Ãàðîëüä Êîííîëëè
Harold Connolly
Ïîåçäêà çà Îëèìïèéñêèì Çîëîòîì
The Journey for Olympic Gold
ãëàâû 26-31
Olga Fikotova and Harold Connolly. Picture from http://www.sportline.it/sydney2000.nsf/refstorie/1956_5

Chapter Twenty-six

During our last week in Germany Bob disappeared from Das Haus des Sports
with Frauline Renatta Von Lieres, leaving me a note with no address where he’d be
staying, and he stopped showing up at the training field.
Four days before our departure, down to my last ten dollars for food and bus fare,
I checked out of the hotel. I hoped coach Heinz could help me find a place for the night
before my last European competition the next day in the nearby town of Westerstede.
After the competition I was resigned to spending my last night in Germany on a bench in
Stadtpark. That afternoon, finding that coach Heinz was out of town, I was really stuck.
A night outdoors before the competition was a very unappealing prospect. Maybe
Gerhard, the friendly waiter in the hotel’s restaurant, who used to work in Chicago, could
help me.
Luckily, Gerhard had the late afternoon shift. Sympathetic with my dilemma, he
handed me the menu with an encouraging, “Just relax, I’ll arrange something.” He
slipped out of the dining room. When he returned, he victoriously came straight to my
“Everything is ready for tonight. The maid agreed to let you sleep somewhere on
the second floor as long as you contact her before nine tonight. Meet me here at seven
thirty, have some dinner, and afterwards I’ll take you upstairs,” he whispered
confidentially. “And don’t worry about your meals. Come during my shifts and I’ll take
care of you. When I worked in the United States I also got a few breaks.”
“Herr Gerhard, I can't find words to thank you.”
“Young man, I’m happy to be able to help. Before you come back from
Westerstede, I will try to arrange for something better, but you can be sure you will have
a place to sleep tonight.”
Shortly after eight that night, Gerhard guided me through the service staircase to
the second floor where he knocked twice on the maid’s door.
“Herein,” said a strong female voice.
“Guten Abend,” Gerhard said as we entered a cramped utility room where a
heavy-set, gray haired lady, wearing a blue uniform and full apron, was sorting a high
stack of laundry. I repeated the same greeting, but from then on my benefactors carried
on a rapid conversation. I strained to understand what they were saying, but they spoke
too fast.
“--und ich bin sehr beschaeftigt. Hier ist der Schluessel zum Bad, ich konnte
leider nichts bessares finden. Ich hoffe ihr Freund passt in die Wanne.” She reached into
the pocket of her apron and pulled out some notice on a string, obviously to be hung on a
doorknob, and a large ring crowded with keys that she handed to Gerhard after showing
him the one he would need.
I thanked the lady, “Ich danke sehr schoen. Sie sind sehr hilfsreich..help.” She
responded to in a stream of German.
Gerhard offered an abridged translation. “Mutti is happy to help you, and she says
that she made ready a pillow and two blankets. She also said you should not leave the
light on for very long because it shows under the door. She thinks you may be too big but
wishes you a good night.”
I couldn’t understand anything she said, and Gerhard’s translation simply added
to my confusion. Not until we were back in the corridor, when I read the note on the
begin to fall into place. That was why the maid worried about my size!
“Gerhard, and I going to be sleeping in a bathtub?”
“Yes,” affirmed the waiter proudly. “The maid is a good woman. We call her
Mutti , that's mother in English, and don’t worry about anybody walking in on you. Mutti
has the only bathroom key, and she wouldn’t give it out even if there came a fire. When
you are inside, I must give Mutti back her keys.”
We reached the door inscribed “BAD,” immediately adjacent to a narrower one
marked with the conspicuous double zero.
“I believe you’ll get a good rest. Don’t forget; switch the lights off soon as you
can, not to get Mutti in trouble. I’m sure you have been in the hotel BAD before and can
find your way in the dark. And when you return from Westerstede, if I am not here, go to
the porter’s desk. I will leave you an envelope with the key to the bathroom or a better
room if I can arrange it. All is good, Harold?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll manage. Good night, Gerhard,” I said not feeling, however, as
positive about having as easy a time as Gerhard expected. I had not seen the bathroom
before because I always showered in the Volkparkstadium.
After manually locking the door from the inside, I was enveloped by total
darkness. Two small steps later, I tripped over something hard that flipped up and
crashed back on the floor with a resounding bang. My foot got caught underneath the
object, not painfully, but with enough discomfort for me to disregard any hope of trying
to accommodate myself in the dark. I groped for the light switch. Under the light of a
single, uncovered, ceiling bulb, I stood in a short, narrow rectangular room with no
windows or openings except for a small partly closed ventilator in a corner near the
ceiling. The furnishings consisted of an old- fashioned four- legged porcelain tub, that
contained the promised bedding, and a low wooden stool next to a wooden grill mat over
which I had tripped and which covered a small square drainage hole in the center of the
cold, white-tiled floor.
Before I started to undress, a sound of shuffling slippers scared me back into
darkness. The slippers seemed to stop in front of my shelter, but then came an additional
step and the click of the lock inside the next room. Through the obviously paper thin,
separating wall I heard the rustling of clothing accompanied by heavy breathing.
Motionless, I listened to the impatient yanking on a stuck toilet chain, the cascading
flush, and the releasing click of the lock followed by the welcome shuffling away. Safe
I moved towards the stool, reaching for it in the blackness only to instantly freeze
in a bent over position as someone began to violently wiggle the bathroom door handle.
He paused to read the note; released the handle, and swearing quietly, walked away. A
moment later the quick steps of a ladies’ heels came down the hall. I lowered myself
slowly onto the little stool.
A legion of visitors made their calls next door before the outside corridor slipped
into sufficient tranquility, that I felt at ease undressing and crawling into the tub. To my
pleasant surprise, the tub’s concavity was not entirely uncomfortable, and giving my last
thought to the next day’s meet, I rested my head back on the pillow and dozed off.
Suddenly, I heard the door open. I shot up into a seated position, but the room remained
pitch dark and momentarily silent. Then came the sound of several resounding steps
which, I was sure, had originated somewhere within my reach. Who else was inside?
Suddenly the trill of whistling followed by a short cough, and the thundering roar of
water shattering all peace revealed that the noise was coming from the bathroom directly
above. Its occupant relaxed for thirty minutes, joyfully splashing and accompanying
himself with rollicking German songs, before he sent the water, fortissimo, gushing down
the drain in a nerve racking proximity to my head.
Two more people took lengthy baths during the following two hours. When I
finally made up my mind to definitely fall asleep, the thought occurred to me that in this
tomb I might not wake up in time to catch the 7 a.m. bus to Westerstede. I climbed out of
the tub, turned on the light and glanced at my watch. It was past midnight and I had to
tune myself to six o’clock. With that self- hypnotic determination, I returned to the tub,
put my head on its rounded slope, placed my ankles on the opposite rim, and closed my
This time, however, the previous moderate comfort of the tub vanished. Even the
rolled up pillow could not prevent the unpleasant crick in my neck; and my feet began to
feel numb. While the hotel gradually relaxed into the unsuspecting quietude of night, I
felt the tub, the room around me, and the air supply rapidly shrink. The sudden fear of
suffocation expelled me from the tub. I sat on the stool which became sma ll and hard. I
returned to the tub--then again to the stool--then again back in the tub. I couldn’t get
settled, but I had to get some rest. When, finally, my concern over the next day’s
competition prevailed over the caprices of my imagination, I discovered that it was
already 6 AM. My bones disjointed, my body aching, I got dressed.
Notwithstanding my night’s ordeal, in Westerstede I threw my personal record of
181’10”, over 55 meters, to not only defeat closely my teacher, Karl Hein, but also Hugo
Ziermann. Receiving a small silver cup on the award stand and looking straight into
Hugo’s eyes as he shook my hand were sweet memories of my first victory in Europe.
Before the meet, while changing into competition gear in the combined male -
female dressing facilities, a spacious barn with wooden pegs and benches lining the four
walls, I had spotted Elsebeth Kurz, a diminutive, pretty, auburn- haired, 80-meter hurdler
Bob and I had said hello to at an earlier competition. On the way out of the dressing barn
after the competition, buoyed by the joy of having won and thrown a personal best, I
found the courage to catch up to Elsebeth to congratulate her as on winning the hurdles.
“Gluckwuensche zu Ihrem huerdensieg.”
Elsebeth stopped, looked directly at me, and struggled in her rudimentary English
to also congratulate me on my victory. “Congratulation zu Ihrem Hammer Wurf.”
When she smiled, I found even more courage to ask her, in my halting,
Anglicized German if she would like to have something to eat with me in Stadt Park
when we got back to Hamburg. “Wuerden sie mit mir gehen in den Stadtpark zum Essen
wenn wir zuruckgehen nach Hamburg?”
Somehow she understood and still smiling, agreed, “Ja, I go mit you.” Seated
together in the crowded bus back to the city, the proximity of her vibrant, athletic body
and smiling face increased my excitement over my first date with a pretty German girl.
During the dinner of schnitzels, dumpling's, two large beers, and a shared strudel,
I learned Elsebeth was nineteen years old, a secretary for a trucking company and she
lived in a small apartment with her mother and sixteen- year-old sister. Her bright blue
eyes saddened when she said, “Mein Vater unt brother were in war killed, als ich was
ten.” At that moment I realized that Elsebeth was one of thousands of young women in a
war torn country that had lost huge numbers of its young men and boys to death and
disabling wounds.
Fortunately our conversation quickly lightened up with the fun of discovering
more mutually comprehensible phrases, about sports, music and American movies. We
decided on a warm evening's walk through the beautiful park. With my sport bag slung
over my left shoulder, I carefully maneuvered to take her left hand in my right, as we
ventured along the rather dark bending path through the park. I kept looking ahead
hoping to find a bench devoid of senior citizens, dogs and their walkers, or other
romantically inclined occupants.
After what seemed an interminably long time, but couldn't have been more then
fifteen minutes, we found a solitary bench on a dark bend in the path. Our bags next to us
on the bench, I placed my left arm around her and she rested her head on my shoulder.
Our minimal communication skills, soon found us very passionately kissing. For the next
hour we kissed, then walked and talked and stopped and kissed and kissed. She was
more passionate than any girl I had ever experienced, which undeniably were very few,
and I was becoming uncomfortably excited. By now it was dark and getting late.
Despite our increasingly heated kissing and embracing, it was growing chilly. The dinner
had left me with $2.50. I was by now extraordinarily excited, frantically embarrassed
and not knowing what to do next. I tried, with great difficulty in halting German, to
explain my situation: no money, no hotel room only a bathtub and a hard wooden bench.
