To the world, Olympic heroes tend to endure at their moment of victory. Flushed with youth, exalted by triumph, they are crystallized in time. Perhaps that is the essence of the Olympics—a single, intense, theatrical instant shared by competitor and spectator alike. There are the gold medals—actually gilded silver—the anthems, the Hags, the transcendent applause. It is so fleeting and so beautiful. But, of course, there is more. And though our memories of them may not admit it, Olympians carry no marks of identification once the victories are won, the medals given out. Nothing is predictable except that their lives are never again the same. As a group, only one thing can be said of them: their feet are made neither of gold nor of clay, but only of flesh.
PAAVO NURMI, RECLUSE
He is a legend and newspapers have his obituary on composing-room trays, waiting to be pulled out when he dies. Most have had the type set for years. But perhaps they will not know when he dies, for Paavo Nurmi is a recluse. He is 75 years old and his heart, once perhaps as steady and as strong as any on earth, is feeble. He suffered a massive coronary failure four years ago, others more recently. He cannot get about without a cane.
In Helsinki, where he lives in an apartment overlooking Sibelius Park, Nurmi is considered to be a miser, a shrewd and sour fellow who made a lot of money in real estate and with the Paavo Nurmi shop, a men's clothing store. He won nine gold medals, more than any Olympic runner in history. He also won three silver medals. He entered 12 Olympic races in 1920, 1924 and 1928.
July 16, 1972
Nurmi was born on the nails of poverty in 1897 in Turku, the old capital of Finland. His father died when he was 12 and he became an errand boy, pushing a wheelbarrow. He began running in the black-pine forests near Turku and soon became so intense about it that people avoided him; where he had been taciturn to the point of glumness, now he did nothing but talk—about nothing but running. After elementary school he became a machine-shop worker, then went into the army where he was a weapons fitter. He never stopped running, but he became more and more withdrawn. He loved classical music and attended concerts frequently, but always alone. He was married for a year, then divorced. Neither he nor his wife remarried. He has one son, Matti, whom until recently he rarely saw.
Perhaps because of his early deprivations, Paavo Nurmi was known as a pothunter. It was once said, "Nurmi has the lowest heartbeat and the highest asking price of any athlete in the world." Nonetheless, he has always been a hero in Finland, a man whose fame put his country on the map of the world. A statue of him was sculpted in 1925. It now stands outside Helsinki Stadium, and recently an old friend, discussing the life of Nurmi, shook his head and said, "Think, for years Nurmi has had to look at his own statue. What would that do to a man?"
In 1952, when the Olympic Games were held in Helsinki, Paavo Nurmi astonished everyone by appearing suddenly at the opening ceremonies to run the final lap with the Olympic torch. He had trained hard for that role and his celebrated stride was unmistakable to the crowd. When he came into view, waves of sound began to build throughout the stadium, rising to a roar, then to a thunder. When the national teams, assembled in formation on the infield, saw the flowing figure of Nurmi, they broke ranks like excited schoolchildren, dashing toward the edge of the track.
A few years ago, after his first severe heart attack, Paavo Nurmi arranged to leave his estate (valued at about $240,000) to a foundation that supports heart research. When he announced the bequest, Nurmi agreed to hold a brief conversation with reporters. One asked, "When you ran Finland onto the map of the world, did you feel you were doing it to bring fame to a nation unknown by others?"
"No," said Nurmi. "I ran for myself, not for Finland."
"Not even in the Olympics?"
"Not even then. Above all, not then. At the Olympics, Paavo Nurmi mattered more than ever."
ELEANOR HOLM, EX-DECORATOR
She is 58, saucy as ever, with that stunning, fresh, huge smile which captivated the world in 1936 after she was canned from the U.S. Olympic team for drinking and staying up late during the voyage to Europe. "I was drinking champagne!" she said. "If it had been whiskey or gin, well, all right."
She now lives in a penthouse apartment in a Miami Beach condominium loaded with pink French provincial furniture, carved wooden chests, bureaus and tables, and Oriental lamps. On her walls are two Dalis and a Renoir. Much of this came from her second husband, the late Billy Rose, after they were divorced in 1954.
Eleanor Holm first went to the Olympics at Amsterdam in 1928. She was 14. Her father was a New York City fire captain. She won no medals, but in Los Angeles in 1932 she won a gold in the 100-meter backstroke and she doubtlessly would have won another in Berlin if she had been allowed to compete.
"The afternoon before I was kicked off the team I won a couple of hundred dollars playing craps with the reporters in the first-class cabins," she recalled. "I didn't give it back either, and I'm sure this didn't sit too well with the officials. Of course, they were all in first-class cabins and they didn't like my being there. I tried to buy my own ticket to go first class, but they wouldn't let me. I was an athlete! To them athletes were cattle and they had to be fenced off. So they put us down in steerage, four to a room, way down in the bottom of the boat! God, everything smelled like liniment. Yukkk!"
