major concession to tradition when women were allowed to compete in the 100 meters, 800 meters, high jump, discus, and 4x100 meters.  Why the 200 and 400 meters were left out is a mystery, and God forbid anything over 800 meters should even be considered.  

The novel follows the pre-games life of four Canadian women loosely disguised by fictional names, who justly earned their way to the Games and were sent to Amsterdam under close supervision to represent their country.  The real women of the fictionally depicted in the novel were Ethel Catherwood, World Record holder in the high jump and a beauty known affectionately as  "Saskatchewan Lily" , Bobby Rosenfeld, an immigrant from Odessa in the Ukraine, and later a journalist for the Toronto Globe and Mail,  Myrtle Cook, who also would later write a sports column for the Montreal Star.  The fourth woman depicted in the book is   Jean "Jenny" Thompson who finished fourth in the 800 meters.    Victoria Patterson gives life to  these young athletes with all their confidence, fears, and flaws as well as life to the people around them, the coaches, chaperone, and a promoter who is there to make a few bucks after the Games only to  fall in love with the chaperone.    Percy Williams, the Canadian man who won the 100 and 200 at Amsterdam also is fictionally portrayed, including commentary on his later suicide.  The Canadian official who votes against giving women the right to continue running the 800 after 1928 is treated as the chaperone's husband, a doctor, who stays at home and doesn't witness what he votes to discontinue.  The drug of choice is alcohol from the hip flask that is carried by the men and the chaperone and with  liberal imbibing at all times of day.  It's 1928, remember and women are just getting out from under some of the  old societal rules.  They are allowed to vote, corsets are out of style, they can  smoke, and drink.  The public can see their ankles in modern fashion apparel.  Why shouldn't they be allowed to step on a track in shorts and sleeveless tops and compete like men?  Okay but with that exception of nothing longer than the 800 and after these Games,   for the next 35 years nothing longer than 200.  Gotta save those ovaries and uteri for breeding.  My acquaintance, Diane Palmason, a long time world class masters distance runner has the best comment on that thinking.   "If women can't run long distance on the excuse of  protecting reproductive abilities, why should men be allowed to run the hurdles?"

Women's rights or lack thereof  along with sexism are the main themes of the book.  I overwhelmingly support the author in those endeavors.  At the end of the book there is an index of women's achievements in the early days of sport as well which is greatly appreciated.  However  the book fails in an attempt to be spot on with details of the sport.  The writer seems to have a superficial knowledge of track and field that could have been acquired in the scanning of a coaching primer.  Perhaps being historically accurate was not a goal of this work.  But any track and field fan, who is seduced by the cover of this book showing "Saskatchewan Lily" clearing the high jump bar, will be somewhat deceived by the less than stellar descriptions of the sport.  By comparison, Tim Johnston wrote a nonfiction book titled  "Otto Peltzer, His Own Man", and  he made it as exciting as a novel, with great descriptions of actual races, training, and societal leanings.  Peltzer, a world class runner and homosexual was as controversial as any athlete in the 1932 and 1936 Games and for thirty years thereafter.    For its lack of historical accuracy, I cannot recommend The Peerless Four to a reader who is a fan or serious and knowledgeable participant in the sport.   In reality there were 6 women on that first Canadian team known affectionately as "The Matchless Six".  The title cops a plea and calls itself The Peerless Four.  No way.   No thank you. 

 The author and publisher get away with the standard disclaimer about works of fiction , "Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used ficticiously.  Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."  Okay you're cleared, but it is a disappointment to this reader.   The cover has a nice picture of Ethel Catherwood clearing the bar in Amsterdam, but the newspaper clipping under it a fiction, and I should have picked up on that. 

Among the journalists who lambasted the 'collapsing women'  after the 800 meters  in which the first four broke the world record was William L. Shirer who would later write the popular Rise and Fall of the Third Reich  and John R. Tunis who  wrote a bevy  of boys books (fictional).  I guess their  'journalistic work' was somewhat fictional as well.  In Amsterdam, Paavo Nurmi was flat on his back after one of his races, but that was okay.  He was a man.  Probably some old boy collusion between the organizers and the journalists.

Here are  links to brief but real bios of  each of the six Canadian  women on that team from Sports Reference.