“Ich habe kein Geld und keinen Hotel Room. Ich schlafe im Hotelbadzimmer.. in einer
She told me her home was near, and invited me to meet her mother and sister. I accepted,
feeling the least I could do was walk her home. My limited understanding and not
speaking German made it awkward meeting and communicating through Elsbeth with her
mother and sister in their surprisingly small apartment with so little furniture. They were
just sitting down to their dinner and offered to set a place for us. The Elsbeth told them
that we had already eaten and they asked me through her if I would like a beer. It was
getting a little late, and I began to feel apprehensive about missing Gerhard. I declined
the beer and apologized for having to leave so soon because of an appointment with a
man at the Haus des Sports who was arranging a room for me that night. With Elsbeth's
address and a kiss goodbye I was up the door.
In the Ubahn on the elevated train back to the Haus des Sports, I gazed out the
window at the hollow, in the, dark buildings flashing by - so that he scarred reminders of
the war, like Elsbeth, her mother, and sister.
Bob had not shown up for the competition, the door at the Haus des Sports. I
heard nothing from him until the moment of the train’s departure for Rotterdam, when I
thought about flipping a coin to decide whether to call the police or leave without my
partner. With only fifteen minutes remaining, Bob, in the best of humor, walked into the
train station, accompanied by Renatta and another pretty girl. “Where’ve you been?” I
asked. “I almost gave up on you.”
“Come on, Buddy!” Bob responded. “You didn’t think I was lost!” In a few
minutes we were waving “Good-bye” to Bob’s girlfriends and Hamburg.
On our last night in Rotterdam. We pooled our slightly more than six dollars and,
with practical sentimentality, spent it for items we found basic to Europe: a loaf of black
bread, two bottles of beer, and two triangles of cheese, with enough left over for a bottle
of milk for breakfast. After this last European dinner we used our trouser belts to tie our
luggage to a couple of benches next to the train station by the side of one of the city’s
canals, and under our top coats we slept on the cold planks. At four in the morning the
sodden, pre-dawn mist woke me up chattering, and I saw that Bob and his bags were
“Bob! Hey, Bob!” My call woke up a few ducks and a dozen tulips from their
misty slumber. I wondered where my roving friend could be this time. Unless he took a
swim in the canal, he could go only across the tracks --Yes, he must be in the hay fields
beyond the train station! I untied my bag and the hammer Storch had given me and set
out to search. Soon I spotted two familiar feet protruding from the largest haystack in the
vicinity. Without disturbing my buddy, and with great respect for his ingenuity, I pulled
myself and my luggage into the other side of the hay and spent the rest of the morning
deeply asleep in that cozy, rustic nook.
At eleven we reached the waiting ship at the height of its passenger loading. All
along the rail at the head of the gangplank American students, dressed in Lederhosen and
Tyrolean hats, and burdened with souvenirs, crowded to see old acquaintances returning
and to bid farewell to others seeing them off. The throng hushed at the sight of us.
Almost everyone seemed to take notice of our mud covered shoes, wrinkled sweat suits,
and dusty hair. Nevertheless, as we reached the end of the ramp, Bob saved us from
embarrassment. Overhearing two girls admiring a gift, that was a “real European”
something or another, using my Finnish name, he whispered, “Heikki, check those
chicks as we pass.”
After that, he stopped to ostentatiously remove a clinging blade of hay from my
collar and hand it to the girl whose gaze typified the reactions of all the others. “For you,
baby. Original European hay,” he said, and everybody around us chuckled. We made it!
We were on the way home, and the wonderful staff of the S.S. Zuidercruise served early
Chapter Twenty-seven
I was so fired up by coach Christmann that I could think of little else but training
and throwing. Despite this obsession one of the first things I did on coming home was to
call Virginia to ask if I could see her and take her to dinner. She said she was still
working at the Boston Public Library and could see me when she got off work at six the
next day. She said she would take the train to work, or her brother would drop her off.
“Matt told me you had gone to Europe to train and compete all summer,” she said.
“Thank you for the postcards. I'm looking forward to hearing all about your trip.”
The next night in the course of our conversation I told her about some of the
places I visited and people I met. Virginia, whose direct, sparkling eyes and fresh natural
beauty still captivated me, said, “You must have met many pretty girl's.”
To which I answered, “ Some.”
“Oh, I'm sure at least a few of them fell in love with you,” Virginia said. I sensed
she was fishing around attempting to determine how intimate I had been with any of the
girls I had met. “I hear the girls are very different in Europe?” she added in an inquisitive
When I asked her what she meant by that, she said, “Oh, you know, much freer
with affection.”
I asked myself, was she seeking a direct statement from me that I was still chaste
and reserving myself for the woman I would ultimately marry? Her inquisition on this
issue hurt and offended me, and I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of the answer I could
have given her, the very answer she was seeking. I was disappointed she had so little
trust and belief in me. Saying goodbye to Virginia that night, I felt a deep sense of loss,
maybe heartbreak. I could turn now to completely focus on throwing the hammer. I
never asked her out again.
I continued my studies at the Boston University Graduate School on a part-time
basis, along with substitute teaching in the Boston Public Schools. My free time I
reserved for the secret purpose that grew relentlessly within me ever since the
conversation with coach Christmann: I wanted to overcome the twenty five feet that
stood between my results and the elite of hammer throwers.
On coach Christmann’s advice I purchased films of the top European hammer
throwers, only to discard them after several viewings and frustrating attempts to emulate
their form. Now there was no doubt that the limitations of my left arm prevented my
emulateing their technique completely, and if I was to succeed, I had to develop my own
form. Incorporating German training methods and features of the Russian throwing style
to my own capabilities and ideas, I conceived a technique most effective for me. I spent
every available afternoon and many late evenings at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Tufts College or Boston College’s athletic facilities, throwing, running, or
lifting weights.
Before the spring of 1955, my father’s illness reached the stage where he had to
be admitted permanently to the Northampton Hospital for US War Veterans. Though we
visited him as frequently as possible, and he occasionally came home for short visits, the
reality of his condition, known to us but not to him, left no hope for him to ever be able to
leave the institution permanently; that hurt me very deeply. While I knew my mother was
the one who for years had carried the responsibilities of our home, and to her I had been
turning with all problems, my emotional ties to Dad yearned for the presence of his still
positive personality, and everything inside me rebelled against his detainment. Yet there
was nothing anybody could do to reverse my father’s fate.
Mary, a graduate student at Emmanuel College, and I considered withdrawing
from school for full time jobs in order to provide for Mother. Though we never saw her
cry nor betray in any other way her grief over lost dreams, we felt she would have to be
seraphic not to worry about the future. If she had to live in the loneliness of Dad’s
absence, we decided we would dispel any fears she could have of financial want. But
Mother took the lead. Shortly after her consent to father’s hospitalization and his
acceptance of its necessity, she called a living room conference that reminded us of the
occasion ten years before, when she first told us about Daddy’s incurable illness.
Mary and I sat down on our old sofa. Mother lit a cigarette and pulled up a chair
to face us. “Harold, Mary, I believe you understand the need for an adult discussion.
Your father has left our household and for all practical purposes I have to begin to
arrange for living on my own— ”
“We will never leave you alone, mother; you don’t have to worry!” Cutie tearfully
broke in.
“Stop talking nonsense, Mary. I am long beyond worrying about that. Please, now
just listen.” With her typical theatricality, Mother parried off our alarm. “I know that you
love me, and that if I ever need help, you would be right here to give it. That needs no
further discussion. But I don’t want you to be thinking about supporting me when I don’t
need it. As of now, I have Daddy’s veteran’s money, and when more of the Connollys’
property is sold, your Father will receive his share of your grandfather’s estate. This
should take care of him and me; if not, I’m smart enough to get myself a job. Many other
women have had to.” She got up and walked across the room, put out her cigarette, and
took two brown envelopes off the top of the piano and continued speaking.
“Of course, I cannot take on the full burden of supporting you two; and, therefore,
I called you here to give you responsibilities of your own.” She handed us the envelopes.
“These are your life insurance policies, which I’ve kept for you ever since you were
babies. Take them now and make up your own minds whether you wish to keep up the
payments or to cash them in to help you with your studies. I want you to stay with me,
but also to learn to live on your own. Mainly, don’t you dare to quit graduate work for
some stupid ideas of supporting me--I am not ready in any way to hang on the good
graces of my children.”
From that afternoon, when mother so decisively disengaged us from the
consequences of Daddy’s illness, the three of us continued to live together in an even
closer emotional bond, but as independent adults.
The throwing improvement I was expecting wasn’t coming. My early spring
workout distances were significantly below my previous year’s best throw, and the
lingering cold weather magnified the problems of my left arm. Whenever the temperature
was chilly my left hand became numb. Even wearing my throwing glove, the circulation
in my left hand was always a problem in the cold. I struggled to transform my new
concepts of hammer throwing technique into motion, but with each training session my
discouragement mounted. I began to wonder if the situation and the wine back in Fulda
were more the source of coach Christmann’s divination than my latent ability. My
waning hopes of qualifying for the following year’s Olympic team were besie ged by
mounting doubts.
The previous summer I had met none of the world’s top ranked hammer throwers.
From Hein, Storch, and Christmann I had learned that athletes all over the world were
already pointing to the upcoming Olympic Games in Melbourne. I did not know much
about the Olympics and could not imagine the magnitude and mystique of the greatest of
all international sports events. However, I was certain about one thing: the world’s top
athletes would meet there to face one another in the ultimate test of their talents, hard
work, and luck. My desire to get to Melbourne was impeded by incontrovertible realities:
my poor results meant more lengthy, demanding training which practically halted my
academic progress; and, even if I made the US Team for Melbourne, it would mean three
months away from teaching and the loss of much needed salary. Was my ambition too
steep for my handicap? The sacrifices, that could so easily end in failure, seemed to
heavily outweigh the possible returns. Was the fleeting personal satisfaction of being an
Olympian in an obscure event, known only in the obscure world of amateurism, worthy
of the struggle? I had those thoughts, but remained fixed on the goal.
Week after week I was bothered by this inner turmoil. But just as the pendulum in
my mind swung towards the position of retreat, something within me asked: Is it honestly
the outside obstacles that prevent you from facing the Olympic challenge or is it more a
fear of the humiliation of defeat and failure? The ever-recurring self-doubt between the
emotional challenges and resigning to defensive reasoning forced the need for a final
One late Friday afternoon in May, I drove to Boston College’s discus and hammer
throwing area on the filled in reservoir where I competed as an undergraduate. Somehow,
it seemed appropriate to make the decision about going on with the hammer in the same
place where it all started three years earlier. The throwing field and all the area around it
were still used by the university as an auxiliary parking lot until the start of construction
for the football stadium.
I unrolled the steel measuring tape from the edge of circle to the distance of my
best throw. Then I took off my sweatshirt and placed it about five feet farther, resolving
that if I did surpass my personal record and reach that folded shirt, I would go all out to
make the Olympic team. If I failed, I would never throw the hammer again.
