Olga Fikotova Connolly did not let East-West schism cease her Olympic-sized desires

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In a few months, we will likely be saturated with Olympic feel-good tales. That’s a giant a part of why tv networks pay monumental sums for the rights to telecast the Video games. They name these vignettes “up shut and private.” In lots of instances, “overdone and gooey” may be a greater description.

Probably, the Paris Olympics gained’t create a yarn pretty much as good because the one about Olga Fikotova and Harold Connolly. There was nothing overdone and gooey about their story through the 1956 Video games in Melbourne. It was the stuff of worldwide headlines and worldwide emotion, and it’s revisited right here as a result of Olga died April 12.

She was 91 and was preceded in dying 14 years in the past by Harold. Each spent a lot of their lives in and round Los Angeles.

She was 23 when she made the five-day, multi-airplane journey to Australia. She was 5-foot-11 and 180 kilos, not the same old girth for an Olympian, male or feminine, in a throwing occasion. She was not among the many favorites within the discus and had been a greater athlete in basketball than monitor and subject. A monitor coach had seen her athleticism and felt it could be greatest served as a discus thrower, regardless of her small construct, and educated her as a rhythm thrower, not a muscle performer. For years, he had her toss the discus in observe to the background music of the Blue Danube Waltz. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

In 1956, the Olympics had been, amongst different issues, an East-versus-West faceoff. Sadly, it was greater than sports activities competitors. Communist athletes and Western athletes had been inspired to remain separate and compete additional laborious towards each other. The well-known “blood-on-the-water” water polo sport between Hungary and the us capsulized the depth of political and nationalistic emotion, despite the fact that each groups had been a part of the Soviet Bloc — Hungary not so willingly. Shortly earlier than the match, the Soviet army had violently shut down the Hungarian Revolution. Feelings and anger poured over into the water polo sport and when a Hungarian participant left the pool with blood streaming down his face. The headline for the sport was straightforward: Blood on the Water. Hungary gained the sport 4-0.

Olga’s Czechoslovakia was a part of the Soviet bloc, however she was the one member of her staff who had refused to signal on with the Communist social gathering. On reflection, that was traditional Olga.

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Olga Fikotova competes for Czechosolovakia in discus on the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Video games. Fikotova went on to win gold within the occasion.

(Bettmann Archive by way of Getty Photographs)

As soon as she received to Melbourne, Olga acquired a lot consideration and technical assist from better-known and bigger-medal prospects from Russia. They assumed she was one among them. Her discus competitors was among the many first within the Video games, and when she received off her gold-medal toss of 176 toes and 1 inch, the Russians who had helped her, needed to accept the silver and bronze. Her profitable toss was seven toes farther than her earlier greatest.

She was celebrated within the Soviet bloc and it turned out that her gold was the one one taken in Melbourne by Czechoslovakia. She was a hero in her dwelling nation, till she wasn’t.

She instructed the story later concerning the instant aftermath of her victory.

“I had a horrible blister on my foot and I needed to compete in observe sneakers,” she mentioned. “Then, as quickly as I used to be achieved competing, they took me off for surgical procedure. My staff went to the ocean in Australia, such a wonderful sight, and I needed to sit on the seaside whereas they went within the water. I had been instructed by my physician to remain out of the water due to my foot. However as I sat there, an outdated man got here as much as me. I instructed him why I used to be sitting on the seaside and never within the water. He mentioned that was mistaken and satisfied me to go in. I did, and the subsequent day, my foot was nearly half healed.”

Someplace between profitable a gold medal, having surgical procedure and going to the seaside, Olga wandered into an gear shed utilized by the discus, shot put, javelin and hammer opponents. Mingling with opponents from the West, particularly male ones, was discouraged. However as would grow to be evident quickly, and for the remainder of her life, Olga was by no means a lot of a click-her-heels and salute particular person.

So, there she was, within the gear shed, and there was this husky American, Harold Connolly. And the remaining turned historical past, an Olympic story of Olympic proportions.

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Czechoslovakia’s Olga Fikotova (heart) receives her gold medal in discus whereas standing atop the rostrum on the 1956 Olympic Video games.