Ethel Catherwood HJ   1st HJ  WR

Jenny Thompson          4th 800

Bobby Rosenfeld          2nd 100   5th 800   1st 4x100

Myrtle Cook                 5th 100     1st  4x 100

Florence "Jane" Bell     9th 100   1st  4x 100

Ethel Smith                   3rd 100   1st  4x 100

George Brose

Monday, February 11, 2019

V9 N. 8 Jim Beatty's and the World's First Indoor Sub 4

I couch potatoed  this weekend while watching the  Wannamaker Mile from the Armory in New York and was reminded of a day many years ago  (February 10, 1962)  when Jim Beatty and his Los Angeles Track Club  teammates Laszlo Tabori, Jim Grelle, and Dave Martin along with USMC Lt. Peter Close made an attempt to run the first sub  4 minute mile indoors.   This weekend  Yomif Kejelcha running on a synthetic 200 meter track almost broke the current world record missing by only 0.01 of a second in 3:48.46.  When Beatty took down the record in 1962, he ran 3:58.9 or a little over 10 seconds slower than Kejelcha.  That would have put him a half lap behind on the old 11 lap track.   So with all the improvements in track surfaces, increased  lengths, training methods, shoe technology, and money Beatty wasn't really that far out of reach, at least in this old timer's way of thinking.  Kejelcha is a long legged, sweet striding runner who might have had  a lot of trouble motoring on that 11 lap wood track that was state of the art in 1962.  Anyone who ran on those tracks remembers that they were not smooth to run on, often having dead spots that gave no elastic return to the stride when a runner hit the dead wood.  Only a few colleges had 220 yard indoor tracks in those days, and the big names were not often getting a chance to run on those tracks.  Big meets were in older arenas that were built to handle basketball and ice hockey. Furthermore the radius of the turns on the short tracks was much tighter making it harder to maintain pace.    Other differences in the past were that some of the top runners  ran in two meets the same weekend often on both coasts taking a red eye flight across the country after a race in Madison Square Garden on Friday night and hitting the west coast on Saturday.   Oh yes, and in those days people could and did smoke at indoor arenas, so Beatty, who was a smoker himself, might have had a bit of an advantage over the other guys in the race breathing in all that secondary ash and nicotine.  However today's runners, I think might find that atmosphere a bit toxic.  One was truly left with throat burn in those venues.  You would occasionally catch some of the other runners besides Beatty having a smoke themselves under the stands.
Jim Beatty and Ron Delaney  New York Athletic Club Meet 1962

Dave Martin and Peter Close at Start (SI)
Jim Grelle, Jim Beatty, Laszlo Tabori  SI

The Start in L.A.

Wide World of Sports edition of Beatty's mile record  (Jim Makay and Dick Bank commentating)

Short version but clearer cinematography of Beatty race Pathe News

Sports Illustrated account of race by Tex Maule

Earlier  on that evening in Los Angeles, Peter Snell made his first appearance in the US.   He had  recently set the world outdoor mile record in New Zealand on a 353 meter or 4.55  laps/mile grass track in 3:54.4 at a place called Cook's Gardens in Wanganui, NZ.  Giving 440 splits must have been a challenge. 
Snell on grass 880WR in Christ Church
A week later still in New Zealand, he broke the WR's at 800 and 880.   Never having run indoors he got on that wooden track that he thought looked like a tea saucer and promptly broke Ernie Cunliffe's world 1000 yard record in 2:06, passing the 880 in WR time at 1:50.2, although there weren't enough watches on him to make the 880 official.  Incidently Ernie Cunliffe ran in that WR mile race against Snell.  And John Bork, another of our readers was down there and ran against Snell in the 880 at Christ Church.  He also let me know that he and Ernie did some salmon fishing down under, but I forget who won that contest.

Ernie just sent in the fishing results:   "Salmon fishing:  I won with a  35  1/2 inch    17  1/2 lb fish. Bork had won the trout fishing with a bigger and heavier fish but nothing close to the two salmons we caught."

Here is a note I received from John Bork several years ago after mentioning this trip to New Zealand.

"Dear George and Roy.:

I love this story, ....because , like you, George, I got to know Ernie Cunlife on a trip too.

Yours in Ohio and mine in New Zealand, where we roomed together throughout our 2 1/2 week tour.
We even got to go out salmon and trout fishing there and caught a couple of nice fish. Ernie's best race
was probably in the Wanganui world record mile which he and Bruce Tulloch helped set up for Peter.

Mine was a 1:48.5 at Hamilton, in coming second to Snell to his 1:47.6, or so.
My best only only winning effort during the N.Z. trip was also at Wanganui, where I was able to best
the former, NZ record holder,  Gary Philpott and Jim Dupree. in a time of 1:49.2.
I considered these to be good times since my last workout in Oxford Ohio before getting on the plane to
NZ consisted of 24 x 220 in the snow behind Withrow Court where I beat down a path to run the intervals in.