I stood alone on the sandy, rocky excavation area, watched only by my old Buick,
parked behind a mound of rocks near the cement, throwing circle. One other car, a
Chevy convertible, was parked way to the left of the direction I was to throw and well
beyond the distance of my folded shirt. Being my own judge, I ruled to take three warm
up and six competitive throws. For ten minutes I jogged up and down the field, stretching
and getting ready, then I took the three restrained but progressively longer tosses.
Suddenly, I began to imagine what it must be like to hear the voice of an Olympic
official: “Connolly, United States, first throw.” My heartbeat pulsing in my throat, my
hands clammy, I took hold of the hammer handle, stepped into the ring and set myself to
throw. The hammer landed about a foot short of my Westerstede personal record, my best
practice result ever. Now even more excited, I readied myself for my second attempt. My
feet spun fast, almost effortlessly. This time the hammer almost hit the folded shirt. I
quickly ran to bring the hammer back. The day was perfect; it felt easy.
On my third throw I turned even faster, and though I somehow forgot to add my
usual extra force into the final lift, the implement took off, perhaps a bit late, with a
release speed I had never experienced before. The lead filled, brass ball flew like a
flashing meteorite--but somehow drifted too much to the left--I closed my eyes. The next
moment I heard a muffled crash. The entire hammer disappeared through the center of
the roof of the Chevy.
Just then a student came running down the hill from the University. He was
waving his arms and briefcase, hurtling himself, nearly falling as he rushed toward me.
“What have you done you idiot!” He yelled in a panting, breaking voice.
I offered no response. I had mixed emotions over the damage I had caused and the
exhilarating awareness that I had just made the longest throw of my life. I felt like
proclaiming, “Great throw wasn’t it,” but kept silent.
“Oh, no! You’ve demolished my father-in- law’s car!” he shouted.
We ran to the wreckage; but my mind, uncontrollably, began to estimate the
distance from the ring to the bottom of that automobile. Only the sight of the destruction
startled me down from Olympus.
“Really, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t think I could throw that far--It went
through the roof, I’m sorry.” Then unable to restrain my joy over the resolution of my
burden of indecision, I said, “It was the longest throw of my life.”
“You--I’d like to see you in a nut house--you and your cannon ball!”
That reminded me to ask him to open the door so that I could pull out my
hammer. It was the one from Storch, and I was relieved to see it had sustained only a
twisted wire and small dent. We exchanged information on our driving licenses and gave
the badly shaken victim my telephone number; but I couldn’t share his distress.
Melbourne began to seem possible. I even told him a throw that long could get me to the
Olympics. My elation only added to his vexation.
The day concluded perfectly when, that evening, the car’s owner, an old Boston
College alumnus, telephoned to say he wouldn’t prefer any claims against me. His
comprehensive liability insurance replaced even roofs crushed by flying hammers. “God
protect you from lawsuits at the Olympics, and good luck,” he wished me after my
profound thanks. Four months later for my birthday, my sister, now an insurance broker,
had some fun and did me a service at the same time, by presenting me with the gift of an
insurance policy, that covered my hitting anything but human beings, anywhere in the
world for the next two years.
Chapter Twenty-eight
After college I joined the Boston Athletic Association, one of the nation’s oldest
athletic clubs. It consisted of a loosely knit group of out-of-school amateur athletes,
mainly marathon runners, who continued competing because of their love for athletics,
and the financial assistance of Mr. Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Garden, the
Boston Celtics, and the President of the B.A.A.,
In June 1955, at the New England Championships I became the first American to
surpass two hundred feet with a throw of 201’ 5 1/2” for a new US record. The Boston
sports writers began to include me among the favorites to win the national hammer throw
title at the end of the month in Boulder, Colorado.
Because of my increasing prominence in the hammer throw, I was invited by the
New York Athletic Club to compete in their prestigious Summer Games at their Pelham
Manor Resort. Bob Backus, who represented the NYAC, and I drove down to New York.
Arthur Siler, a Harvard University discus thrower, Rhodes Scholar and friend was also
entered and drove with us. On arrival Bob and I were told that our reservations were
waiting at the desk of the Manor House, but that Mr. Siler was not an invited guest and
would have to stay in the dormitories with the other competitors. I objected, only to be
told it was club policy and nothing could be done about it. On the way to our rooms, Bob
told me it was possibly because Art was Jewish and the club excluded Jews from
membership privileges.
After the competition, which I won with a new American record, Bob and I were
invited to the club's sumptuous, dining room for the after competition dinner for the
officials and selected athletes. Following the dinner the club's head coach, with Bob's
enthusiastic support, offered me athletic membership in the NYAC, and, sensing my
hesitancy, took me aside and told me privately, that if I were to win the Olympic Games,
I would receive a free, life's membership. Knowing that Art was waiting at the dorms to
join us for the ride home, and that they had, despite my request, refused to allow Art even
to eat with us, I declined their invitation, saying I wanted to remain with the Boston
Athletic Association. I have always regretted not telling them it was because of their
exclusionary policy, but I have never regretted my decision.
I was very grateful when Mr. Brown rescued me from the disadvantage of an
exhausting automobile or bus trip to the West by offering to pay my round trip air ticket
to the US championships. During the two previous years, I had paid my own expenses to
every competition.
With the National Championships victory, came a return trip to Europe. I learned
that each year the meet directors of European competitions sent invitations for American
athletes, sometimes by name, but usually by events; the places were filled on the basis of
performances in the championships. In 1955, I won my first US hammer throw title, and
Western and Eastern Europe requested hammer throwers. Backus, who placed second,
was off to Prague; and I was overjoyed to accept the trip to Scandinavia and Germany,
where I knew I’d see Storch and Christmann again. Five other boys comprised our
touring group: 400 meter runner Jimmy Lea, hurdler Josh Culbreath, shot putter Don
Vick, high jumper Ernie Shelton and miler Fred Dwyer. Our team manager, Carl Russ, a
fireman and volunteer official from Buffalo, arranged the travel from meet to meet but
left us pretty much on our own.
The six-week’s journey through Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Germany
differed greatly from my trip the previous year. We competed in top meets, lived in the
finest hotels, and on our final leg home, laden with gifts and prizes presented by the
competitions’ directors, took a two-day side junket to the “City of Lights.” “We can’t go
home without seeing the sites of Paris!” exclaimed our adventurous leader from Buffalo
on his first trip abroad.
Without a doubt the sites and experiences of Paris were not a disappointment.
What I remember most was the night in Pigalle. We spent most of the earlier part of the
day with Karl seeing the traditional Parisian locations and having a spectacular dinner.
Knowing we were leaving the next morning, we left Carl, who was exhausted from all
the walking, and headed for the infamous Pigalle. We were barely into that quarter of the
city, gawking at designing women and obliging men of all nationalities, when a middleaged,
not particularly attractive, red-haired lady of the evening approached Josh
Culbreath and Jim Lee, who were walking up ahead of us. Clearly she was
propositioning Josh and he was not an easy sell. When we caught up to them and she
realized she was dealing with five Americans not two, her price went up.
Despite her halting English, she seemed to understand and accept reluctantly
when Josh said, "Listen lady we're not paying until we see the quality of the
merchandise." They bickered for a few minutes but Josh refused to yield any francs. She
led us down the street, around a corner and into a three-story, red brick apartment house
that looked like an old Boston walk-up brownstone. Inside numerous other ladies in
various stages of flamboyant and revealing attire were slipping about furtively opening
and closing doors for self- conscious men going in and out. We were led to the third-floor
into a large room, with a huge bed, a few chairs, a dressing table and mirror, and what
appeared to be, a bathroom off to the side through a door. I was very apprehensive with
this unfolding scene, but we were all in good humor, laughing and observing all the way.
Once in the room, the lady began to become physically familiar with Josh.
Then she said, “You pay something now!”
Josh responded, “First show us what you can do for us.” She led him to the bed
as we stood around laughing our heads off. He leaped into the bed, lay back on the
billowing pillows, zipped down his fly, hung out his penis, and said, “Okay, baby, show
us what you can do.” Josh kept challenging her until she realized he had turned the
whole episode into a comic sideshow.
She began shouting, “Get out1 Get out!” When she went for the telephone on the
dresser, we decided the joke was over and it was time to split. Josh pulled up his pants,
buckled his belt and caught up to the rest of us already out the door and on the way down
the stairs. We were not quiet in departing, and for the hell of it, Don Vick and Ernie
Shelton started pounding on doors as we passed them, causing people to dart out into the
halls wondering if the place was being raided. We showed our speed with a hasty exit
back out onto the street, around the corner and out of sight.
The next morning we were packed and ready to depart. Flying home, I thought
what pleased me most was meeting coach Christmann in Dusseldorf and hearing his
enthused exclamation, “Harold, you improved tremendously since last summer! You are
developing a new technique in hammer throwing.” With every meet I won, I gained more
confidence for the upcoming Olympic year.
My best result of 1955 came early in October, in a small meet at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology where, before a few competing athletes and a
handful of students, I neared the world record with 209’7”.
Four days later the Soviet, Michail Krivonosov, improved his world mark to
211’8 1/4” in a large internatio nal competition in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he met a
contingent of visiting US athletes. Through an interpreter, Krivonosov asked if somebody
knew Connolly. With Boston miler, Joe LaPierre, he sent me a note, which translated into
English read:
Continued success in our favorite event. I wish you luck.
Your comrade in sports,
Michail Krivonosov.
Enclosed were three Soviet lapel pins and a picture of Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow.
Krivonosov’s friendly gesture impressed me greatly. I speedily sent back an
Amateur Athletic Union lapel pin, my blazer patch of the A.A.U. National Champion, a
photo of Boston College inscribed, “This is the school where I learned to throw the
hammer,” and my further reply, composed in Russian by the Harvard field events coach,
Al Wilson:
Greetings to a great athlete. I look forward to meeting you
in Melbourne.
Your sport friend,
Harold Connolly.
Things were changing so quickly for me. I was now encountering the intense
worldwide rivalry, growing curiosity, and potential friendships experienced by all
athletes who become one of the top performers in the same track and field events. I found
myself looking forward to Melbourne more than ever. Thirteen months before the
Olympic Games, I pasted a newspaper photo of Krivonosov on a square of cardboard and
clipped it to the sun visor of my car. The Soviet’s name in translation meant, “Crooked
nose,” but there was nothing in his determined, serious face that elicited a joke;
Krivonosov appeared to be a tough adversary and looking at him each day reminded me
to train a harder.
In my final competition of the year at an all-comers meet at the South Boston
Naval Training Annex, a sailor, watching us throw, asked me: “Don’t you get dizzy
spinning around like that?”
“No,” I told him, “It’s like ballet dancers. They don’t get dizzy either.” And I
began to wonder if studying ballet might add more distance to my throwing. The next
day I drove to Arlington to my Aunt Mary’s home, whose entire basement level was a
very successful ballet studio and the main spring of the perpetual activity in that beautiful
I asked my aunt if I could join one of her male classes. The large, blue, Corbett
eyes ignited with satisfaction. “Of course, Harold, of course. Finally you’re getting
smart,” she smiled. “I always thought you’d discover that ballet would do a much better
job than all that—that—iron lifting you do. You need to develop smooth relaxed motions
to be able to turn with your hammer so that a bluebird could perch on each shoulder.