Eleanor Holm speaks almost exclusively in italics and exclamation points, always with gestures and usually wielding a lighted cigarette to lend further emphasis to her remarks. "Well, it was such a mess! I was no baby.... Hell, I was married to Art Jarrett and he was the star at the Cocoanut Grove and I had been singing for his band before the '36 Games. I'd been working in nightclubs when I made the team.
"I guess it was the second night out of New York and I was sitting around with the newspaper boys when this chaperone came up and told me it was time to go to bed. God, it was about nine o'clock, so I said to her, 'Oh, is it really bedtime? Did you make the Olympic team or did I?' I had had a few glasses of champagne. So she went to Brundage and they got together and told me I was fired. I was heart broken!"
Well, not permanently heartbroken. In Berlin, Eleanor was the belle of the Games. "I had such fun! You know, athletes don't think much about politics at all. I enjoyed the parties, the Heil Hitlers, the uniforms, the flags and those thousands of cleaning ladies with their gray dresses and brooms.
"Goering was fun. He had a good personality. So did the little one with the club foot [Joseph Goebbels]. Goering gave me a sterling-silver swastika. I had a mold made of it and I put a diamond Star of David in the middle."
When she returned to the U.S., she was a celebrity. "Jarrett, my husband, was going to sue Brundage for kicking me off," she said, "but then we started getting all these fabulous offers and, well, he dropped it. I did all right after the Los Angeles Games, but 1936 made me a star—it made me a glamour girl! Just another gold medal would never have done that!"
Eleanor Holm has lived in her Miami Beach apartment for 11 years. "I play golf," she said. "Awful golf. One hundred and eighteen is my consistent score. My best is 106. I made a living doing interior decorating for a while. I was pretty good, too. But, my God, going up against those rich, showy broads. They'd have all this jewelry dripping off them. To impress them, when I was trying to get their decorating jobs, I'd run down to my bank vault and get out this one big rock that Rose gave me. I'd put it on and then go talk with them and I'd sit flashing that big rock back and forth in front of my face. Oh, they'd notice that rock, all right. Then when I was done selling them, I'd run back to the bank and put my rock back in the vault. I couldn't afford to insure it."
HERB ELLIOTT, SALES MANAGER
When he was 22, Herb Elliott was the most promising runner since Paavo Nurmi. He won the gold medal in the 1,500 in Rome and he held the world record in that distance and in the mile, an event that he never lost. Then he quit.
Elliott is now 34 and it is as if he had never been anything but what he is today, an ascending and extremely ambitious sales manager for Australian Portland Cement Ltd. He lives with his wife and six children in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin. "I believe life falls into categories," he said. "When you are a youngish sort of bloke, as I still class myself, your career has to be developed to a level that makes you happy. I am not happy by any means. There is a family to educate and a home to build and pay off. The first 15 or 20 years of married life must be a selfish sort of existence where job and family come first."
When asked what interest he has in track now, he answered sharply, "Nil." When asked if his celebrity as a medal winner had helped his career, he said, "No."
When asked if he ever appears before athletic associations, he said, "I accept those invitations only if they are for a very close friend or if they will help me in my job or if they will pay me."
Elliott discussed his brilliant running career as if he were discussing a stranger's. "When I first started, my only ambition was to be better than I was. This gradually leads you on until you are satisfied with what you have done. I didn't realize what my goal was until I felt satisfied. I felt satisfied when I won an Olympic gold medal and broke a world record. Once that hunger had been satiated, I lost interest altogether.
"Every time I ran it was an enormous strain on me, even if it was at a little country meeting. I hate the four or five hours before a race. I was twisted up and knotted up inside. It was a ghastly feeling. The nervousness and the pressure increased as my unbeaten record got longer. The pundits, the damned journalists would say, 'Today's the day Elliott's going to be knocked off,' and in England and all over the world tens of thousands of people would turn up just to see if I would be beaten. It was a drag."
GAZANFER BILGE, BUS CZAR
From Olympic champion to a kingdom of buses.... On the verge of death, then to prison.... In spite of tuberculosis, jaundice, infarctus and bullets perforating liver and lungs, the man is alive and standing on his feet.... But this man, a businessman and a millionaire, is guarded day and night by an army of volunteers....
Thus does Ankara journalist Mehmet Ali Kislali put into elegiac summary the life and times of Gazanfer Bilge, 48, the Turkish wrestler and bus mogul. These have been bitter and bloody years for Gazanfer Bilge, a far cry from the radiant hour when he stood upon the podium in London in 1948 and received his gold medal for winning the featherweight division in freestyle wrestling. "I trembled very much," he said.
Ordinarily, Gazanfer Bilge is a man of immense ego and gargantuan self-confidence. When he was asked who had helped him most in his quest for the Olympic medal, he replied, "Nobody did. I have learned every game by myself. The secret of my success is my strength and my intelligence."