If it hadn't been for Once upon a Time in the vest., I might not have met up with Ernie again.
So,, thank you."

John Bork    CA

Peter Snell's 880/800 record in Chrst Church

I am not able to find film on  Snell's indoor 1000 or outdoor mile records.  The mile was at night, and the 1000 seems to have ended on the cutting room floor after Beatty's race.    For an account of the Cook's Gardens race see our earlier posting at:  

Peter Snell's Mile Record by Once Upon a Time in the Vest

 Los Angeles  was our first close look at Snell here in the US, and we found him incredible.  He was a big guy and muscular.  We were learning of his new training methodology inspired by Arthur Lydiard.  It (the mileage) was stretching our imaginations.  Mihaly Igloi's training was still a mystery to all except the members of his elite group of runners.  We only knew you ran well with him or came away limping.  It took someone very special to survive the Igloi method.

By the way, the Wanamaker Mile is named after a famous chain of department stores on the East Coast.  It is no longer in business and probably never had online shopping.

(Thanks to Walt Murphy and his great site This Day in Track and Field for background and inspiration.  ed.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

V 9 N. 7 David Rimmer , Ohio State PV Champ Rediscovered

This story came to us from Bob Roncker, Cincinnati, OH.  While cleaning out his home before moving, Bob found some photographs from the 1966 Ohio State HS track meet including several of David Rimmer of Mount Healthy, OH making the first 15' polevault by a Ohio high school athlete.  Bob sent out a question to his track and field contacts asking if anyone knew where David Rimmer was today.  He wanted to present the pictures to David and get some background on his history.  Here is the result of that search.

To Pole Vaulting and Track and Field Aficionados,

Here is a synopsis of my search for and locating David Rimmer, 1960s Mount Healthy High School pole vaulter. At the 1966 Ohio State Championship Track and Field Meet, he became the first Ohio high school athlete to clear 15’0.”  Bill Schnier (former U. of Cincinnati head track and cross country coach) recently said, “Although others have surpassed his 15'1", his 1966 mark was vastly better than anyone else and in my opinion he was the star of that meet."

I attended that meet and took slide photos of his 14’10”, 15’0”, and 15’1” clearances.  My wife and I are in the process of moving out of our house of nearly 45 years. While consolidating and eliminating items, I rediscovered these long forgotten slides of David Rimmer. I thought that he, If he was still alive, or members of his family, would appreciate them, since I believe they are historical track and field pieces.  Through the positive marvels of social media he was quickly located.  David lives in Pensacola and is a recently retired judge.  

I am including some information about the process that occurred during this search and what I and others discovered about David.  David would be happy to link up with and communicate with any of you who receive this email.
Preparing to vault at the 1966 Ohio State Track and Field Championships Meet

Clearing 14' 10"
First 15 foot vault in Ohio HS history

Making 15' 1"

Initially I contacted a large list of folks who were on an email sent by Steve Price.  No one knew of his whereabouts.  Then, Bill Schnier relayed to me David’s contact information. It was provided by Leath Sarvo, formerly Leath Scheidt, a friend of Bill and classmate of David. 

Here are an assortment of things that David has shared with me:

There was a black vaulter from LaSalle High School named Nate Ragan, who I got to know at the meets we jumped in. I have always wondered what became of him. 

You are not the first to tell me that pole vaulters are crazy. I truly believe we are. For many years I ran in local 10k and 5k races, since I had no time or place to vault. I am convinced that I could never train as hard as the good runners do. I once read a quote from a famous Olympic distance runner who was asked the secret to his success. He said, "You've got to love've got to embrace pain." No thanks. I'll stick to the sky. My best friend in high school was Wayne Brooks. He ran the mile and the 880. I got tired just watching him workout on the track. We stay in touch through email. He lives in Oxford, Ohio. 

After high school, I attended Indiana University for one year then left and came to Pensacola in 1967. I got married in 1968 and have two sons and now have three grandchildren. I became a law enforcement officer and eventually returned to college and received my B.A. in Criminal Justice. During this time, I began pole vaulting again with the local junior college track team and managed to clear 16”. 

I left law enforcement after graduating from college and went to law school at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and received my J.D. in 1982. I was an Assistant State Attorney for 27 years. In 2009 I became a circuit judge. I retired last month. We live on a small farm where I built a pole vault pit for my grandchildren and other kids in the area. A photo is attached. I may be crazy, but I have started vaulting again at age 71! 

Thank you very much! I never knew about these photos. Again, thank you for taking the trouble to locate me and for sending these pictures. I can't wait to share them with my son and grandson.

