Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Friday, December 26, 2014

v.4 N. 98 The year is still not over and bizarre story of Josef Odlozil

Roy reports to us about the December, 1964 issue of Track and Field News.

Since the Olympics were held in October and covered in a combined October – November issue, the December issue is a sort of deep breath as Track and Field News recovers.
With the Tokyo Olympics taking precedence, the US cross country season has received short shrift, being packed into brief reports on five pages.
The AAU and the NCAA are at war. There will be no collegians competing in the AAU national championship this year. This takes nothing away from the NCAA nationals held Nov. 23 on the Michigan State golf course in East Lansing.
The Mid-American Conference has its day in the sun. Ohio University's Elmore Banton finished 44th last year, over a minute off the winning time.
Elmore Banton at left getting instructions from  coach
Stan Huntsman,  Robert Heller between Huntsman
and Banton,    Larry Smith, right.

Mo Banton today
This year he stuns everyone by taking an early lead which grows to eight seconds by the two mile mark and holds off Bill Clark of Notre Dame 20:07 to 20:14.  Complete results: 


 "Mo" would move on to head coach of men and eventually women at his alma mater in 1980 for many years until OU gutted the men's program and his former Coach   Stan Huntsman , in protest renounced his Phd. that he had earned there.  After 'retiring'  Mo went on to helping with the cross country and eventually track program at John Carroll University near his home in Medina, Ohio.  

Today, this great conference, The Mid American has sold out to the football gods and ESPN.  Central Michigan of the MAC is playing Western Kentucky in the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl to a  grandstand more sparsely populated than the team members standing on the sidelines.   Two friends Bill Schnier and  Dick Trace summed it up,  " Thirty-two bowl games, 64 teams.  Some obviously don't deserve to be there.  but....  Late December, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan,  the Bahamas....  take your choice."

The 142 pound junior is not the MAC's only surprise. Western Michigan scores a decisive victory over Oregon, 86 to 116. Further evidence of the MAC's dominance this day are the third and seventh place finishes of Ohio (120) and Miami. (No need to explain that there is no “State” associated with Ohio and the Miami we are talking about is the original one, the one that had a century under its belt by the time that pretender in the South started classes.)

The words “stuns” and “surprise” are not ill-chosen. Both Banton and Western Michigan had been beaten three weeks earlier in the MAC championship and only ten days ago in the Central Collegiates.

The field included some pretty good also rans.   Joe Lynch was 8th, Jack Batcheler 10th, Harry McCalla 12th, Barry Brown 14thKenny Moore 19th,
John Lawson, 24th, Bill Silverberg 26th, Darryl Beardall 29th, Ed Duchini 40th, Tom Sullivan 44th, Darnell Mitchell 45th and Bob Delany 47th. 180 finished.

This comment came from Bill Schnier, former U. of Cincinnati coach:
   What a fine article on Elmore Banton, OU and the MAC.  In recreating our records at UC, I found it necessary to look through the Regionals and Nationals as far back as possible.  I was very underwhemed by UC's involvement but absolutely astounded by the record of the MAC.  The individuals and teams from the MAC played a major role in both meets for a long time, outstripping many of the current BCS teams.  Much like visiting Dayton, it was a bittersweet experience as I juggled the glory of the past with the reality of the present. 
   It is hard to document exactly why all of this happened, but I suggest the following possibilities:
1.  The population and financial success of the Midwest was much better then, vastly superior to the Southeast.  It is the opposite today.
2.  National recruiting was scarce so the Midwest kids tended to attend Midwest schools.  They did not opt for warmer weather like today.
3.  Recruiting was not driven by internet identification, texting, inexpensive airplane flights, easy interstate highway access to far away schools, weather and the mindset of going to school far from home.
4.  The creation of the BCS, a "football-only concept", has also created a great-vs.-average mentality which permeates all sports.  Right now non-BCS schools are at a huge disadvantage in recruiting.
5.  Most "superpowers" had not yet embraced all sports, leaving a void as well as an opportunity in sports like cross country.  The same can be said for basketball in the 1950s-70s where some very small schools were national powers.  No more.
6.  Cross country and indoor T&F were to a great extent Midwest and Eastern sports, hence the balance of power.
7.  Many of the best up-and-coming young coaches started at MAC schools.  Often those schools had much better coaches than their now-BCS counterparts who sometimes were older coaches living in the past.  
8.  The MAC was a logical conference, similar in size and proximity.  This created a great atmosphere for recruiting and competing.  The results speak for themselves.