It is a bizarre world that Gazanfer Bilge lives in now, and as Kislali writes, "Clouds of anxiety have come to fill his eyes." A bloody feud has erupted among the major bus owners of Turkey. It is the more surrealistic in that all the major parties were, like Gazanfer Bilge, Olympic wrestlers.
Turkish wrestlers have gravitated to the bus business in surprising numbers—among them Kazim Ayvaz, Mustafa Dagistanli, Hamit Kaplan and the Atan brothers, Irfan and Adil, who have come to be the nemeses of Gazanfer Bilge.
After he won his medal the Turkish government rewarded Gazanfer Bilge with a house and 20,000 Turkish liras ($7,142). This resulted in his being disqualified at the 1952 Olympics along with several other Turks who had been similarly honored. He bought a farm, then sold it for a profit and bought two minibuses. He prospered and bought a full-sized bus, then many buses, and today there is scarcely an important route in Turkey that is not serviced by the buses of Gazanfer Bilge.
They are easy to recognize for they are painted with the famed five circles of the Olympics and also with Gazanfer Bilge's name in large letters. He is very rich now, with two villas in Istanbul and other valuable real estate in Ankara. Still, there are those "clouds of anxiety."
The storm center is Adil Atan, 43, who won a bronze medal in wrestling at Helsinki, and his brother Irfan, 45, who finished fourth in the same Games. Adil Atan is not as rich as Gazanfer Bilge, but he owns 50 buses. Adil Atan is a fierce-looking fellow. He is almost bald and he weighs well over 250 pounds. Adil Atan's hobby is keeping canaries. There are dozens of them in his home and it is said that he is as gentle as a little bird himself when he is around them.
There is confusion over exactly what triggered the fighting between Adil Atan and Gazanfer Bilge, but here is the chronicle in the words of Gazanfer Bilge as told to the journalist Kislali. Certainly, this is a prejudiced version, but it is the truth as Gazanfer Bilge sees it:
"The Atan brothers are Abazas, a branch of Circassians; my mother is Circassian, too. We knew each other since we were very young. One day the Atan brothers came to see me. They threatened me, started swearing and asked for half of my company. Of course, I gave them no share whatsoever. They started beating and threatening my drivers. I complained to the authorities, but nothing was done to protect me....
"It was in 1963. It was election day. The law stipulates that on election day nobody is to carry a gun. That very day, wrongly presuming I had no gun, they made me fall into an ambush.... I pulled out my gun and started to fire. The bullets entered in the arm and hip of Fethi Atan, the youngest brother, and in the belly of Adil Atan. Whilst I was trying to charge again, they got scared and disappeared. Thereupon I went to the police station and gave myself up.
"In the meantime, I was informed that I had slightly wounded a young girl I did not know and I was informed that Adil's condition was serious. Then I was arrested. I stayed in prison 48 days. I lost 12 kilos [26 pounds]. I had tuberculosis of the lungs.
"Two years elapsed from that day. One night I was passing by the Kadik√∂y post office. All of a sudden I had the impression that a bus was running on me. A bullet fired from the back put my liver into pieces, went through my lung and out my chest. When I turned to face the assassin, a second bullet wounded my arm. I immediately ran behind a minibus and I started firing, too. But the assassin ran away. Later he was captured and sentenced to 12 years. He was the son of the eldest of the Atan brothers. His name was Bahtiyar Atan.
"I was put into the hospital. Siyami Ersek, the world-famous doctor who has undertaken a heart transplant for the first time in Turkey, operated on me. In the meantime, I had jaundice. I was under treatment for three, four years. Also, the hearing of the lawsuit for the events of 1963 was going on. The decision was rendered in 1968. I was sentenced to two years. Finally, after 1½ years, I was released because of my good conduct."
Not long ago, Gazanfer Bilge suffered a heart attack. Now, scarred and weakened, he is taking no chances of being attacked again. Kislali visited Gazanfer Bilge's office recently and he reported, "There are iron bars at the windows. Volunteers are guarding the door. To be able to see Gazanfer one has to overcome four or five obstacles. One has to make an appointment months in advance. The only thing they do not ask for is a password. As for the rest, you have only the impression of entering a top secret military zone."
MICHELINE OSTERMEYER, PIANIST
She is 49, a graceful woman with gray hair and horn-rimmed glasses. At London she won two gold medals and a bronze for France—golds in the shotput and the discus, a bronze in the high jump. Then Micheline Ostermeyer went on to become a concert pianist, but her performance at the Olympics remains a magical event. "The Olympics were, no doubt, the biggest moment of my life," she said. "But you must not forget life is not a moment. In a way, I suppose the Olympics was a prolongation of my childhood."