My son was a pole vaulter in high school and cleared 15'2". That was 31 years ago and is still the local record for this area. His son is also a high school pole vaulter, at the same school, and has jumped 14'4". We are hoping he breaks his dad's record this year just as my son broke mine. 

I will never forget that 15'1' jump. I was very tired and remember very clearly thinking to myself as I ran down the runway, "I'll never make it...I'm too tired." But somehow, it happened. 

I just received an email from someone named Bobby Heim. Included was a photo from my high school yearbook and a poem that I wrote called The Big Hop. The poem and prelude appeared in Vaulter magazine.

50 years ago a schoolboy in Ohio had a big idea……be the State Champ and Record Holder in the pole vault.
With sawdust pits, heavy poles and big desire, he worked hard to reach success.
With two years left in high school he trained for one thing …… to be the best.
The year was, 1964, and he penned a short poem titled, “The Big Hop.”
Two years later, at the State Meet ……… he made his “Big Hop.”

The Big Hop
Someday I’m going to make the Big Hop.
I’ll go over the bar and then I’ll drop.
I’ll work my way until that day, and then I’ll win it all.
I’ll do my best and never rest until I make that fall.
I’ll jump so high and far no one will ever top.
I’ll strain to touch a star when I make the Big Hop.
In May 1966, David Rimmer, became the Ohio State Champion and Meet Record Holder with a “Big Hop” of 15’1“.
What is your “Big Hop?” What do you want to achieve? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to leap over excellence? Pole Vaulting is a life lesson in courage, and determination. You forge success with persistence, heart, hustle, guts and grit. Take your Vault experience and apply it to life’s challenges. Accelerate through take-off and act as if it were impossible to fail.
Special message delivered by fellow vaulter:  Wayne Rimmer

We spoke to David this morning and got the go ahead to put this story on our blog.
David mentioned that he has gotten over 10 feet these days and is aware that he's not that far off the world record for his age group 11'5".   He'll be hitting the Masters scene this year.
If you wish to contact David, please go through our blog  notice at the top of this article. (ed.) 

This is a follow up by David:Rimmer:

"I need to correct something that is in error. It is being said that I was the first high school vaulter in Ohio to clear 15ft. Actually, that's only true as for the State Championship meet. The State Meet record was 14'5' set by John Linta in 1964. He was the first to clear 15ft when he cleared 15ft 1/2in at the Ohio Classic meet in Mansfield that same year following the State meet. That was the highest of any Ohio high school vaulter in history.The State record could only be set in the State Meet. So in 1966 at the State meet, I broke his state meet record when I cleared 14'6". Then I cleared 14'8', 14'10" and finally 15'1"  to break his all time record. What was remarkable about Linta's 14'5" vault was that it broke the State record of 13'9" held by his father and which had stood for 25 years! I just want to set the record straight. I have always wondered whatever happened to John Linta.
Also, it may be of interest that in 1962, when I lived in southern California, I had the opportunity to meet the world record holder, Dave Tork. He was a Marine Lt. who set the world record of 16'2" on April 28, 1962. After I moved to Ohio, we kept in touch and I spent some time training with him in his home state of West Virginia. He was actually present at the state meet in 1966 and took a photograph of me clearing 15'1." He sent it to me with a type written note. The photo and note are attached here. Dave Tork is now 83 years old and still lives in West Virginia. Every April 28 I call to congratulate him on that world record set so many years ago. Another interesting part about the 1966 state meet is that the kid who finished 2d to me was also coached by Dave Tork. His name was Reggie Corbett from Rocky River. So technically, John Linta was the first high school vaulter in Ohio to clear 15ft and I was the second when I broke his record."

C:\Users\Owner\Desktop\Dropbox\Camera Uploads\004.JPG

  Until I was eight years old I lived in Lewisburg, W.Va. where my father was a teacher at Greenbrier Military School where Dave Tork went to high school.  The man who lived upstairs in our house was Donald Bartholomew who was the track coach at GMS and coached Dave Tork.  Dave Rimmer, if you have Dave Tork's phone number I would love to give him a call.

   Bill Schnier

Thought you guys might be interested in seeing the "Eternal Pole 
Vaulter" who greets the young athletes who come here to vault. He got 
that name because he pole vaulted until the day he died... and he's 
still pole vaulting! He's standing next to his favorite Bible verse. We 
call this place "the pole vault farm: where champions are cultivated and 
harvested one jump at a time."