Bob Day
Although this was the national championship, sections of the country weren't represented. Aside from Oregon, no school from west of the Rockies competed, including defending champion San Jose State. Indeed the West Coast Championship, held at Stanford five days after the nationals, included only eight schools. Wait, you don't have five runners? Have you checked PE classes? Hmmm...tell you what, we'll just count the first four. Will that work for you? Apparently it did as seven schools, including Sacramento State and Whittier, are able to round up the required quartet and UCLA beats Stanford 20-24 with the Bruin's Bob Day taking the individual title.

Most of the world has taken a break from track and field. The Olympics were held late in the year. It has been a long season. Those who competed are relieved the pressure is off, and they can back their training down or just take a vacation.
Well, that is not entirely true. It is summer down under. Why waste beautiful weather and peak conditioning when there could be a couple meets that might provide record breaking opportunities?

Snell and Odlozil at another track, another date, unknown
The date is November 17. The place is Auckland, New Zealand. The occasion is Peter Snell's attempt to break his own world record in the mile. His competitors have a familiar look to them. Czechoslovakia's Josef Odlozil who won the Olympic silver medal four weeks ago and countryman John Davies, the bronze medalist, are on the starting line.
Today winning is not as important as running fast, world record fast. Snell has always subscribed to a follow and kick philosophy and it has served him well. Today is different. He is determined to find out what he can do if he runs, to paraphrase a locker room term, man parts out.
And that is exactly what he does. The Olympic champion follows pacers through a 56.4 opening lap and when they fade, leads at the half in 1:54.1. Odlozil and Davies are well back and of no help. It is Snell against the clock. The pace slows to 60.2 on the third lap, producing a 2:54.3 time with a lap to go. He only needs 60.1 to break his record.
But this final lap is like no other Snell has run. The patented Snell finish has been run out of him in the first half mile. His kick has been replaced by struggle and strain. In what the Olympic champion says is “one of the hardest laps of my life”, he goes through 1500 in 3:37.6 and finishes in 59.8 to better his record by a scant three tenths in 3:54.1. This strategy will not be used in future races. He says, “I wanted to see what it would be like to lead from the front, but never again.” Odlozil and Davies score personal bests of 3:56.4 and 3:56.8.
In what can only be thought of as an afterthought, Ron Clarke and Murray Halberg mix it up at 10,000 meters. No record is broken but Clarke is impressive in beating Halberg for the first time when the New Zealander is healthy, 28:29.6 to 28:33.0. Asked if he was glad he had finally beaten Halberg as his peak, the modest Clarke replies, “Murray is not at his peak because I don't think I could have beaten him at his peak. He is a fantastic runner”.

Two weeks pass. It is now December 3 and pretty much the same cast is holding forth in Melbourne, Australia, but this time the roles of star and supporting actor are reversed. Snell wins the mile in an Australian all comers record of 3:57.6, but it is Clarke who is the world record setter.

Once again it is Clarke and Halberg, this time at three miles, a distance in which Halberg holds the world record of 13:10.0. Though gusty winds hamper the runners, Clarke dominates Halberg and takes his world record in the doing. Clarke lowers the WR 2.4 seconds with a strong 13:07.6. Halberg has no answer. He is on the penultimate curve when Clarke hits the tape. He finishes in 13:31.0. Clarke now holds the world records at three miles, six miles and 10,000 meters. Had this race been run at 5000, likely Clarke would have taken down Vladimir Kuts 13:35.0. The new record holder sums up his racing strategy, “I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could.”