Well, you’ll come for one hour of ballet every other day. I think you’ll take to it very
well; look at the way you stand. You’ve got naturally turned-out feet! Others would give
anything for a pair of legs like yours.”
I listened to my aunt's enraptured bubbling with hidden amusement, but also
admiration. My aunt lived and breathed the world of ballet. Dancing was her answer for
everything. To her weightlifting was the antithesis of grace and beauty. To my Aunt
Mary, who extolled ethereal grace, squatting with a five- hundred- pound barbell was
The evening I arrived for my first ballet lesson, Aunt Mary was leading her other
two young male dancers through evocative fouettes, but she chained me to the exercise
bar with never ending plies and stretching routines. “By next week,” she promised,
“you’ll be more supple, your movements will soften and the bluebirds won’t be
After ten days the damned birds were not coming, and my dissatisfied teacher
blamed my beefy proportions. “Harold, you outweigh my biggest student by a hundred
pounds. I can’t perform miracles teaching a tank.”
“Aunt Mary, you’ll never make a dancer out of me, and I can’t quit lifting
weights. The bluebird I throw weighs sixteen pounds, and all I need is to improve my
balance, flexibility, and turning speed.”
My aunt, though frowning at my methods, agreed to keep on with my lessons.
Every now and then she remarked, “What a pity those natural turnouts are wasted.”
Quite often a talented, dark-eyed, faun-like, dancer named Walda, who appeared
to me to be no more than nineteen, assisted my aunt in her teaching. She helped at the
school to refresh her skills between her seasonal engagements as a member of the
Professional New York Ballet Company, corps de ballet. After frequently seeing and
saying hello to this shy, delicate girl at the studio, I finally got the courage to ask her out;
the approval of which had to be preceded by a visit to meet her father, the owner of a
large trucking company, her mother, brother and sister,
I could never pinpoint whether I was more captivated by Walda’s grace and
beauty or her determination to excel, but I thought she might be the ideal girl to pursue
after my Olympic quest. Discussions with Walda and my own enthusiasm for ballet
generated many new ideas to improve my throwing; one of the most important was
shoeing my “natural turnouts.”
Before I studied ballet, I never had the feeling my hammer throwing shoes were
cumbersome; but after watching Walda perform, and doing countless fouettes myself, I
realized that the available athletic flats were not constructed for the precise footwork of
the hammer throw. I took one of Walda’s old ballet slippers apart, seeking a design for a
throwing shoe that would allow faster, balanced spinning.
I discarded my German made Hummel, hammer-throwing shoes for ballet
slippers, which I secured to my feet with a roll of athletic tape. While they felt much
more like what I was seeking, the soft leather soles wore out in one training session on
the cement, throwing circle. Gluing a thin rubber composition sole to the bottom of the
slippers improved vastly their longevity, but they still were not right. Louis D’Ambrosio,
an Italian -American shoemaker across the street from my home, provided me the
materials and let me use his grinding and sanding machine to modify my throwing
Though I ended the previous season far ahead of any other American, I was not
the only hammer thrower training fanatically that winter. In the spring of 1956, I became
merely one of the U.S. hopefuls for the Olympic team. At Cornell University, Al Hall,
the National Collegiate Champion and the Cliff Blair from Boston University clung
consistently around 200 feet. Five others, Bob Backus and Martin Engle, 1952
Olympians, and John Morefield, Bill McWilliams, and Stewart Thompson had all
exceeded 190 feet and were capable of qualifying in the upcoming Olympic tryouts. The
problems of excelling on an international level were overshadowed by the challenges at
home. The pressure was mounting, and the news about Michail Krivonosov’s new June
world record of 216’1/2,” only heightened it.
My response to the anxiety was more determined training for the Olympic year’s
National Championships in Bakersfield, California. The hammer throw was held at dusk,
when the temperature dropped from over a hundred degrees to the high nineties, but the
dry, hot desert air clung motionless over the green grassy hammer throwing area outside
the stadium, where we began our abbreviated warm-ups. The atmosphere was tense,
because this was the first time we were all competing against one another since the
previous season. Our results in the Nationals would determine the degree of confidence
with which, a week later, we would fight for the three positions on the Olympic Team.
From the first round of attempts, I led the competition. Then, in the third round, I
unwound a 205’ 10 ½” throw for a new championships record. On his very next effort,
however, Al Hall achieved a personal best, just a little over a foot short of my throw.
Elated by his close runner-up position, and with what appeared to me to be an overly
gleeful grin, Al came over to shake my hand: “Harold, you did great—I just like to
compete against you; it pulls me to my best. Too bad Blair didn’t show.”
Somehow Hall’s spontaneous words shook my confidence, and having Blair skip
the meet didn’t help either. I was aware that many coaches felt their potential exceeded
mine. Still, many American sports writers considered me the best U.S. hope in the
Olympic hammer throw. Regardless of what the expert observers said, I knew the tryouts
would be the greatest obstacle ahead of me. Reporters and statisticians could rarely see
beyond the athletes’ surface reactions and past performances. They never thought about
the influence of my personal battle with my left arm. Would that anchor drag me down
and prevent me from achieving what, at that moment, I wanted most from life?
My anxiety over my troublesome arm heightened my natural tension. In practice
I became increasingly annoyed by the kink in my winding the hammer around my head,
caused by the restricted range of motion in my left shoulder, that resulted in a shortened
pull on the hammer wire every time it passed up and around my left side. I was frustrated
by the necessity of having to use unorthodox straight up and down preliminary winds that
I had to flatten out into the first turn to get the hammer into a reasonably smooth entry
orbit. These technical difficulties created by my shortened left arm, and usually
overridden by my quick footwork and leg power, suddenly became my chief concern.
Chapter Twenty-nine
The program of the two-day United States Olympic Trials scheduled the hammer
throw event for June 29, 1956, the day on which I was either to qualify for the U.S. team
or be buried together with two years of relentless striving. The Los Angeles Coliseum
was tense and somber. In the dressing rooms hardly a word was said; dozens of athletes
who competed that afternoon in various events moved around one another like anxiously
isolated units, shielding themselves from any influence which might impair their
concentration on earning one of the coveted seats on the plane to Australia.
Young men, jogging, bending and stretching in the outside warm up area fought
for detachment from the pressure around them, some by watching fellow athletes warm
up, others by ignoring each other; but few escaped the mounting tension. Inside the
stadium athletes were lying on benches staring at the ceiling, conserving energy. A line
of sullen, glowering sprinters and hurdlers waited patiently near the rubdown tables.
Trainers perspired over tense backs and sinewy limbs, loosening up the explosiveness
that would determine the split second victories. Competitors meeting in the doorways
made room for each other, exchanging little more than a grunt; only pals form different
events nodded at each other, or exchanged signs or short wishes of good luck.
Al Oerter, the nineteen-year-old Kansas University sophomore who placed fourth
in the NCAA discus, and the thirty-four year old discus world record holder, Fortune
Gordien, took turns using the throwing circle but passed each other in silence. Parry
O’Brien, the reigning Olympic Champion and absolute master of shot putting, not only
did not exchange greetings with his competitors, but also applied a way of looking past
them which made them feel invisible and distressingly insignificant.
The hammer throwers as well warmed up in mute concentration. We all knew
that only three of us would leave that stadium as members of the U.S. Olympic Team; the
immediacy of having to produce our best during this one and only chance put a tremble
into everyone’s hands and a vice on our throats. Knowing that after another ninety
minutes, this Olympic opportunity would be gone forever, with another not returning for
four years, created almost unbearable anxiety.
The Officials announced that each of us would receive three preliminary throws
and the top six men three additional attempts. The ruling complied with the custom of all
other competitions, but suddenly three throws seemed to be crushingly insufficient.
Under that urging influence, the first few throwers pressed too hard and fouled, stepping
out of the throwing circle, others threw more conservatively and ended up with poor
distances. With each wasted effort the pressure kept increasing. Of the top competitors
who qualified for the finals, Cliff Blair led with a meager 196’ 11 ½. I was second five
inches behind, and very angry with myself for my uptight, poor performance.
In the finals, Al Hall took the lead with the throw of 197’ 7 ½” and relegated me
into the third place. I tried desperately to improve, but was unable to relax; my last
throw ended in fouling. With my sixth attempt gone, I was engulfed in fear that one of
the others, whose turn followed mine, would come up with his best and edge me out.
There was no relief until after the contest. I had squeaked by to become the third member
of the U.S. Olympic team. Then, in a sudden complete reverse of mood, my immediate
relief changed into fury that I had failed to win. After the three of us shook hands for the
photographers, utterly disgusted with my performance, I left Hall and Blair continuing to
congratulate each other and walked from the field. A couple of minutes later I angrily
dropped my sport bag on the dressing room floor.
I kicked off my shoes and began to undress, when I heard muffled sobs from one
of the nearby separate dressing compartments. I listened for a few moments and glanced
over at the partially ajar door to the compartment. It was immediately slammed shut.
Nevertheless, I had caught a glimpse of a good friend, Ernie Shelton, one of the world’s
greatest high jumpers lying on the floor, his disconsolate face wet with tears. I knew he
had not won—but suddenly realized he must not have made the team. I forgot all about
Only a week before I had stayed a few days at his home. Over his bed, suspended
from the ceiling, hung a cross bar fixed at seven feet, the mark no human had as yet
achieved. The first thing my friend saw each morning and the last each night was that
black and white striped cross bar that had been his goal ever since he left high school.
No man in the world had leaped over six feet ten more often, and his personal best was
only three-quarters of an inch under that enchanted height. He tried for seven feet more
often than any other high jumper in history only to narrowly miss it each time. In one
competition, he actually cleared it; but ever so slightly his shirt brushed the bar. Lying in
the pit, he looked up for what seemed an eternity, watching the striped bar
teetering on the standards. Would it stay up? The spectators froze, paralyzed in rapt
attention. Suddenly the tension broke. The crowd moaned as the bar came tumbling
The night of the Olympic high jump tryouts, the vicissitudes of fate not only
deprived Ernie of a place on the team, but also shattered his dream, when the winner,
eighteen- year old Charles Dumas, seemingly effortlessly surpassed the formidable barrier
with a leap of seven feet one half inch.
When the tryouts were finally over, the stadium was filled with casualties. Dave
Sime, one of the world’s greatest sprinters, pulled a muscle and was eliminated, talented
Ernie Shelby missed in the long jump, and many others were bitterly re- living every
instant of their disappointment. The experts and analysts argued over the successes and
failures of their predictions. I wondered if it were not foolish to subject athletes to such a
one chance, “do it or die” competition, to make a team that would not compete in the
Olympics for four months. A swift, single, crushing blow had been dealt to the dreams of
many others, leaving me a grateful survivor with a new chance, determined to reap the
most from it.