David Rimmer

P.S. He was actually purchased from Walgreens several years ago at 

Friday, February 1, 2019

V 9 N. 6 Remembering William Cameron 'Willie' McCool, this date

This day, sixteen years ago, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated across Texas and Louisiana, only sixteen minutes from touching down at the end of its mission.  The captain of the shuttle that day was former US Naval Academy cross country runner Commander William Cameron 'Willie' McCool.  Most of us remember the first shuttle disaster, the Challenger, that occured a few years prior, but this one is less embedded in my memory.  I was coaching the distance runners for the  U. of Dayton, and we were at an indoor meet at Ohio State when the news started filtering in to us.  I had forgotten the story about McCool being a former college runner.  But his teammates have not forgotten him.  Thanks to Walt Murphy This Day in Track and Field  for keeping Cmd. McCool in our minds.  Since his untimely passing a stone memorial and plaque have been placed on the Navy cross country course at a point where Willie McCool would have been sixteen minutes out from his best ever finish. His time that day was 27:24 for five miles.


Thanks for remembering Cmdr. Willie McCool as both a runner and astronaut of great courage, training
and sklil.  What a great name for a man of such distinction
I am humbled to hear of his passing, once again,  knowing that his dedication of our Nation, 
and the space program: exhibited far greater courage than I possess.
John Bork
WMU-Class of 1961

Thursday, January 31, 2019

V9 N. 5 Ted Corbitt and Jackie Robinson shared birthdays on this date January 31 and a lot more

Thanks to Gary Corbitt for this incredible piece of history

3:52 AM (4 hours ago)

Happy 100th Birthday!
Theodore “Ted” Corbitt & Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson
Ted & Jackie: Separated at Birth

Both gentlemen share these things in common:
Born January 31, 1919
Birthplace less than 300 miles apart; Ted- South Carolina, Jackie – Georgia
They were named after Theodore Roosevelt who died January 3, 1919.
Grandson of slaves
Faced segregation issues in athletics
Served in World War 11
Were married in 1946                      
Ted moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1946 and Jackie in 1947.
Registered Republicans
Spouses were nurses
Both are buried 200 yards apart in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
Ted transitioned in 2007 and Jackie in 1972.
Ted & Jackie never met

Dear George:
I never met Ted Corbitt, but I heard about him very shortly after I started running distance races, chiefly through the Long Distance Log.  In all those years and since I never heard anything except admiration for the man.
Jackie Robinson got a lot more publicity than Ted, but like him, one never heard anything negative.
The world of sport is greater because they participated.
Actually, the world is better because they were in it.
Take care,

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

V 9 N. 4 Fred Thompson Longtime Atoms Coach R.I.P.

This article provided by Gary Corbitt  from the New York Times by Robert D. McFadden

Fred Thompson (1933 – 2019)
A Disciple of Mr. Joseph Yancey and the New York Pioneer Club (NYPC)