Mme. Ostermeyer was born in Berck in the north of France; her mother was a piano teacher, her grandfather the composer and virtuoso Lucien Laroche. Victor Hugo was a great-uncle. She attended the Paris Conservatory of Music and practiced the piano five or six hours a day. She practiced track five or six hours a week, usually at night. She was married for many years to an Armenian-born kinestherapist, Ghazar Ghazarian, who died seven years ago. She now lives quietly with her two children in an apartment in Versailles. She teaches piano at the Claude Debussy Conservatory. She rarely gives concerts now, although last autumn she did write a note to Count Jean de Beaumont of the IOC asking to play for Olympic competitors in Munich. "I've had no reply, alas," she said.
Her own career as a pianist was not enhanced by her fame as a gold medal winner. "They thought that I was an athlete who happened to play the piano. In reality, I was a pianist who happened to compete in athletics. If I had played tennis or something mundane like that it might have been all right, but other musicians thought—track and field? There was prejudice. I had to show them my diplomas.
"For a long time I could not play Liszt, though, because he was too sportif. I knew what other musicians would say—"Well, of course, what else would she play?' So I had to play Debussy, Ravel, Chopin. In 1954 or 1955, finally played Liszt at a recital and I had such a success with it that I thought, 'Oh, why didn't I play it before?' "
TAKEICHI NISHI, CAVALRYMAN,DECEASED
Baron Takeichi Nishi won a gold medal in the equestrian Prix des Nations event in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932, and he counted Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Will Rogers among his friends. Baron Nishi's widow lives in a small apartment in Tokyo's fashionable Azabu district. She recently recalled that Douglas Fairbanks once said that "one Baron Nishi is worth 10 diplomats."
His widow said that the baron had been downcast after Pearl Harbor, but that he had said, "I have many friends in the United States, but I must go to war for I am first a soldier and second a friend." The baron was killed in 1945 in a cave above a beach at Iwo Jima. As the story goes, one of the attacking U.S. marines knew of Baron Nishi—then a lieutenant colonel—through his Olympic exploits. During a lull in the fighting, he shouted, "Baron Nishi, come on out! You're too good a horseman to die in there!"
His widow said, "Oh, of course, he could not surrender. To surrender is disgrace." She said she was very proud of her husband's courage and that she has been told there is a plaque on a rock along the beach at Iwo Jima that marks the place where he died.
ALAIN MIMOUN, CIVIL SERVANT
When the mother of Alain Mimoun was carrying him in her womb, she lived in a dismal mountain village in Algeria. One night she dreamed that she was walking across a desolate, stony landscape lit only by the moon. The moon was a comfort and she stopped walking to gaze at it. 11 seemed to drop a little closer to her. It became brighter, more silvery, and it descended gradually toward her, until at last it loomed so close that she reached up and embraced it and held it to her bosom. In the morning she was troubled by the dream. She could not forget it because she could not understand it. She went to sec a crone who interpreted dreams. The old woman said, "The child you carry will someday do a magnificent thing."
Alain Mimoun now lives in the Paris suburb of Campigny-sur-Marne. His home has a wine cave where he keeps a fine stock of Beaujolais and an excellent champagne, which he purchases from a private supplier. He is 51, a prosperous civil servant in the French national sports program and the most popular sports personality in French history—overshadowing Carpentier, Cerdan and Killy. He has named his daughter Olympe, he calls his home L'Olympe and he has a room filled with his medals, which he calls the Olympic Museum. He says, "If the Olympics is a religion, then the museum is my chapel." He entered four Olympics from 1948 through 1960. He won a silver medal in London, two more in Helsinki. In Melbourne he won the gold medal in the marathon. At Rome he was injured and won no medals.
Mimoun left Algeria when he was 18 and joined the French army. He was named a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in World War II, but his mother did not tell him of her dream. Over the years he won a record 32 long-distance running championships. She said nothing. She remained silent when he won his silver medals. Nor was he told about the dreams after he became a physical-education teacher in France—a position of magnificence to the peasants of his village. He was 36 in Melbourne, but he was in fine condition. "I knew I was older and I was losing speed," he said. "I am a realist. But I also knew my resistance was as good as ever."
So he ran the marathon. Only his old nemesis, Emil Zatopek, who had beaten him in every Olympic race he had ever run, and a solitary journalist said that Mimoun had a chance to win. When Mimoun entered the stadium and neared the finish line he turned to see if Zatopek was gaining. There was no one in sight. Mimoun shook off the officials who crowded about to congratulate him and stood gazing at the stadium entrance. "I was sure Emil was there at my heels," he said. "I was hoping he would be second. I was waiting for him. Then I thought, well, he will be third—it will be nice to stand on the podium with him again. But Emil came in sixth, oh, very tired. He seemed in a trance, staring straight ahead. He said nothing. I said, 'Emil, why don't you congratulate me? I am an Olympic champion. It was I who won.'
"Emil turned and looked at me, as if he were waking from a dream. Then he snapped to attention. Emil took off his cap—that white painting cap he wore so much—and he saluted me. Then he embraced me."
