Olympic Sportsmanship: A “Rant” (continued)

By Alan Cunningham

I just finished reading The Nazi Olympics by Richard Mandell (1971). Here is what he said about the Stoller/Glickman/400 m relay controversy:

“On the morning of Saturday, August 9, 1936, the day for their anticipated qualifying heats and the final, Stoller and Glickman were abruptly told that they had been replaced by Jesse Owens and Foy Draper. Dean Cromwell, the coach for the event, claimed that the threat of a ‘surprise’ German team caused the substitutions. The reporters knew that Stoller and Draper were approximate equals with ‘bests’ of 10.3. The new team from the U.S. was Owens, Metcalf, Draper, and Frank Wykoff, in that order. This quartet equaled the old Olympic and world records in their trial heat…. In the final Wykoff snapped the tape with a lead of 15 meters and fresh world and Olympic records of 39.8…. The Italians finished second in 41.1. The much feared German team was third with a time of 41.2.

“There is little doubt that the team of Stoller, Metcalf, Glickman and Wykoff could have won the event in Berlin, but this foursome lacked Owens, who made possible the new record (which held for 20 years). Accusations of vicious prejudice hung over the American coaching staff for years. Whether or not the accusers were justified, the substitutions were badly timed.

The bad taste exercised in this case was an indication that tougher voracity for victory and new records was overwhelming customary standards of sportsmanship, international morality, and the feelings of individuals. This kind of playing with athletes as if they were insensitive animals was rare before 1936; much more common afterward….”

“there was, at least, an impulse to spread the glory,
even at the cost of slower times and narrower margins of victory”

For perspective, this is the result of the 100m final at the U.S. Olympic tryouts on July 11, 1936: 1) Owens 10.4–2) Metcalf 10.6–3) Wykoff 10.7–4) Draper 10.7–5) Glickman 10.7–6) Stoller 10.8–7) Mack Robinson (Jackie’s brother) 10.8…Photos developed after the final revealed that Glickman had beaten Draper by a foot or two.

Whatever the motives for replacing Stoller and Glickman I was happy to learn that in 1936 there was, at least, an impulse to spread the glory, even at the cost of slower times and narrower margins of victory. Jesse Owens was not greedy for another gold medal and would have been perfectly happy to let someone else have his relay slot.

By 1971, when he published The Nazi Olympics, Mandell had a deeply cynical view of “amateur” athletics, which he ventilated in pages 284-291.

Woven throughout this history of the Berlin Olympics are 20th century world events and the cruel rise of Nazi Germany. The success of the 1936 Olympics was a tremendous boost for the Third Reich and for Hitler’s self-confidence. This was the first real Olympic extravaganza, including the institution of the torch relay from Olympia.

In this book Avery Brundage doesn’t come off any better or any worse than anyone else. However, a 1999 NYT article suggested that his support for the Berlin Olympics was rewarded in 1938 when his Chicago construction company won the bid to help build the German embassy in Washington, D.C. (Lipsyte, “Evidence Ties Olympic Taint to 1936 Games” NYT 2/21/99).

At the risk of causing some embarrassment to the principals I call attention to Don Schollander’s bitterness over being displaced from anchoring the medley relay in Tokyo, 1964, by Steve Clark. Don really wanted that fifth gold medal. (Schollander & Savage, Deep Water (1971) pages 64-67). This episode rightly stands alongside the Stoller/Glickman story and the irresistible accumulation of medals by Michael Phelps.

“athletics can corrupt or sanctify the lives of individuals”

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has just written a fine essay about Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams and “Chariots of Fire” (‘Finding God in the Olympic Footrace’. WSJ 8/12/16). You don’t have to be a believer to appreciate his words about the way athletics can corrupt or sanctify the lives of individuals…. Right now I am 2/3 of the way through David Maraniss’s book, Rome 1960. The Olympics That Changed the World (2008) and just finished the chapter relating the duel between Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang in the decathlon:

Down the homestretch (of the 1500) Yang was bobbing and struggling, Johnson was moving mechanically, sheer will propelling him forward. They crossed the line only 1.2 seconds apart…. As they came to a stop, Rafer put his head on C.K.’s shoulder. Yang bent down to catch his breath, and Johnson bent with him, hands on knees…. A few seconds later, Yang was bending down again when Johnson appeared. lifted him up, and stood with him arm in arm. ‘It was a moment of such beauty,’ Neil Allen wrote in his diary, ‘that I was not surprised to see one friend in the press box with tears in his eyes, and I for one, for the first time in my life, found that my hands were trembling too much to type.’ ” (pp. 303-304).

SO….that is the rant of a middling backstroke/freestyle IM swimmer now in his dotage. I treasure my 1961 championship medals, including two medley relay medals, thanks to Mike Austin’s anchor legs. I treasure the swimming associations from 1958 to 1962, and the chance to rekindle them today through the SwimLore group. I am enjoying the great swimmers on NBC — and I really like Katie Ledecky.


Bob Oliver notes “This originally came from the Swim Lore List, a pleasantly disorganized list of ex-swimmers mostly, but not exclusively, Yale.” We hope you’ll use the comment section of this website by clicking right here, but to e-mail everyone on the list, use this address: Swimming-lore@mailman.yale.edu. You can unsubscribe or change your options, and new people can subscribe, on this web page: http://mailman.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/swimming-lore.


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1 comment to Olympic Sportsmanship: A “Rant” (continued)

  • David Hershey

    Allan “Crab” Cunningham is notorious for his “rants.” As a licensed and registered Curmudgeon, he does excellent service to our Class of 1962. As a student at Yale, he was better known for kicking up his heels (a la Wee Geordie) and existentialist leanings, but since then has leaned back toward Troglodyte Hall. He reads a lot, is erudite, and well versed in Swimming Lore. Ask him some time about his victory in the pool (in LA) over the accomplished Aussie Murray Rose. He’s a clever one, that Crab–and a sly one. Dave (“Hound”) Hershey

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