Fred Thompson, Who Championed Women in Track, Dies at 85
  • Jan. 24, 2019

Fred Thompson, who founded a Brooklyn track club for girls and young women in 1963 and coached national and Olympic medalists as he championed the cause of female track-and-field athletes for a half-century, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 85.
Lorna Forde, a former track star for Mr. Thompson, said the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
A lawyer and former New York State assistant attorney general, Mr. Thompson founded the Atoms Track Club of Brooklyn in a Bedford-Stuyvesant community center, mostly out of frustration with New York City public schools that, for budgetary and other reasons, limited the participation of girls, but not necessarily of boys, in physical education and high school sports.
Mr. Thompson was also the founding organizer of the annual Colgate Women’s Games, the nation’s largest amateur track series for women. Since 1974, the games, open to girls and women from elementary school through college (and with a competitive division for women over 30), have attracted thousands of participants, mostly from East Coast states, to various venues from Boston to Virginia.
A former track star at Boys High School in Brooklyn and the City College of New York, Mr. Thompson inspired remarkable loyalty in his Atoms, which often had 40 to 50 members. Most were runners, some as young as 9, but most were teenagers who regarded him as a counselor, friend and father figure. He paid nearly all the expenses of the club, which was independent of schools or sponsors.
Early on, the Atoms practiced in community center hallways or in locked schoolyards (by scaling fences at twilight). But he eventually found a home for the club at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
His coaching combined sophisticated training techniques with one-on-one skull sessions. And beyond coaching, he demanded good grades and personal responsibility from his athletes.
 “The Atoms doesn’t really stand for track,” he told The New York Times in 1978. “The Atoms stands for excellence in education, trying to better yourself in this society, and one way to do that is to go to college and get that piece of paper.”
For many Atoms, the club was a refuge from broken homes and lives of poverty, as well as a path to education and upward mobility. In time, despite financial and logistical obstacles and a lack of the public support that flows readily to football, basketball and baseball, the club became a symbol of inner-city success as its runners won regional, national and finally Olympic recognition.
Its stars included Cheryl Toussaint-Eason, a silver medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics in the 1,600-meter relay and a gold medalist at the Pan American Games; Diane Dixon, who won Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 1984 in the 400-meter relay and was an 11-time national indoor champion; and Grace Jackson-Small, the silver medalist in the 200-meter sprint at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Mr. Thompson was an assistant coach of the United States track team in Seoul.
Many of the Atoms’ victories could not be clocked by stopwatches. In its first 15 years, the club produced 50 college graduates, a remarkable record given the economic status of their families. They became teachers, lawyers, nurses, psychologists, entrepreneurs — and mothers. “One’s a doctor now, and another runs a study program in a state college,” Mr. Thompson told The Times in 1979.
“But we’ve lost some, too,” he added. “We had a little girl we called Cricket who still holds the 100-yard dash record for 12- and 13-year-olds. But the streets got her. She stopped coming to practice. Another girl, a shot-putter named Diane, they found her dead from an overdose of drugs. I made all my girls go to her funeral. It wasn’t easy. They were crying. They took it hard. But I thought it was something they should see.”
The coach often sounded like a father, although he was a bachelor and had no children. “I’ve always been single,” he told the Timessportswriter Gerald Eskenazi in 1985. “I came close to getting married twice. I miss not having a kid. People say, ‘You have many kids,’ but it’s not the same.”
Frederick Delano Thompson was born in Brooklyn on May 21, 1933. When he was 5, his parents, Hector Joseph Thompson and Evelyn Cethas, split up, and Fred and his brother, John, were sent to live with an aunt, Ira Johnson, who had a deep influence on the boys.
“Life is two things,” Mr. Thompson recalled her saying. “One, get an education, because once you have a college diploma nobody can take that away from you. And two, get involved with people.”
Fred followed both suggestions. He grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and graduated from Boys High in 1950. At City College, he began as a chemical engineering major but switched to history and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1955. He then studied law at St. John’s University, earning his degree in 1958.
After two years in the Army, he was admitted to the state bar in 1961 and opened a private law practice in Brooklyn. He worked mostly on negligence cases.
Aware of the city’s shortage of track facilities for the young, and particularly concerned about limited girls’ participation in intramural and interscholastic sports activities, Mr. Thompson followed his aunt’s advice to become involved. He became a civilian volunteer with the Police Athletic League and then founded the Atoms Track Club. Soon he had dozens of members.
“Most of them are not from circumstances and surroundings that you would call ideal,” he told The Times. “They have home problems, social problems, boy problems and many other problems. You can’t just sweep these under the rug if you want to see them develop their talents and succeed in life. So I involve myself.”
A decade later, in 1972, the landmark federal legislation known as Title IX, which banned sex discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funds, became law. It was the beginning of a sea change for female athletes. Before the law, about 310,000 girls and women in America were participating in high school and college sports. Today, federal officials say, there are 3.3 million.
Mr. Thompson, who handled legal cases for ABC-TV, the Federal Trade Commission and Madison Square Garden and was an assistant state attorney general from 1967 to 1969, gave up law practice in 1974, when he became the full-time paid director of the Colgate Women’s Games. Sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive, the games have been a huge, complex operation, often attracting as many as 20,000 competitors of all ages.
He remained the coach of the Atoms until after the turn of the century, when its membership began to dwindle, and directed the Colgate Women’s Games for 40 years until his retirement in 2014.
Mr. Thompson, whose brother died some years ago, leaves no immediate survivors. He had Alzheimer’s disease in recent years but remained at his home in Brooklyn, cared for by Ms. Forde, one of his best and most devoted former runners. A sprinter from Barbados, she competed in the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics and in the 1975 Pan American Games.
“Fred Thompson is one of those special people that a sport such as track and field needs,” the Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote in 1979. “In the big money sports, a coach can always dream of going on to a lucrative career in college or in the pros. In track and field, there is no big money as there is in football or basketball. In track and field, the love of the sport is true; the dream is pure.”

Source: New York Times

 Boys High, CCNY, and St. John's said it all about this New York native's roots.  Starting the Atoms Track Club, watching it flourish when there was a need, and finally watching it diminish and end because people like him eliminated that need for girls' participation said even more about his character.  That same scenario played out all over the United States in the 1960s and 70s but Fred Thompson was the kingpin the NYC.   Bill Schnier

One of the kindest coaches I knew.