Alain Mimoun weeps at the memory. "Oh, for me," he said, "that was better than the medal."
The gold medal won in the Melbourne marathon was what the mother of Alain Mimoun had been waiting for. "She said to me, 'That's it! That's what my dream meant!' And then she told me about embracing the moon and of the magnificent thing she had been waiting for me to do. I suffered much, but I knew the real Olympics to be religious games as the Greeks had planned them. You can't fabricate an Olympic champion. You are an Olympic champion in your mother's womb."
RIE MASTENBROEK, HOUSEWIFE
She is an invalid, nearly crippled from an auto accident and unable to work. She is 54 now, heavy and seemingly very tired. Rie Mastenbroek was the most famous woman swimmer in Europe in 1936, a pretty slip of a girl, just 17. She won three gold medals and a silver in the Berlin Games. "I am forgotten," she said. "No one remembers who I was."
She lives with her second husband and a 16-year-old son from her first marriage in an apartment in Rozenburg, a suburb of Rotterdam. Her first marriage was a "disaster" and she was forced to work 14-hour days as a cleaning woman after the war in order to care for her children. The only time she has actually been in a swimming pool in decades was when she waded into a therapy pool at a hospital in an attempt to ease the headache that constantly pounds at the base of her skull.
Yet Rie Mastenbroek remembers the days when she swam. "Sometimes I think, 'oh, dear, oh, dear, how good I must have been, how really good!' After me, not one lady swimmer, nobody, not one, ever did it again: three times gold and once silver. Oh, how good I must have been!"
DON BRAGG, BOYS CAMP OWNER
Kamp Olympik is in the pine barrens of New Jersey. In the summer it overflows with 270 boys, but in the early spring it is a cold, desolate place. The owner of the camp is Don Bragg, 37, who won a gold medal in the pole vault in Rome in 1960. The medal is now displayed, along with dozens of other trophies and ribbons he won, in the dining hall of his camp. At twilight one evening last spring, Bragg peered at the medal, and when he spoke his voice bellowed and echoed among the rafters of the large empty room. "All I ever really wanted to be was Tarzan. It was my dream. Listen, I broke the world's record because I was Tarzan. I won the gold medal because I wanted to be Tarzan. I knew Hollywood would believe I was Tarzan if I had that medal."
Bragg was very excited. He is an enormous man, with thick, curly black hair, but his sideburns have turned white. While he talked, he strode about the gloomy dining hall and his feet thundered on the floor. "People started calling me Tarzan, which I loved. In the Garden, they'd be yelling up in the galleries, 'Go, Tarzan! Win one for Cheetah!' Once one of those pale little stuffed shirts from the AAU came up to me and said I was going to jeopardize my amateur standing because I had 'Don Tarzan Bragg' printed on my traveling bag. I laughed at him.
"So in Rome I won the medal after eight hours. Eight hours! I went from 198 to 178 pounds, but I won and I let go with this fantastic Tarzan yell. It echoed all over the stadium and the crowd went wild.
"But the gold medal did it for me—Hollywood called. I moved out there to become Tarzan. At this point Tarzan was in my bones. They wanted to straighten my nose and cut my vocal cords. My wife was about to have our first baby and she went home to New Jersey. I was living with Horace Heidt, the bandleader, and one night I took this girl home from some party and some guy took a shot at me. God, the headlines! And I get to thinking what am I doing in Hollywood—Don Bragg from Penns Grove, New Jersey? What am I doing with nose jobs and voice-box tricks? I figured it's all too rich for me, so I came home."
It is very dark now in the dining hall of Kamp Olympik. Bragg paused for a moment, then spoke in hushed tones: "I am home for a week. I go down to the local swimming hole and some kids ask me if I'll make like Tarzan. Could I resist? No, I could not, so I swung out on a rope, dropped and landed on a big jagged hunk of glass and cut my foot so badly I needed 18 stitches and was supposed to stay off my foot for six weeks. So at this point I get this phone call from my old friend Sy Weintraub, the producer, and he said, 'Don, Don, we want you to play Tarzan in Tarzan Goes to India.' I was lying in bed with my foot wrapped and I just gulped. 'Don, Don,' said Sy, 'we'll forget about fixing your nose because we don't have time and we're leaving for India right now. You ready to go, Don? Don?' I said, 'Well, ah, er, Sy, I can't walk because I got this foot problem....' So he hired Jock Mahoney to play Tarzan.
"Then in 1964 I was talking to some TV types about playing Tarzan in a series. They'd tested Weissmuller's son for the part, but he was too tall, so I got it. Yeah, I was going to be Tarzan. We went to Jamaica to film it and one day there I was, standing on a cliff in my little Tarzan briefs. The cameras were all below me and the director was sitting in his chair and I puffed my chest out and I thought, 'I'm a star! My life's dream—me Tarzan!'