In keeping with the gender separation policy in US sports, the women's Olympic
Track and Field Trials were held the week after the men's trials 3000 miles away at
American University in Washington, D.C. before 6000 spectators, the largest audience to
ever see a women's track meet in the United States. Of the 100 participants in nine track
and field events, 45 entered the 100 meters, the longest running event was 200 meters,
and 20 young women earned places on the U.S. Olympic Team.
Though Bob Backus did not qualify for the Olympic team, he still continued to
train. Each weekend I drove to his Marshfield meadow, usually alone but sometimes
accompanied by Walda. Nearly every day I trained to near exhaustion, and my improving
form brought returned confidence. I no longer thought about Al and Blair, my attention
again focused on my unmet friend from Russia, whose name I had first heard from Sepp
Christmann in the Fulda wine cellar. I wanted to show I was a serious challenger before
we met in Melbourne, and hoped to begin to demonstrate that at a Fourth of July meeting
in Needham, Massachusetts, where Al Hall and Blair would also throw.
Hall and I drove in his car to the meet through unusually heavy holiday traffic.
When we arrived, we were stunned to learn that during the already completed first two
rounds of throws, Cliff Blair had surpassed Krivonosov’s world mark with 216’ 4 ¾ ”.
Blair had no other long throws in this strange competition, which took so long that it
ended in darkness, with the lights of automobiles supplying the necessary illumination
around the throwing ring. Both Hall and I were so unnerved by this mysterious throw we
had not seen; we both threw below our best, far back behind our Olympic teammate. The
officials verified Blair’s mark, re-checked his hammer and the throwing ring, but after
discovering that international rules required that a world record must be measured with a
steel tape, they began fluttering about in panic. Their fiberglass tape was not official for
a record. Somebody offered to weld three 100 foot tapes into one 300 foot one, but the
officials refused. I learned later that they waited for nearly four hours protecting the new
record by parking the chief officials’ car over the mark. They sat in their automobiles in
the dark until the correct 300 foot steel tape was brought out from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. I did not stay around—I walked alone the fifteen miles home
from Needham to Boston.
Four days later Krivonsov regained his world record with 217’ 9 ½” raising the
world’s ceiling some eight feet more than my best throw. I began to train even more
strenuously, leaving no energy for self- doubt or losing hope that I could beat them all.
In August, I received a disturbing letter from Bob Backus, who once again was
visiting Finland. In Helsinki he met the soviet National Coach, Gavril Korobkov, who
couldn’t believe that our team wasn’t in a training camp,” Backus wrote that Korobkov
laughed at our method of selecting the team, which, he said, forced some of our best
competitors to miss the Games. He said further that the Soviets had eight hammer
throwers over 200 feet, and he was very confident about the way his athletes were
coming along. Bob concluded his letter by writing, “ Knowing how tough it is for our
guys to take the unpaid time off work to go to Melbourne to compete against
nationalized, professionals, I really got teed off. Can you imagine how we’d do if we had
half the support they get? Come on, Buddy. Let’s surprise them.”
Bob’s letter deepened my determination. No matter how good the Russians were,
I still was eager to try to beat them; but on the other hand, I was frustrated by the
possibility of having to meet them in Melbourne on uneven terms. They were subsidized
for full- time training in the best facilities with full- time coaches. I had to create my own,
solitary, training camp.
In the fall, after skipping a few days of workouts to correct exam papers, I worried
about my training, but as it turned out, this unplanned rest helped my body to break
through the straitjacket of accumulated fatigue. In a weekend meet at Randall’s Island in
New York I finally moved up the world list to number three with a throw of 215’ 4”.
On Wednesday afternoon October 3, Cliff Blair’s coach Ed Flanagan, a former
hammer thrower himself, organized a small university meet to which he also invited Al
Hall and me to throw against his pupil and three of his collegiate throwers. The
competition was held at the Boston University throwing field, a vacant lot off
Commonwealth Avenue next to the Exide Battery Company.
Though I was to throw against my Olympic teammates, I considered the
competition a training session, because I planned to test out a change I was making in my
throwing style I had added earlier that week. I was surprised when my first, almost
effortless throw went over 215 feet. On my second I did 210, but on my third I returned
close to my best with 214. The form felt so good, that I decided to progressively increase
my speed and power in the remaining three throws. My fourth try landed at the 216-foot
mark, and so did my fifth one. On the last round of the afternoon, my hammer soared
into its ballistic trajectory and plummet beyond the flag marking Krivonosov’s world
record. The throw was 218’ 10 ½”, a new, world mark.
No crowds cheered—there were none. Al Hall, Blair, the college boys, coach
Flanagan and four spectators congratulated me. The officials nervously scurried around
checking every inch of my hammer, measuring and re-measuring my throw, requesting
the surveying documentation on the levelness of the field, and after shaking my hand,
finally had me sign the world record application blank for the International Amateur
Athletic Federation. I could hardly believe it could happen so unexpectedly. I had passed
At home, my father was visiting from the hospital, so the family waited with
dinner for me to return from the track meet. I knew they were interested in my sports
efforts although they had never seen me compete. I had never asked them to come to my
competitions. They into it was something I preferred to go alone. Their presence would
make me too nervous. Driving home, I felt an overwhelming exhilaration knowing that I
had thrown the hammer farther than anyone ever had before. Bounding up the stairs to
our apartment, I was bursting to tell them.
“Dad, I threw a new world record.” My sister leaped towards me and Mother
sprung up to kiss and hug me. My father insisted on hearing every detail of what had
happened. Uncle Jim heard the mews on the radio and called on the telephone.
“You did it, Harold, you did it! You’re the champ! Now you’ll go over and beat
those Ruskies at the Olympics.” The Senator’s reminder took me off my cloud. In
exactly seven days, it was off to California for a series of U.S. Olympic Team preparatory
meets. I couldn’t relax. The time was short.
Chapter Thirty
The first California pre-Olympic competition was held on October 13, at the
University of California, Berkeley, and sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle to raise
money toward covering the US Team’s travel expenses to Australia. Next was Los
Angeles, where those who could get the time off from their jobs, which included me,
were to train and compete until the entire Olympic team’s departure. Two days later the
women's team joined the men's for final processing, uniform fittings, and to give them the
opportunity to observe and train with the men's team. The women's team had their own
pre-Olympic competitions entirely separate from the men’s, and since there was no
women's hammer throw event, I wasn't then even aware of what events they competed in.
We were housed in the downtown Los Angeles, the Alexandria Hotel, owned by
Avery Brundage, the President of the International Olympic Committee. Over two weeks
298 athletes competing in 16 sports and 49 coaches, managers and other official delegates
went through the US Olympic Team Processing Center, located in a row of rooms and
ballrooms on the hotel’s first floor. Before arrival all athletes on the team were notified
that it was our responsibility and expense to report with the mandated vaccination
certification and a completed physical examination form, signed by a doctor. Publicity
photographs were optional.
Once those requirements were met, each male team member received an
Eisenhower style jacket, flannel slacks, Bermuda shorts, two white shirts, a striped tie,
cap, underwear, a training suit, a competitive uniform, shoes, socks, and toiletries
presented by industry as gifts to the U.S. Team. Now officially outfitted as members of
the US Olympic Team, we were expected to wear these items in Los Angeles and
Australia throughout our tour with the team.
As I tried on my own Olympic sweats with U.S.A. across the chest, I felt I had, at
least, accomplished one of my dreams since trying on Bob’s Olympic sweatshirt two
year’s before. I was happy to find the cuffs of the shirt tightly elasticized. With them
tight around my wrists, the left one would need no alteration. But that wasn’t the case
with the white blazer issued for the opening ceremonies and other formal occasions.
While most of the team could step right into their ne w clothes right off the rack, most of
our wrestlers, weight lifters and throwers required alterations for their out size shoulders,
thighs and often small waists. I felt the old embarrassment being the only member of the
team to have one sleeve shortened 4 inches.
I stuffed everything that didn’t need alteration into the blue and red nylon travel
bag emblazoned with the US Olympic shield and headed for my room. The growing
excitement ever present throughout this extraordinary experience compelled me to want
to train even harder. I knew that anticipation and adrenaline was surging through me
every waking minute of this count down to Melbourne. Eat more, don’t miss any meals,
no over-training, no injuries constantly ran through my mind. Holding my bodyweight
required not only huge meals, but also mixed concoctions between meals containing
milk, protein powder, wheat germ, honey, and four raw eggs. If I let off even for a day,
my bodyweight would drop below 212 and also my level of strength and confidence. It
had taken me years to build myself up to a top bodyweight of 218, and I wanted to be
very close to it for the Games. At least now the Olympic Committee was paying the
major costs. Small personal donations from millions of Americans as well as the
substantial gifts of uniforms, gear and major cash contributions from corporate
businesses, paid for the team's travel and on site costs through the Games and home.
There was something very unique involved in this human adventure, made possible by
the individual donations of so many. Perhaps simply that old-fashioned patriotism we
felt but seldom spoke about.
While the rest of the team practiced in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the hammer
and discuss throwers were relegated to a giant hole in the ground upon which the Los
Angeles Sports Arena was to be built. The forty-foot deep, hundred fifty feet in diameter
crater was surrounded by a chain link fence with only one, locked gate at the top of a
long dusty road that gradually descended to a sandy, rock bottom. In the middle of that
torrid frying pan, two cement circles had been poured from which we could throw in any
direction without being disturbed by any change of landscape. All sides were equally
blinding in the midday sun.
The discus throwers visited the crater just once. After negotiating down the ruts
and rocks, they abruptly turned about and started back out. I later learned that they found
themselves a more hospitable field at the nearby University of Southern California, an
option denied to hammer throwers. The divots we made in hallowed grass football fields
doomed us to the rock pit. It took me over a week to get used to the depressing
monotony of the excavation and its vastness that reduced the distances we threw to flea
hops. On October 22, I had my first good workout. Two of my throws landed reasonably
near my world record. I left the giant hole, climbed over the fence that was continually
locked and, without complaint, got into the bus. My contentment lasted until a
newspaperman came up to me in the hotel lobby.
“Hal, I’m Max Styles of the Mirror News. Sorry to disturb you. I’ve been waiting
to get your reaction to the newest mark of your Russian friend. Krivonosov threw 220’10
3/4” yesterday. So you’ve held the world record for how many days? Eighteen?”
I swallowed my shock. “Where did he do it?”
“In Tashkent, their training camp.”
“Well, he’s a tough competitor,” I said with outward calmness, masking my
surging, inward anger. “I knew I’d have to go over 220’ to beat that guy.” After pausing
for a moment, I added, “I’m going for it this weekend in Santa Ana.”
“Thanks, Hal, that’ll look good in print,” retorted Mr. Styles as he left in search of
more interviews.