Friday, January 18, 2019

V 9 N. 3 "(Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph", A Book Review by Grace Butcher

Rita Liberti & Maureen M. Smith. (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2015. 328pp.

Reviewed by Grace Butcher.   .

   Authors Liberti and Smith take a close look at the story of Wilma Rudolph, one of the greatest sprinters of all times (3 gold medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics: 100, 200, and 4 x 100 relay) through the lens of current events, “by examining who is served by continually romanticizing the track star and her achievements for the past half-century.” In seven chapters, arranged thematically rather than chronologically, plus a lengthy introduction and conclusion (along with almost a hundred pages of notes, bibliography, and index) the authors dig deeply into events as presented in the media of those times. They focus on errors, omissions, and misrepresentations that now seem obvious with hindsight in our own era of intense and instant scrutiny of the lives of famous athletes.

   The erroneous identification of Rudolph as the first woman ever to win three gold medals in the Olympics is quickly corrected although it has persisted over the decades.  “What is safe to say is that Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympiad...also the first African American woman....” 

   Chapter One describes the behind-the-scenes activity, the planning and plotting, as Clarksville Tennessee became the focal point of the nation for the brief period of Rudolph's homecoming celebration.  Rudolph's unusually bold request to public officials that her homecoming events, the parade and dinner, be integrated, led to Clarksville's claim to being in the forefront of a new and liberal South. In reality, few changes would occur in the status of Blacks in that city or elsewhere in the South for years after her few moments of glory.

   Chapter Two, subtitled “The Politics of Race and Beauty,” calls our attention to Rudolph's image as taken up by the press: “...a slender beauty...the legs of a showgirl.” (Sports columnist Jerry Footlick) . Or Newsweek: “...unlike many American female athletes, she looks feminine.” Sports Illustrated called her a “cafe au lait runner,” a reference to her light skin color. Mademoiselle: “...the very embodiment of black grace, a beautiful, flowing, lissome sight....”  Her athletic accomplishments were often in the background of an article as if proving that her beauty, femininity, grace, poise, and sweetness were her most important attributes.

     At the sold-out (14,000) Los Angeles Invitational indoor track meet in Jan. 1961, her presence completely overshadowed that of any other Olympians, male or female. One of the photos in this book shows her prior to the meet, in a form-fitting skirt and frilly blouse, feminine above all else, jogging on the indoor track, followed by Olympians Dickie Howard and Don Bragg appropriately dressed in their USA warm up suits. This photo, ironically, is the only one in the book that shows her on a track, “running.” Some photos of her Olympic victories—or any other of her races—would have been welcome, but Liberti and Smith have chosen to de-emphasize her athletic accomplishments, as much as the media of her day seemed to do, in their goal of spotlighting, instead, everything that was not brought to light during Rudolph's journey to Rome and beyond.
   In Chapter Three we see the unexpected connection between the Cold War and female athletes in the US.  In the famous dual meets between the USA and the USSR, the Soviets granted their women equal respect and status as athletes, their points in the meets being totaled with the men's to determine the outcome of the competition. The US insisted on scoring separately, to be able to say that while our women lost, our men won. The incongruity of this approach was not lost on athletes and fans alike. The obvious reason for it was that at the time US women were not of the caliber of the Soviet women whose training was serious and intense year round, providing an unfavorable comparison of the US “democratic” way and the USSR's “communist” commitment to excellence.

   The government-funded Soviet programs “designed to develop fully the most talented, irrespective of gender...cast a rare spotlight on US female athletes....” The beauty issue continued to rear its ugly head.  However “the nation's fears of being beaten by the Russians eclipsed anxieties of mannish women running around a track.”  It could be said the real winners of the Cold War were all the young American girls so long denied opportunity to excel in sports.

   Ironically, Rudolph's victories also served to call attention to our years of racism and segregation. We glorified our Black athletes only when it was politically expedient and relegated them to obscurity once the spotlight was turned off.  The 1961 film, Wilma Rudolph, Olympic Champion, produced by the United States Information Agency, “features the athlete's accomplishments on the track, as it simultaneously obscures the racial injustices she endured away from it.”

    Rudolph's only known participation in public protest, a failed attempt, with others, to be served at a Clarksville restaurant in June of 1963, received little notice in the press other than a small headline in the Pittsburgh Courier that read “Wilma Finds Key to City Doesn't Work.” By 1964, with husband Robert Eldridge, her high school sweetheart, she had settled into relative domesticity and didn't even mention the incident in her 1977 autobiography, apparently opting to remain “a Cold War icon rather than a civil rights soldier.”