"So not two days after we started shooting they slapped a subpoena or an injunction or something on the whole company—a great legal mess over whether we had the rights to do Tarzan. The company shut down on the spot. I was crushed, of course. I came home to New Jersey and I took a job selling drug supplies for $6,200 a year. What humiliation! People would say to me, 'Say, aren't you Don Tarzan Bragg? What are you doing selling drug supplies?' Oh, it was some ego adjustment. But it still wasn't the worst."
Now it is almost pitch dark in the dining hall and Don Bragg nearly vanishes as he paces. "I was having bad back problems then. My leg had been going numb and the doctor said I had no choice but to go into the hospital for spinal surgery. So I was packing my stuff to check in when I got this phone call from South America. Sy Weintraub. He was calling from Brazil and he wanted to know if I could fly down there and be on location in 48 hours. He said they were shooting Tarzan the Impostor. Sy wanted me for the impostor. I gulped again and I told him I couldn't make it just then because I, ah, er, had this back problem. Weintraub couldn't believe it. He hired Ron Ely, and Ely ended up playing the real Tarzan on a TV series."
Bragg shook his head. "I'm no fatalist, but I just wasn't meant to be Tarzan."
GISELA MAUERMAYER, LIBRARIAN
A homemade pullover sweater covers her big frame, and there is in her face a hint of haggardness of age and loneliness and the dry fatigue of a life filled with too much work. Gisela Mauermayer, 58, lives in the row house in Munich where she was born. She is a spinster. Her married sister shares the house; Gisela Mauermayer works as a librarian at the Munich Zoological Society.
Anyone who has seen photos of Berlin's Olympians will never forget Gisela—a 6-foot blonde beauty who won the discus. She was the very flower of Nazi maidenhood and she gave the Nazi salute as the swastika rose on its staff and the stadium roared.
Hitler had made it a state policy to produce gold medal winners for the Games and Gisela was discovered by the F√ºhrer's Olympic talent scouts. She spent the year before the Games in intensive training under government coaches. Despite her resolute devotion to the F√ºhrer, her gold medal brought her no great material reward. After the Games, Gisela was given the same teaching job she had applied for earlier. She taught in Munich during the war. When American troops occupied the city, her home was robbed of all her medals and trophies. She was removed from her teaching job because of her Nazi party membership. "I started from scratch at the Zoological Institute of Munich University," she said, "and I earned my second doctor's degree by studying the social behavior of ants."
In her home a Bechstein grand dominates the living room: next to it is a cello. Gisela Mauermayer plays chamber music twice a week with friends. "I sorely miss the idealism which ought to be an integral part of sport," she said. "Nowadays, competitive sport has become too commercialized, too specialized and, last but not least, a hazard rather than a boon to health. As a zoologist, I can attest from my scientific experience that no animal exists which could sustain the kind of protracted effort nowadays demanded by a high-performance athlete."
EMIL ZATOPEK, A CZECH
Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia ran every step of every race as if there were a scorpion in each shoe. After he won a gold medal in the 10,000 and a silver in the 5,000 in London in 1948, Red Smith wrote: "Witnesses who have long since forgotten the other events still wake up screaming in the dark when Emil the Terrible goes writhing through their dreams, gasping, groaning, clawing at his abdomen in horrible extremities of pain."
In Helsinki in 1952, Emil the Terrible let his grand agonies (which were almost entirely a matter of theatrics) transport him beyond the realm of mere human endurance as he won gold medals in the 5,000, the 10,000 and the marathon. No man had ever done such a thing, and it was the more amazing because Zatopek had never run a marathon in competition before. When it was over he said, "The marathon is a very boring race."
In 1967 Emil Zatopek spoke to a reporter from the London Times about his appreciation of the Olympics: "For me the 1948 Olympics was a liberation of the spirit. After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out. I went into the Olympic Village in 1948 and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had lost five years of life were back again." For many years Emil Zatopek was a colonel in the Czech army and the toast of the Communist Party. Crowds used to gather around him in the street. Then in 1968 he signed the 2,000 Words Manifesto. After Russian tanks stamped out the rebellion, he was expelled from the party, transferred to the reserves and given a pittance for a pension. He worked for a time as a well-tester, but he lost that job. He became a garbage collector, but people recognized him at his work. They helped him carry the garbage cans. This was viewed as a symbol of solidarity against the regime, so he was fired. Then last year he publicly recanted his liberal views. While this incurred the ire of the Czech public, it prompted Party Boss Gust?v Hus?k to say that he held "Zatopek in esteem as a man of character." Zatopek is now working for the Czech Geological Research Institute on oil-deposit research. He says it is an outdoor occupation that allows him to go home to Prague once a fortnight.