During the five days up to the competition I felt as if Krivonosov had ripped a
vital organ from my guts. I focused increasingly on my pledge to get the record back.
For three days I trained extremely hard and was so beat on the end of each workout, I
could barely climb the hill out of the excavation. I knew Al and Cliff thought I was
overdoing it. I also knew I was their immediate target. Such is the intense, singular
finality of throwing competition. On October 27 we boarded the bus for the next-to-last
of the Pre-Olympic tune-up competitions
For the lack of sufficient space on the track infield, the meet organizers at Santa
Ana Community College relegated the hammer throw to the school’s baseball field.
They nailed the hammer ring to a macadamized maintenance road and chalked the turfcovered
outfield with lines at 200, 210, and 220 feet. After the days we spent in the
excavation, throwing in the normalcy of a comparatively small grassy area brought even
the farthest line and the flag marking the world record incredibly close.
The surface of the road turned out to be perfect. Even while warming up,
throwing easy and relaxed, I felt growing confidence in a long throw. I wanted that
record back. Everything seemed to be going right. My footwork was precise, my rhythm
was on, and my upper body remained relaxed. On my fourth throw it came. The hammer
soared into a higher orbit than my other throws and landed four feet beyond the world
record flag.
When the steel tape read 224’8 ½’’, I was more excited and happy than I had been
for my first world record in Boston. This time there was pressure, many spectators, and
the critical eye of the sports writers. In the bus back to the hotel, Fortune Gordien
suggested to Al Hall and me that we go out for a steak dinner to celebrate and maybe
explore Los Angeles. We agreed, decided to wear civilian clothes and meet an hour later
in the lobby.
The bus pulled in front of the Alexandria and I cheerfully and triumphantly
strolled into the lobby. “Hey Harold, “ an official called to me. Thinking he wanted to
shake my hand or introduce me to his family, I walked over to him. “Sorry to have to tell
you, but we found that your hammer was light. The record can’t count. One of the
officials drove it down to the Los Angeles Department of Weights and Measures and he
phoned that it was five eighths of an ounce too light.”
“That’s impossible! It’s weighed in for every meet this year.”
The official just shook his head. “I’m really sorry Hal.”
That rocky hole! That’s what ruined my hammer. Without continuing the
discussion, I headed for the elevator.
“Hal it’s really a tough break, but these things happen. You’re the champ, you’ll
do it again,” he echoed after me.
Though furious, I turned and said, “OK. Thanks.”
Al, who overheard, called after me. “Hal, I’ll tell Fortune we’ll have that steak
dinner next week.”
“OK, next week,” I nodded. Now I’ll have to do it again next week I thought.
My throw, though not officially recognized, was quickly noticed by
newspapermen at home and abroad. The pre-Olympic exchange of records between the
Soviet and American was becoming an eagerly followed item. UPI called while I was
still agitated, and I told the reporter I’d throw even farther in the next meet.
In spite of my boasting, I was discouraged. I knew long throws did not come to
order; but I had really committed myself now and was determined to do it. Stretched out
on my bed and staring at the ceiling, I wondered how to adjust my training so not to lose
my edge, but be even sharper for the final tune-up meet.
Over subsequent days, many a curious passerby gazing down from Memorial Park
through the protective fence into the excavation site shook their puzzled heads at the
gyrations of the sweating 215-pound whale fenced in the hole. Now I trained alone,
warming up with a whole scale of ballet drills, working on my relaxation and balance
while reducing my usual number of long throws. During the days I was edgy and shorttempered;
at nights I couldn’t sleep.
The last meet was scheduled for November 1, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, four
days before our departure for Melbourne. Since the field had been prepared for the
college football season, the hammer and discus rings had been removed and, both events
were postponed to 11am the following day at another location. I requested that the
hammer be held again in Santa Ana, but the coaches decided that trip would take too
long. They chose much closer Occidental College, because later that afternoon the entire
Olympic Team was scheduled for a visit 20th Century Fox Studios, followed by a
reception at Los Angeles City Hall hosted by Mayor Paulson, and participation in the
UCLA Homecoming Parade prior to the Stanford, football game.
On my way to the unfamiliar stadium, I was nervous. The day before I had my
hammer checked to be sure the pellets of le ad I had added inside the shell brought its
weight over sixteen pounds; and I had measured and re-measured the length of the wire.
I also knew from coach Anderson that the officials had surveyed the field and everything
was in perfect order. Fortune had said that the hammer ring would be fitted inside the
discus circle, and that the surface was fast but not slippery.
To my surprise, there were many more spectators for the hammer than there had
been in Santa Ana: students of the college, track fans from miles away, several of the
team’s administrators, and many reporters. More than 200 people turned out and among
them European journalists to see if I’d back up my promise. I had to break the record. I
said I could, and now I had to prove it.
I was excited and eager to go, but my warm-up lacked my usual energy. I felt
tired and dogged by a slight headache and heaviness in my limbs. I had none of the good
feelings I had in Santa Ana. I was anxious. Had I trained too hard the past week? I felt
stiffening in my lower back. After the meet began, my first two throws were more
desperate than fiery; neither of them landing anywhere near the world mark. I walked
aside, waiting for Al, Cliff and the other four throwers to complete their throws. I
squatted on the sidelines and tried to resurrect that anger that had driven me almost crazy
the past six days. I had to get hold of that anger and use it.
When my third attempt came, I had managed to mentally isolate myself from the
crowd and the officials. I was in another zone. I was alone with my returning fury at
having been surpassed by the Russian. I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, let my arms
and shoulders slope in relaxation, thought about the blue birds and got ready to throw.
Once the hammer lifted off of the ground in my preliminary winds, I countered my
bodyweight against its orbiting pull and moved into three progressively accelerating
turns. Having also hurled aside all restraints, I felt at the moment of release as if it lifted
into a grand jette. In recoiling from the hammer as it left my outstretched hands, I
spun into another turn. The on- lookers burst into cheers even before the hammer crashed
into the turf. The distance was 224’ 10 1/2” - I had my record back.
The event was interrupted for fifteen minutes. The small stadium echoed a
spontaneous outburst that was usually reserved for football games or close finishes of
track races; the officials impounded my hammer for re-weighing; they measured and remeasured
the throw; Blair, Hall, and my other teammates shook my hand; the coaches
pounded me on the back. The competition was finally resumed and quickly concluded.
In the shower room there was a scale next to the showers. I was curious. Two
hundred twelve pounds! All week I had eaten incessantly. I thought I was heavier. I
couldn’t let myself lose any more weight. Afterwards I happily joined the athletic party
having lunch at Fox Studios, and joyfully joined in the fun when Fortune Gordien and I
lifted up Jane Mansfield between us at the photographers’ prodding. My first thought
was, what will Walda think when she sees a movie star draped around my neck? I was
glad Fortune was in the picture. Besides the movie studio, the parade and the football
game, the remainder of the send-off included a barbeque on the UCLA Campus and a
variety show hosted by comedian, Jerry Lewis
My family telephoned; friends sent telegrams. Everyone without exception
wished me success in Melbourne. With his telephoned congratulations, Uncle Jim added:
“I’m proud of you, but watch out for that Rusky.” That night an Associated Press release
from London, in the same breath with the news of my latest mark, predicted that Michail
Krivonosov would be the Olympic winner, and my third world record throw shrunk into
just another step toward getting the job done in Melbourne.
During the last two weeks before the departure of the first Olympic charter, the
Hotel Alexandria began to resemble a university dormitory. The fashionable gentlemen
and the ladies in hats and spiked heels who occupied the few rooms not reserved for
Olympic athletes got used to being regularly squashed into elevators with perspiring
athletes. The doorman was up at five in the morning to review the line of distance
runners hustling out for their early practice; and the waiters were on hand with coffee and
stronger libations when Olympic coaches, managers and officials left their meetings. By
the end of our stay, we had become tired of the teeter-totter between hard training, the
officials’ organized receptions, and looking for ways to kill time to make the days pass
faster. Finally the general sense of relief, we boarded the bus that took us to the airport.
How incredibly accelerated my life had become in the three years since
graduating from Boston College. Was it my throwing the hammer or the hammer
throwing me that had brought me out of my youthful insecurities and quandaries to find
the confidence and determination to try to become the best. Now I had to prove it in the
Olympic Stadium in head to head competition.
Chapter Thirty-one
Each time I even began to drift into the relief of sleep, nervousness about this
once in a lifetime convergence of events - the Olympic hammer throw final, Olga - pried
my eyes open again. By 5:30 am I could bear it no longer. The coaches were nuts saying
that just resting in bed the night before a competition was nearly as good as sleep. I
leaped out of the dreaded torture rack, turned on the light, threw on my track suit and
sweats, glanced briefly in the mirror at the USA on my chest, grabbed my methodically
packed bag and tiptoed out past Al, sound asleep in the adjoining room. I wondered how
he could be sleeping.
The November, spring son gr adually emerged over the horizon and began playing
a high and seek game with the large, gray clouds that hovered over the Olympic Village.
It stayed chilly as the clouds won his heavenly contest.
My ritual breakfast of oatmeal, toast and jam and orange juice, comforted me
enough to get me through the morning’s qualifying competition. I surpassed the
qualifying distance, 177’ 2”, on my first throw by more than 16 feet. Only two others
threw farther. I was relieved I didn't have to take the other two allowable throws.
Qualifying marks were just that. They didn’t count for medals or placing; they just got
you into the afternoon finals that would count. The only surprises were my new Polish
friend, Niklas, failing to qualify, Al Hall qualifying seventh, and the Russian favorite,
Michael Krivonosov, qualifying last among the 15 who made it to the final from the 22
throwers from 15 countries. Certainly there would have been one more qualifier, if the
US Olympic Committee had not barred Cliff Blair from the Olympic Games for violating
the rules of amateurism by writing a personal Olympic journal for his hometown
newspaper. Cliff’s disqualification was a loss of a potential medal winner for the U.S.
Now, we again waited what seemed an eternity from the 9:30 a.m. qualifying
rounds for the 2:30 p.m. final. In the room next to our training room, Al and I lay on
mattresses eating oranges and dry sandwiches trying to keep calm and nap before the
afternoon competition. Jim Emerich, our head trainer, arrived and asked us if we wanted
a rub down, but neither of us was used to massages, and we weren’t about to do
something different. He left us a couple of handfuls of dextrose tablets before he went in
the other room to work on loosening up our long jumpers legs for their afternoon final.
Everyone was trying to help.
Al and I lay for some time in silence before Al said, “I think I’ll doze off for a
while before it gets too late.” I knew he felt the same as I, that talking was no relief
because in the back of our minds all we would be thinking about was the coming
showdown. It was better to just lie and wait.
Not long after arriving in Melbourne my hay fever started bothering me. Windy
days made it worse. My throat and ears itched; my nose ran. Frequently I fought the
urge to sneeze, knowing once I started it was even harder to stop. Sleep was impossible.