The Sad End of Life for Josef Odlozil I'm sure many of you remember Josef Odlozil not only for his silver medal in Tokyo but also for his marriage to Vera Caslavska, shortly after the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  Caslavska was the winningest gymnast in Olympic history at the time and had made headlines by turning her head away from a flag ceremony when the Russian national anthem was played to denounce the recent Russian invasion of her country that summer.    She was forced into retirement when she returned home.   After the Russians left, she was resurrected and eventually became president of the Czech Olympic committee and a member of the IOC, but by then the marriage had ended in divorce.   The story turns bizarre and even more upsetting , in 1993 with Josef Odlozil's untimley death at the hands of his son Martin in a bar fight.  Martin would eventually be pardoned by Czech Republic leader Vaclav Havel. GB

See below from the English language Prague Post:

Death of Olympic Hero After Dancefloor Fight

Posted: September 22, 1993
By  Mark Fish

The Odlozils in happier times

More than a week after the attack on Josef Odlozil, authorities were still trying to piece together the circumstances that led to the death of the Olympic silver medalist runner.
Odlozil, whose marriage to gymnastics legend Vera Caslavska provided a fairy-tale ending to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, died Sept. 10 as a result of head injuries sustained in a bar fight.
His 19-year-old son Martin has been charged with assault that resulted in death, but, details of the incident are far from clear. Authorities say the son will remain out of custody for the time being.
The official autopsy attributed Josef Odlozil's death to injuries suffered on the night of Aug. 6 at the disco-restaurant U Cimbury. Eyewitnesses agree that Martin hit his father on the head, knocking him to the floor. The circumstances leading up to the assault are disputed.
According to one account, Josef had come to talk to his son, who was with a group of friends. Martin is said to have promptly got up and left the hall, and then vandalized his father's car. When he returned, he requested that the DJ play the song "Green Brains" by the radical band Orlik. While dancing to this song, Josef accidentally hit a neighboring dancer, Jarek Leskov, who was allegedly drunk. Leskov retaliated by repeatedly hitting Josef in the face. As Josef was defending himself, Martin appeared from the side and hit his father, who crumpled to the floor.
According to police, many potential witnesses were very drunk at the time and could not provide clear accounts.
Odlozil won the silver medal in the 1500m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was the holder of many world records.
Josef and son Martin

For many, the 1968 marriage of Odlozil and Caslavska was a defining moment of the troubled era. Caslavska, who won Olympic stardom just days after the Warsaw Pact invasion crushed political reforms in her country, was a symbol of the small country's defiance. The couple was wed before a crowd of 1,500, including many fellow athletes, in Mexico City just after the close of the games. The marriage ended in 1987. Odlozil recently returned from Iraq, where he had been working for the United Nations to protect humanitarian convoys (as a member of the Czech Army ed.). He is survived by his second wife, Eva, and their two children.
-Compiled by Mark Fish

More research uncovered the some other  pieces of the story.   There were two very conflicting accounts of the incident in the pub.   However what is clear is Josef had run into Vera earlier in the evening, but they had not gotten along and he moved on to the pub where Martin was supposed to be hanging out.  Josef had been trying to help with some arrangements regarding Martin's pending graduation.   .   Josef who was in the Czech army at the time had just returned from duty in Iraq and son Martin who was estranged from his father asked the DJ to play the song Green Brains which was very derisive of the military. He had earlier vandalaized Josef's car outside the pub.  Everyone involved was very drunk causing conjecture in many of the witness stories.   Martin was involved in the fight that broke out and did strike his father who then fell hitting his head and died as a result of that fall.  Martin was charged with another youth Jaroslav Lieskovany.  See photo below.  Lieskovany was acquitted and Martin received a four year sentence but was pardoned by Czech president Haval.  It is not clear if this was a favor to Martin's mother Vera because of her close ties with the government or some other circumstances regarding the court process.  

Martin Odlozil and Jaroslav Lieskovany on trial.  Mom,
Vera Caslavska seen directly behind them.

Today Martin works in a low profile position as a forester.  Lieskovany would go on to join the army, as he was not convicted he could do this.   In 2013 he  died along with 4 other Czech soldiers at the hands of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while serving as a sergeant with the Czech army. To date the Czech army has lost 25 soldiers in that conflict.    Apparently the death of Lieskovany opened old wounds between Josef and Vera's families.
Vera, Josef, and Sgt. Lieskovany

And finally .   Pete Brown sent this with the following note.

1939 AA team from the autobiography DEVIL AT MY HEELS, by Louis Zamperini, published by E.P. Dutton and Co., 1956. As expected, USC well represented. I have this book signed by Zamperini, purchased through Track and Field News in 1956.

Pete Brown

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