HAROLD ABRAHAMS, BARRISTER
Harold Abrahams is 72, a dignified retired London lawyer. In the 1924 Olympics in Paris, he won the 100-meter dash, defeating Charles Paddock, then the World's Fastest Human. "The medal had a bearing on my career, of course," he said. "I was a celebrity. People knew me through my victory, but that was not the reason I tried to win. My brothers were both well-known athletes and, eventually, I wanted to show I could do better than they had. When I won, there wasn't any great surge of patriotism in me, though I was pleased for Britain.
"But another reason why I hardened myself to win was that there was a certain amount of anti-Semitism in those days. Certainly, now, I didn't run in the Olympics to win for all of the Jews. I ran for myself. But I felt I had become something of an outsider, you know. That may have helped."
ABEBE BIKILA, SOLDIER
He will have a seat of honor at the Munich Olympics, but it will be a sad and futile tribute of the type that healthy men pay to the cripples whose still, gleaming wheels line the sidelines at athletic contests.
Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia will be there in his chromium-plated wheelchair, a doubly painful sight because he was so graceful and so strong before he was paralyzed. Now 39, Bikila became a historic figure in Rome in 1960 when he won the marathon: it was the first gold medal for a man from black Africa. He was unforgettable when he ran through the streets of Rome that day. He was barefoot and his stride was easy, though his legs seemed far too thin to carry him over so many miles. His face was set in a gaunt, brown mask that somehow seemed beatific at the same time it was grim. When he won, the mask cracked, bursting into a radiant smile.
He made Olympic history in Tokyo when he won his second consecutive gold in the marathon; there he did a handstand just after he broke the tape. He might have won a third marathon in Mexico City except that he ran with an injured ankle. He did not finish.
Now Bikila is a paraplegic; he cannot move from the waist down. In 1969 an automobile he was driving near Addis Ababa overturned. He was flown to England for special treatment and Haile Selassie himself made a trip to visit him there. But the doctors could do nothing and they say now that his chances of ever moving his legs again are a million to one.
Though he is virtually helpless, Bikila still holds the rank of captain in the Imperial Bodyguard. He was a private in the army when he went to Rome, was promoted to corporal after the gold medal, won promotion to sergeant in the Imperial Bodyguard before Tokyo, was made a lieutenant following that triumph and became a captain after Mexico City. "My life was enriched by the Olympics in that way," said Bikila.
He lives with his wife and four children in a cottage among groves of gum and eucalyptus on the outskirts of Addis. About his house are the shabby huts of his peasant neighbors. There is a seven-foot corrugated iron fence around Bikila's property, and inside, on brilliantly green grass, half a dozen sheep graze, chickens pecking at their feet. Inside the house, the floors are polished to a fine sheen and the walls are hung with war shields. His trophies, stained and discolored by the damp mountain air, are displayed in a cupboard. The scent of incense permeates the rooms.
"Men of success meet with tragedy," said Bikila. "It was the will of God that I won the Olympics and it was the will of God that I had my accident. I was overjoyed when I won the marathon twice. But I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have no choice. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily."
The path leading to Bikila's door is trod by dozens of Olympic aspirants who come to him for inspiration and advice. Little boys and soldiers alike arrive daily to visit him. They wish to run as he did; they wish to win as he did. It is a pilgrimage to Ethiopia's Olympic oracle. And the honor is more profound than any he will receive in Munich.
JESSE OWENS, PUBLIC IMAGE
The morning was warm and sunny in Binghamton, N.Y. On the infield, runners were warming up, the distance men floating with a long gliding gait, the sprinters chopping furiously through starts. Jesse Owens came down the stadium steps and walked out onto the infield with the short, bouncy, confident stride that appeared so often in the news-reels and movies from Berlin 1936. He was erect, square-shouldered, and all the fluid power that used to explode in his sprints still seemed to be available if he had decided to call upon it. Seemed, but only fleetingly. Jesse Owens was 58, pouched around the eyes and 25 pounds heavier than in 1936. The features of the older man scarcely resembled those of the young. But no one would ever be quite like the young Jesse Owens, who electrified the world by winning four gold medals in Berlin, a black man who threw the Aryan racism of Hitler back in his face.
Owens was in Binghamton for a teen-age track meet sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Besides the busy legs of competitors warming up, the infield was also alive with the grins of go-get-'em junior executives and the smiles of rising young salesmen. They moved in to shake hands with Jesse Owens and he was enormously friendly, enthusiastic, not unlike a Jaycee himself. There were only 100 or so people in the stands. The Star-Spangled Banner was playing through a loudspeaker from a tiny cassette recorder and a Jaycee said rather tremulously into a microphone, "I give you America's greatest Olympic hero, Jesse Owens!"
Jesse Owens spoke in a deep, impressive voice, his words wonderfully well enunciated. He was at work, of course, and he said, "On behalf of the Ford Motor Company and the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford, we're glad to be a part of this fine Sport Spectacular here with the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Binghamton...a lot of good luck to all of you and God bless."