   Chapter Four deals with Rudolph's childhood of illnesses and disability: “double pneumonia, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles, chickenpox a tonsillectomy and an appendectomy” plus a leg brace from age five, worn for some years. However, by the time she was in high school, and later in college at Tennessee State under famous coach Ed Temple, her running ability brought her the feeling of freedom that her actual daily life did not. Even in traveling with the highly respected Tigerbelles track team she experienced all the restrictions in transportation, hotels, and restaurants as she always had throughout her earlier life.

    Discovering she was pregnant in her senior year of high school seemed barely an issue. She says, “The black girls stayed in school pregnant, like nothing was wrong at all…and there really wasn't any stigma to it....” She enrolled at Tennessee State shortly after having her daughter who went to live with Rudolph's sister while Wilma pursued her Olympic dreams. She had actually won a bronze relay medal at age 16 in the 1956 Olympics, a feat little noticed by press or community. Her goal was gold four years later. But after achieving that goal, she settled into family life, finding few opportunities for competition and focusing instead on the value of relationships within her very large family. (Her dad's two marriages had produced twenty-two children.)

    “Biopics, Nostalgia, and Family in the 1970's” is the subtitle for Chapter Five, Wilma. The famous Olympic documentary film maker, Bud Greenspan produced the film of that name saying, “I wanted hers to be a true sports story.” Yet her relationship with her father seems to be the main focus of the film. The authors argue that Greenspan presents a nostalgic and unrealistic look back at the significance of family in the 50's: “Rudolph's life and her experiences are flattened, simplified, and made two-dimensional” as the film neglects “larger social issues and forces.” Liberti and Smith take issue with Greenspan's overlooking her real life as a “poor black girl raised in the Jim Crow South,” and giving audiences only “cinematic comfort food.”

   The four major male figures in her life—her father, her high school track coach, her coach at TSU, and  later her husband—command so much screen time in the film in their directives and decisions about her future that her athletic accomplishments seem “barely an afterthought...throughout the film.” Greenspan's “determination to be inspirational” leaves us viewing Rudolph's track career as if through the wrong end of a telescope while magnifying a family life that was lived under the shadow of the  racism of the times. In films, children's books, newspapers, and magazines from Rudolph's own era, we're never told the whole truth of the struggle by  female athletes in general and Black female athletes in particular for recognition and opportunity.

    Chapter Six re-emphasizes the limitations of biographies written for children. The twenty or so books about Wilma focus on her overcoming a crippling disability in early childhood, persisting in her Olympic goal, and eventually triumphing through hard work and determination. In these books her life is “seen as being under the total command of the track star herself,” while in reality, every step of her journey was made with great difficulty as she struggled with the discrimination and social injustice of the 50's and 60's. Liberti and Smith maintain that “[B]ooks written for children about Wilma Rudolph remain mired in [the] past....”  They see these stories as “devoid of any political and social context...filled instead with stereotypes and misrepresentations of [prevailing attitudes about] disability.”

   The last chapter shows us, in part through the few illustrations, the various earlier efforts to memorialize Rudolph: a statue, an obscure historical marker, a neglected section of local highway bearing her name, an event center in Clarksville and a dorm and indoor track at TSU also named for her. In 2004 a twenty-three cent stamp bearing her likeness was issued by The United States Postal Service as part of its Distinguished American series. At the time, that was the price of a postcard. 

   In their conclusion, the authors say, “We often lamented her early death [from a brain tumor in 1994 at age 54]...and the loss of her voice and the opportunity to 're-write' her story.” In this book, they have, in a sense, done just that. They find it less than honest to separate this great athlete from every nuanced detail of her difficult life and to focus only on the inspirational story which has prevailed for many decades.  One must delve into the history of the segregated South and weave it into every aspect of her too-brief life in order for any story about her to be true and complete.

   Re-writing/revising/ re-presenting history can be a daunting task. It couldn't happen in Rudolph's own time, but the authors have dug deeply and made it happen now. Liberti and Smith seem to wish that the media back in the day had told it like it was, and that Wilma Rudolph could have used her golden powers for social change. Instead she chose post-Olympic domesticity and relative obscurity.

   Perhaps she had no golden powers then. She was Black, she was female, she ran.

Lest it be forgotten,  Grace Butcher was several times US women's 880 champion and member of the US team that competed against the Soviet Union in Philadelphia.  Grace has had a multi-faceted career as a runner, poet, professor of English, motorcycle racer and writer, and mother. She was one of the major movers in the effort to get US officialdom to allow women to run distances over 220 yards.   She lives outside of Cleveland, OH.  Grace is featured in Amby Burfoot's 2016 book  

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