My heartbeat raced ahead of each click of the second hand on the wall clock above the
The tension was briefly relieved when Ralph Higgins our team manager stopped
by with telegrams. He handed me several. There were wishes for good luck from some of
my college teammates; a message from Karl Storch in Germany, “Fight bravely, Harold.”
And from Hamburg, Karl Hein and his club cabled, “You got very far. Don't let anyone
stop you.”
Opening another envelope, I smiled at the terse instruction from Art Siler, the
Harvard University discus champion and a friend I enjoyed training with as much for his
wit and intellect as for his determination to excel in sports. From Oxford, where he was
studying on a Rhodes’ Scholarship, he instructed me to, “Crush them!”
Senator Jim, also wasting no words, cabled," Beat the Rusky." He must have read
it to my mother because her a message, cabled an hour after his, said: “Win or lose, we
all the love you. Hurry home.” But the telegram from Northampton Veterans Hospital
meant the most. I read it a second time: “Dinny, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Love, Dad.”
My memories drifted back to the years when my father, Uncle Jim, and Uncle
Willie taught me to box. They wanted me to become a fighter; now I was to see if they
had succeeded. I also wondered if dad would remember that night in the cellar. I kept
thinking, I must do it. I must.
At 1:45 p.m. Higgins returned. “OK boys, time to go.” He escorted us to the
warm-up field outside the stadium where all finalists could take some throws before
entering the stadium for the start of the competition. The Russians had already finished
when we got there. Are they that confident, I thought? Al and I took a few tosses and I
felt OK.
When we arrived at the assembly area, most of the other competitors were facing
each other, sitting on the long benches on either side of the somber, gray cement block,
check-in room. Many had their heads bowed looking at the ground between their feet. I
looked across to my left and saw Krivonosov, Samotsvetov and Yegorov sitting together.
Instantly my eyes locked with Krivonosov’s. He doesn’t have a crooked nose, the English
translation of his last name, I thought. He had more the flaring nostrils of a bulldog.
He rose and took a half dozen swift steps across the room to extend his hand,
“Haarold,” he said followed by a few more words in English that his accent made
impossible to understand, but which I took to be some expression of wishing me good
luck. It was a gesture that not only surprised and impressed me, but also awarded me
considerable relief. While Krivonosov's outward appearance remained self-disciplined
and serious, his unusually cold and perspiring hand revealed that my most powerful foe's
inner tension was as least as great as mine. My anxiety was in my stomach and chest,
and it caused me to momentarily pause in answering him, but I knew my hands were dry
and my handshake very firm. I thanked him for his good wishes but without
reciprocating. To me good luck meant the gold medal.
It wasn't long before we were trudging single file through the tunnel, out across
the nine-lane red cinder track onto the infield of the three-tiered Melbourne Cricket
Grounds Stadium, renovated for the Olympic Games and the showdown of the Olympic
hammer throw final. The wave-like surging resonance of the voices of more than a
hundred thousand spectators, completely surrounding us, momentarily unnerved me. I
had never before faced the prospect of competing before such an immense crowd. The
flags of the 68 participating nations, framing the highest reaches of the stadium above the
third deck, clattered in the gusty wind. The intermittent sunlight provided little warmth.
Those spectators, shaded by the overhead stands, sat clutching their sweaters and topcoats
eagerly awaiting the start of the next event.
At the hammer throw area, a seven foot circle in the corner of the infield next to
the high jump approach, surrounded on three sides by suspended protective netting to
catch errantly thrown hammers, the competitors wrapped in double sweat suits, jackets
and windbreakers were finishing their warm ups. I wasn’t worried about the cement
surface of the throwing circles being used for the first time in the Olympic Games. I was
confident my ballet slippers, modified with a thin rubber sole, would do the job. Two
small flags flew in the center of the chalk- marked sector that designated the fair throw
area. The longest marked the distance of Krivonosov’s last ratified world record; the
nearer flag indicated the existing Olympic record.
As the public address announcer introduced the event to the overflowing stadium,
our names and numbers, in the random order in which they had been drawn, flashed up
on the scoreboard, and then were replaced quickly by the 800 meters semifinalists. I was
a little shaken to learn they wouldn’t let us take any warm up throws in the stadium. In
his blue blazer, white pants and straw hat, the head judge called out to us through a
megaphone, “Gentlemen, the competition begins in 10 minutes.”
I wondered who was translating that for Krivonosov. He found a free corner of
the grass where he was winding two hammers at once around his head in order to loosen
his shoulders. Was he trying to impress the rest of us, that one or two hammers made no
difference to him? His comrades practiced tight spins several yards away. I sat alone on
my own patch of grass in a cross-legged squat reviewing the plan of action I had gone
over countless previous times. On my first throw, in order to qualify for or the next five
throws, I must stay relaxed, balanced on my spinning left foot, and accelerate my three
body rotations through the release. Then, while still fresh, I would give everything I had
on my second effort, which I hoped would clinch the final outcome.
Near me, the British throwers were talking to each other. A grin on Peter Alday's
face indicated that even in the highest moments of stress, his teammate, Don Anthony,
who looked more like an overweight English businessman than an Olympic competitor,
could not resist entertaining his teammates with his dry puns. Al Hall was sprinting on
the outfield with a feverishness I had never noticed in him before. Muhammad Iqbal was
speaking to the chief official, inquiring about some point, no doubt in his charming
Oxford manner. Each of us fought our jitters in our own unique way.
The clerk at the throwing circle alerted the first three competitors to get ready.
Increasingly anxious, and not exactly sure how many threw ahead of the two competitors
just before me, I walked over to the judge with the clipboard and the throwing order to
check when my turn would come, then began to settle myself for a long wait. I was the
last of the stronger competitors--which could prove important if I fell behind.
During the first round, the men who before the competition had demonstrated a
calculated air of confidence now displayed in turn their insecurity through the ir failure to
complete their throws within the circle. The hammer's centrifugal pull had to be
counteracted deftly; otherwise it caused a loss of balance and fouling either by stepping
out of the circle or throwing out of the sector. The pressure of the Olympic Games
robbed the men not of their strength, speed, or determination, but of their vulnerable
athletic finesse. Some spun too recklessly, others too cautiously. Only Samotsvetov, the
seemingly impervious, stolid Siberian managed to surpass 200' with 203'9", a new
Olympic record, which half of the rest of us should also have been capable of reaching
easily. Krivonosov and his teammate, Dmitriy Yegorov, trailed with careful opening
In a spreading epidemic fear of fouling, everyone was throwing with tension like
rusty robots. The very tentative first round performances produced an obvious
opportunity for someone to paralyze the competition with one unrestrained, long throw
and possibly lock up the victory. Not wanting to be seized by the Olympic paralysis
unfolding before me, just before I was called up to make my first throw, I decided to
abandon my planned, cautious first attempt and go for an all out effort. My throw landed
about 212 feet, well beyond the Olympic record, bringing a moment ary outburst of
applause, but then the referee's red flag signaled that I also had fouled. By brushing the
front rim of the circle with my foot, I had lost the gamble and placed myself under even
greater pressure. I became furious at myself for not sticking to my originally set tactic
and for losing my confidence. With only two remaining chances to qualify for the 3 final
throws, I had to ignore everybody else and concentrate on making my next attempt a
relaxed, long, fair throw.
In the second round Al Hall moved into second place with 202’ 10.” Shortly
thereafter I heard such a roar from the crowd, I turned to look at the result board.
Krivonosov had snatched the lead with 206’ 8”. I could not risk another foul. I had to get
the next throw fair, yet good enough to make it into the finals, where the top six
competitors got three more throws. I threw only 199’ 10 ½”, a distance that might not be
enough to make the finals. Like a cornered cat surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs, my
adrenaline surged.
In round three, Al Hall, made his decision to go all out but fouled by stepping out
of the circle on a throw that landed near Krivonosov’s. Jozsef Czermak, the popular
Olympic champion, looking thin and weak followed. He received an enthusiastic ovation
for his 199’ 2” throw that exceeded his 1952 Olympic winning performance. Krivonosov,
appearing even taller and almost swaggering with confidence from being in the lead,
made another long throw that fell just short of his previous effort. Two of the top
competitors, Asplund, the compact, blond Swedish record holder, and my Polish friend,
the always seemingly confident Tadeusz Rut, both enervated by having fouled twice,
surprisingly eliminated themselves from the competition. Asplund fouled for the third
time and Rut’s throw was too short. After seeing their struggles, I stopped trying to
follow what was happening. During my next effort, a strong gust of wind hit me, but I
improved to 205’ 6 ½”. That, I hoped, would put me into the finals, but I was not sure.
The officials took their time tallying the top six men, and it was not until Al came
over and said, to me. "We're still in there babes, three more to go," that I relaxed a little.
Finally, the electronic scoreboard above the western stands flashed the names of the
survivors for the finals. I had qualified second behind Krivonosov. Samotsvetov and
Hall followed, trailed closely by Czermak and the ponderous Yugoslav, Kresimir Racic,
who beamed when he unexpectedly surpassed the Russian Yegorov and Sverre Strandli,
the sullen, taciturn, former world record holder, rivals he had until then thought
impossible to beat.
Despite the strong, gusty winds that made us pause for them to subside before
throwing, and the increasing coolness, the fourth round progressed considerably faster
than the three previous trials. Now knowing it all could come down to my final throw, I
had to know exactly where I stood. I began again to follow the results of the other
throwers. It was obvious that Krivonosov was giving his all, but he could not control his
footwork. He fouled. During the long wait I had cooled off, and when my turn came, I
dropped down to two hundred and two feet. The placings in the contest remained
unchanged. I seethed with fury that I could not make myself come through. My
coordination was short-circuited; my throws were pathetic. Moreover, my left hand was
getting numb in the cold, and my eyes were itchy from the pollen. Desperately, I tried to
focus. The gold was within my reach.
When the slowly unfolding results of the fifth round revealed no one had
improved, I knew this was my chance to take it all. Calling on all the obstinacy I had
developed striving to be an athlete, I jogged far from the hammer area and sat down on
the infield grass. Then, muscle-by-muscle, I consciously relaxed my whole body. I had
to overcome the paralysis of competitive hysteria. I realized that ever since abandoning
my original tactic at the beginning, I had failed to concentrate on technical precision.
The tension of the competition had panicked me into power throwing, leading with my
head and upper body, muscling the hammer, causing a tight, early release, far short of a
relaxed, gradually accelerated, effort.