He left the infield then, grinning, waving, signing every autograph requested, and climbed into the back seat of a Lincoln furnished by the local dealer. The president of the Binghamton Jaycees was at the wheel and he drove Jesse Owens to Schrafft's Motor Inn where he was staying. The red plastic letters on the marquee were arranged on one side to Spell DINNER SPECIAL SEAFOOD PLATTER. On the other side they said WELCOME JESSE OWENS. It was time, said Jesse, to eat lunch—a ham and egg sandwich and a bottle of beer.
When Jesse Owens speaks, even with a bite of ham and egg in his mouth, grand oratorical echoes roll out. If you ask him, for example, how he liked the Games in Mexico City, he will reply, "I saw 10,000 people competing there, and it was the aim of every girl and every boy to be victorious. Yet, there they were—eating together, singing together, dancing together, rapping together and I thought, 'If this does not bring the nations of the world together, what ever will?' "Or if you ask what material advantage a gold medal may bring to a man, he will say, "Material reward is not all there is, sir. No. How many meals can a man eat? How many cars can he drive? In how many beds can he sleep? All of life's wonders are not reflected in material wealth...."
This is a natural way of talking for Jesse Owens, unless he is very relaxed. He is a kind of all-round super combination of 19th-century spellbinder and 20th-century plastic P.R. man, fulltime banquet guest, eternal glad-hander, evangelistic small-talker. Muted bombast is his stock-in-trade. Jesse Owens is what you might call a professional good example.
For this he is paid upwards of $75,000 per annum. Some of the income derives from the 80 or 90 speeches he gives each year. Some is from the corporate clients he "represents"—meaning, in essence, that he sells them his celebrity and his reputation for use at public events where the client wishes to display its "Jesse Owens image," as one ad man calls it. Among his clients are the Atlantic Richfield Company, Sears, Roebuck and Company, the American League and the Ford Motor Company. In pursuit of his career, he travels 200,000 miles a year. On the average he spends four days of every week sleeping in a hotel bed and taking his meals with Jaycees, salesmen and other strangers.
Jesse Owens spoke of his growth as a public orator: "I was once a stutterer and when I was at Ohio State I took a course in phonetics from a master teacher. I've always admired the great orators of my day even more than the great athletes. Roscoe Conklin Simmons and Perry W. Howard and, of course, Martin Luther King and Adam Clayton Powell." His own style of oratory is grandiose and soaring, perhaps more notable for its delivery than its context. "Mostly, I'd say the substance is sheerly inspirational," he said. "I work for my payday like anyone else and things fall into a routine. I have a speech on motivation and values, one on religion, one on patriotism. I have one on marketing and statistics for sales conventions, pointing out that training for athletics is like training to sell. Parts of the speeches are interchangeable, but I'm talking to kids most of the time and I tell them things like this...."
His voice made a slight adjustment, became deeper, a dignified holler that bounded around the restaurant. "Awards become tarnished and diplomas fade," he said. "Gold turns green and the ink turns gray and you cannot read what is upon that diploma or upon that badge. Championships are mythical things. They have no permanence. What is a gold medal? It is but a trinket, a bauble. What counts, my friends, are the realities of life: the fact of competition and, yes, the great and good friends you make...."
He readjusted his voice to show that he was no longer orating but the timbre remained. "Grown men," he said softly, "stop me on the street now and say, 'Mr. Owens, I heard you talk 15 years ago in Minneapolis. I'll never forget that speech.' And I think to myself, that man probably has children of his own now. And, maybe, maybe he remembers a specific point I made, or perhaps two points I made. And maybe he is passing those points on to his own son, just as I said them. And then I think"—Owens' voice dropped near a whisper now—"then I think, that's immortality. You are immortal if your ideas are being passed on from a father to a son and to his son and to his son and on and on."
The banquet following the Jaycees' Sports Spectacular in Binghamton was held at the Harpur College Union. Jesse Owens was dressed in a beige suit of modified Edwardian cut, a muted-green shirt and a loud, wide tie. He entered the banquet room by himself while several hundred guests waited in the lobby. He stood at the head table and gazed at the sea of empty tables for a moment and said, "God, I always have these damn butterflies before I talk. Wouldn't you think I'd get over it?" Soon the crowd came in and everyone ate. Then the Jaycee who was master of ceremonies said, "I give you the greatest Olympian of them all—Jesse Owens!"
The crowd rose as one man to give an ovation that lasted two full minutes. Jesse Owens stood easily at the rostrum and when everyone sat down, he made his speech on motivation and values.
"...There'll be winners and there'll be losers...but friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition...awards become corroded, friends gather no dust...youth is the greatest commodity this nation has...honor thyself...honor thy God...."
After yet another meal taken among strangers, Jesse Owens and the Jesse Owens image were working nicely in tandem again.
Avery Brundage calls the Olympics a ray of sunshine. Others call Brundage a hypocrite.