(Bettmann Archive by way of Getty Photographs)

They fell in love. Harold gained the hammer throw the day after Olga’s discus triumph, in order that they every had a gold medal and time on their arms. They danced the nights away in an Olympic Village the place East and West mingling was discouraged and was largely ignored by 20- to 25-year-olds. One way or the other, worlds aside, they communicated, in accordance with Olga “with my fragmented English and Harold’s fragmented German.”

There have been footage and tales and the entire world quickly knew. The official stance in Czechoslovakia was that Olga had introduced “50% honor to her nation and 50% disgrace for taking on with “an American Facist.”

Harold proposed, Olga wished to get married in her dwelling nation and permission was granted when Czech Olympic legends Emil Zatopek and his spouse, Dana Zatopkova, had been listed as marriage ceremony witnesses. Zatopek had gained three gold medals in distance races and Zatopkova had gained agold in javelin, in addition to many European competitions. No one mentioned no to that famous person pair.

Olga had hoped for a small marriage ceremony within the Previous City Sq. in Prague. En route, her automobile was slowed many occasions and he or she thought there had been an accident. When she lastly arrived, the middle of Prague was packed. Estimates ran from 25,000 to 40,000 individuals, there to see her marry the good-looking “American Facist.” Olympic columnist Randy Harvey, in an L.A. Instances story in 1989, cited a New York Instances’ editorial the day after the marriage, that learn: “The H-Bomb overhangs us like a cloud of doom. The subway throughout rush hour is nearly unimaginable to endure. However Olga and Harold are in love, and the world doesn’t say no to them.”

The Connollys had been immensely common and immensely poor. After the marriage, Harold bought his hammer-throwing gear to earn them sufficient to fly dwelling. Once they landed in Boston, close to Harold’s dwelling, they’d 35 cents to their identify and jobs had been essential. For some time, Olga cleaned the places of work on the Boston Globe.

They ultimately moved to Southern California. Olga, who had needed to proceed to compete for her dwelling nation, was not allowed to and ended up making 4 extra Olympic groups for the US. In her final Olympics, the Munich Video games in 1972, she was elected to hold the flag at opening ceremonies. The U.S. staff officers didn’t like that alternative. Olga had been very clear and usually very loud about her anti-Vietnam Battle sentiments. The staff officers requested for an additional staff vote. The end result was the identical. Olga led the U.S. staff into the stadium. Afterward, one of many U.S. officers praised her for the way in which she led her staff in.

“I discovered march in Czechoslovakia,” she replied, sarcastically.

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Olga Connolly practices forward of the 1972 Munich Olympic Video games.

(Underwood Archives by way of Getty Photographs)

Olga and Harold had been married for 17 years. They’d 4 kids, Jimmy, Merja, Nina and Mark. Jimmy was a nationwide school decathlon champion, Merja a world-class volleyball participant and Mark a Golden Gloves boxer in Las Vegas. After Olga and Harold divorced, Olga instructed Harvey in a Instances article that what they’d as a pair was fantastic, however possibly not real love. She had needed to maneuver on. Harold set 9 extra world information within the hammer throw after they had been married. They remained good mates and he or she stayed cordial with Harold’s new spouse, Pat Daniels, who participated in three Olympics herself and have become, as Pat Connolly, sprinter Evelyn Ashford’s coach.

Olga championed, many causes round Los Angeles. She was an advocate for health and correct vitamin. She labored for a time at a house for the aged. She fought for literacy packages and wrote many letters to The Instances, searching for publication after marching into the sports activities editor’s workplace to debate her views. She was opinionated, typically off-putting, however by no means missing ardour or empathy.

She was keen on calling Melbourne “My Olympics,” and mentioned, “All that was on my thoughts was to do one thing good for the Czech individuals. I needed to do it for the streetcar driver who instructed me I didn’t should pay once I received on, or the person on the newsstand who gave me a paper within the morning and mentioned I didn’t should pay.”

In her later years, Olga joked about what the Olympics had grow to be. She laughed and mentioned that the Video games began in Greece with everyone coaching and competing bare, so that everyone was equal. “Now, they make everyone undergo metallic detectors.”

If TV tells the story of Olga Connolly this summer season, it in all probability gained’t use that quote.

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