I was forgetting completely my usual focus on the precise, spinning movement of
my feet; I was rushing into positions from which they were unable to explode into an
effective lift. My upper body had been tense and too rigid instead of relaxed and fluid. I
had not succeeded in the most difficult task of overall coordination: to accomplish
correct, accelerated movements with complete relaxation. I wiped my nose in my towel,
forgot about the hay fever, gave my left hand a hard rub, pulled on my throwing glove,
and returned to the circle just in time to see Krivonosov foul again. I knew it was now or
I knew clearly what I had to do. When the judge waved me to get ready for my
fifth throw, I quickly tore several strips from a roll of adhesive tape to fix my ballet
slippers even snugger to my feet. An explosive, deafening roar startled me. In the 800-
meter semifinal Lon Spurrier, from Indiana, and Tom Courtney, of the New York
Athletic Club were neck-and-neck coming down the straightaway twenty meters from the
finish. Courtney responded with a burst of effort, to win by inches. Psyched by the surge
of adrenaline on the track and in the stands, I entered the ring.
With the eyes of the spectators and the press riveted on Courtney, all my
concentration was focused on keeping the bluebirds from my aunt ’s ballet studio perched
happily on my shoulders, the orbiting pull of the hammer, and my spinning toes. They
had to get me to the releasing position, and the distance I needed to win. For the first
time all afternoon, my windup felt good. I knew I was rotating faster at the release, but
the hammer flew flatter than it should have. Discouragement gripped me that it might not
be enough to take the lead.
Stretching the steel tape to measure the throw, the officials seemed to be moving
in slow motion, but I knew it was better because I had finished with my customary extra
spin after letting the hammer go. Then the scoreboard flashed 63.19 meters, 207’ 3 1/2”.
My initial reaction was disappointment. It was far short of what I had hoped to throw. But
I knew it also had put me barely into first-place. Stay relaxed, I told myself, your form is
coming back. On the next throw I was sure I'd do even better.
Compose yourself for the final throw - stay focused! I fought to control my
senses. Involuntarily I strained to hear her voice above the din. Despite the impossibility
of finding her in that endless sea of faces, my eyes flashed across the multitude looking
for Olga, then I turned quickly back to the competition, galvanized by the knowledge that
she was out there somewhere watching me. She must realize, now we had a chance.
The final round of throws began. I didn't know how close the whole thing was,
only four feet separating the first four competitors. I was focused completely on
Krivovosov and myself. Knowing it could all be decided on the last try, my confidence
instead of declining was rising. I wouldn't give up first place. I'd found myself; I'd found
my confidence. I moved to a bench and with head down, eyes closed, I repeatedly
visualized the movements and feeling of my previous throw. A little more drop and leglift
at the end. That's all it needed. I was certain my result would be bettered and was
grateful for the advantage of coming up last. I had to win. Clinging to the recaptured
mechanics of my correct technique, I felt as if clutching to a spinning life raft on a
roaring rapids, approaching a waterfall. Then a new torrent of thoughts flooded my mind.
Olga was watching from the stands. I couldn’t let go; I had to win her; I had to win for
I looked up as Al Hall was entering the ring. He improved about a foot.
Samosvetov followed, stoic determination on his face. He stooped into a concentrated
pause at the starting position in the ring, and I momentarily held my breath. A good
throw but too slow, it fell short of mine by two feet. The experts' predictions had come
true; the contest was to be decided between Krivonosov and me.
I stared at the Soviet champion. Krivonosov took off his windbreaker, and
unhurriedly removed his sweat suit. He carefully tucked his red, singlet, track shirt into
his shorts. Solemn and concentrating, he walked to the hammer circle in slow, deliberate
strides. After he stepped in the ring with the hammer handle in his left, gloved hand, he
paused. With his right hand he lifted the center of his shirt off his chest and took a long
look at the hammer and sickle emblem worn by all Soviet athletes, drew a deep breath,
and began his winds. I tried not to watch but couldn't resist. His first two turns were
smooth and fast. But he never completed the throw.
In shocked amazement, I watched Krivonosov's feet lose their rhythm and his
hammer crash into the ground. The inner pressure had burst through the outer wall of his
confidence. In that instantaneous realization that I was the Olympic Champion, I no
longer saw him as a foe. The Soviet, Michael Krivonosov had become one of the many
men whose physical and emotional fatigue had thwarted them from capturing their
Although the competition had not ended, scattered cheers rose from the stands. I
was the winner--the fight was over. I didn't even need to take my last throw! It was that
easy. Instantly I forgot the agony of the struggle, the hardships, and the self-discipline
that had brought forth my winning throw. I only understood that it was finished and that
I was up there with Olga, that we both had achieved the pinnacle.
The judge called me to take the last throw of the day; the no-pressure opportunity
to tie a fitting culmination to the contest by producing the result I knew was in me. Get
fired up and fling that thing! Take your free toss before the eyes of the world turn
elsewhere. Make it really count--a new Olympic and World record! It was a shallow pep
talk. The adrenaline of anger and uncertainty had already evaporated. My last throw was
more a pirouette of joy, aimlessly released through the applause onto the grass carpet
stretched in front of me-- a cursory period to the paragraph of my long climb to the
championship. I knew it was short of my previous throw. I deliberately fouled.
Al Hall who finished fourth shook my hand: “Congratulations buddy.
We have the medal after all.” The other competitors came with their wishes and slaps on
the back. I grinned jubilantly and picked up the bag with my good luck charm, Olga's
little Media. I moved briefly to take the furry doll out for the crowd’s appreciation, but
fear and mistrust between East and West kept it buried safe beneath my gear.
The chief judge signaled me to proceed directly to the victory stand. After a short
further delay of congratulations and handshakes exchanged with all the other competitors,
I walked across the field, straggling alone behind Krivonosov and Samotsvetov, and
thinking back to the contest. Why was it such a high-strung event? Not one really good
throw from any of us. My new Olympic record was seventeen feet under my personal
best, and yet it had been so ridiculously hard to achieve. Suddenly, I wanted to go
through it again. If I had another three throws, or even one, I was sure I could throw
farther. I was furious with myself that I had thrown so poorly, but I also knew I'd have
been a lot more disappointed in Krivonosov's place.
It would be difficult now to give up competition. I was sure I had not yet
achieved my best performance. I wanted to be the first to throw over 70 meters--only
five feet beyond my best. I had already achieved everything: the World Record, the
Olympic Record, and the Gold Medal. What else could I expect from a hobby? Olympic
throwers don't get paid. Now I better grow up and get a real job and settle into a serious
future. Settle down; forget this time-consuming hammer thing--that's what I now had to
commit myself to.
I hurried to catch up to the Soviets who were already waiting at the victory stand.
The dejected expression on Krivonosov's face told it all. No other loss in sports scars as
deeply as a defeat in an Olympic contest, which, if you are lucky enough to earn another
opportunity, comes only every four years.
The hammer throw final results were flashed up on the scoreboard. The stadium
address system announced the bronze medal winner, Anatoly Samotsvetov, and then the
silver medal contestant. Forlornly, Krivonosov stood looking into the ground from his
place beside me on the victory stand. The blaze of trumpets and the announcement of the
new Olympic Champion, Harold Connolly of the U.S.A.; a troop of boy scouts and girl
scouts bearing the medals on pillows; and then the unforgettable word,
"Congratulations." Leaning forward, I accepted the Olympic gold medal from an
Australian Olympic official; an honor I would never in my wildest boyhood fantasies
have believed would be mine.
I stood erect and stared across the track to the left into the right at the living
tribute I was receiving from fellow human beings from throughout the world. I looked
above and beyond the waving flags encircling the perimeter of the stadium to the blue
sky and the scudding white clouds to give my thanks to God for conferring this moment
upon my life.
At that moment, I heard nothing. I was lost in the vast stretches of my personal
eternity. And then I felt a tug at my hips and the Star Spangled Banner resonating
throughout the stadium jarred my consciousness. "Harold, there - - " Krivonosov turned
me to the left to face the flagpoles. Both Soviet athletes had turned sharply to the left to
face the scoreboard and our ascending national flags, which had nearly reached the tops
of the polls above the victory scoreboard. He saved me from the embarrassment of not
paying the expected respect to the national flags of the United States and the Soviet
Union. In perhaps the most mortifying moment of his athletic life, my Russian rival had
saved me from the embarrassment of looking the complete fool by turning me toward the
flags. Krivonosov must have understood how I felt. Tears of joy welled in my eyes as I
watched the American flag continue to climb up the pole above the two Soviet flags. I
had helped “Old Glory” to conquer the hardest competition in all sports. That made every
fence I climbed to find a place to throw, those years of nights after work throwing and
lifting weights, every pulled muscle, every disappointing loss - whatever sacrifice it took
- suddenly a meager price for the joy I felt.
I stood alone at the top of Mount Olympus. I reveled in the joy of hearing the
National Anthem as I had never heard it before. I knew that from then on I would hold it
a little dearer and stand a little straighter. I was lifted by the notes into another dimension
off in the clouds above the stadium, engulfed in a wave of happiness, lost from all reality.
The uniqueness of the moment for me was affirmed later when I learned I was the last
American athlete of the Melbourne Olympic Games to have the entire National Anthem
played during the victory ceremony and not the abbreviated versions of longer anthems at
the Games.
After I shook hands with Krivovosov and Samotsvetov, the photographers
wouldn't let us descend from the victory stand. Amid the deafening ovations, cameras
and flash bulbs were going off all around us. I heard some of them cry out to me,
“Connolly! Raise your arms above your head in victory. Come on, do it.” In my greatest
moment of accomplishment, the old pain of embarrassment and humiliation engulfed me.
All my life I had wanted to raise my two arms above my head. I had sometimes even
dreamed I could do it. How natural to raise one’s arms in victory, and how much I
wanted to do it, but I knew I could not raise my left arm. I quickly shot my right hand
above my head and waved.
“Both hands,” they kept insisting. “Come on. Raise 'em both.” Foolishly, I tried
to comply, but my left awkwardly forced up no higher than my shoulder. In that
moment, I felt Krivonosov's eyes on me. He saw. I knew he did. His expression
betrayed that he was stunned by the extent of my handicap and perhaps even more
humiliated by his defeat. I dropped all pretenses and lowered both arms.
Up a ramp, through a corridor deep in the darkened bowels of the stadium,
surrounded by an excited noisy crowd of newsmen, photographers, autograph seekers and
officials, I was being guided to the winners' press conference. Slaps on the back,
handshakes from all sides, I couldn't see anything but the regular passing of lights over
my head and the encompassing wall of well-wishers as we pushed down the hall. The
door was opened.
“This way Mr. Connolly,” the official said, showing me into a large room bursting with
men, some seated but most standing in the back and around the walls. They applauded as
I was directed to the center at the front of the room. I felt uneasy, but also exhilarated by
the experience. Rather than stand, I half leaned, half sat on the edge of a table. From the
jam of shining eyeglasses, nervous notepads, and burning cigarettes spurted all manner of
questions in a variety of foreign accents. The journalists asked about everything from the
history of my handicap to the athletic prowess of my family, to my future plans in the
hammer throw. I announced that the match between the USA and the British Empire in
Sydney following the Games would be my last competition; and after returning home, I
would devote all my time to a career in business. I committed myself to retirement from
the hammer throw.

Copyright © 1999-2002 Harold Connolly