Thursday, August 11, 2016

V.1 #42 Ted Corbitt's Olympic Experience

Ted Corbitt started his running career as a sprinter.  On account of his inquisitive attitude and desire to experiment, he gradually gravitated to exploring the challenges presented by longer events. At age 31, in 1951, he set a goal of training for his first marathon, Boston. That introductory 26.2 miles, on April 19 at age 32, saw him placing 15th with a time of 2:48:52.  He did not hesitate long to attempt his next marathon - the May 27 Yonkers Marathon. Few marathons existed to choose from back then. This was a prestigious event. From 1938 to 1966,Yonkers served as the annual national championship race for running’s governing body, the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU).

Yonkers presented an extremely hilly and challenging course, often with hot and humid weather. Ted placed 13th in 2:48:58. Most people would consider racing two marathons with so little duration between them as extreme. This did not seem to faze Ted.  In fact, he raced a 10-miler ten days after Boston and followed that up with a 5-mile handicap race on May 12.

In the early 1950s, the Olympic Committee used a series of races to determine the marathon squad for the 1952 Helsinki, Finland Olympic Team. Now there is one qualifying Trials race. The top three make the team, provided each individual has bettered a time standard established by the International Olympic Committee.  The three races to be used as a basis for selecting the marathon team were:
Yonkers (National AAU Championships), May 27, 1951 
Boston, April 19, 1952
Yonkers, May 18, 1952

At the 1951 Yonkers race, Ted’s second ever marathon, John Lafferty finished well ahead of the other Americans. Next year, on a miserable sun-drenched 86-degree day in Boston, Corbitt was the third American finisher behind Victor Dyrgall and Tom Jones.  His time was 2:53:31.  Four weeks later, Drygall and Jones again placed ahead of Corbitt at the hilly Yonkers’ course.  Ted’s time there was 2:43:23. He was quite satisfied because, along with a personal record time, he was battling a severe hamstring injury, which he suffered six days prior to the race.

Originally, Drygall and Jones, along with John Lafferty, who had decisively beaten the others in the 1951 Yonkers’ event, were named to the Olympic team. However, here is an explanation from the selection committee’s notes that I came across as to how the ultimate three-member team, which included Corbitt, was determined.

Ted Corbitt - Olympian

'Upon recommendation of the Marathon sub-committee, a selection plan similar to that in effect for the '48 OG's was adopted. Under this plan, the US Marathon championships of '51 & '52, together w/the Boston Marathon of '52, were designated 'qualifying races' w/the winner of the '52 Championship (if eligible) and two others w/the 'best average races' in all 3 races to be selected for the Olympic team. Victor Dyrgall of NY, winner of the '52 Championship and Tom Jones, who had finished 2nd, 2nd & 3rd respectively of the eligible Americans in the 3 races, were clearly entitled to selection.

There was, however, a difference of opinion in the sub-committee as to the third man for the team. John Lafferty of Boston had finished 2nd in the '51 race and 11th and 5th in the '52 races. Ted Corbitt of NY had finished 13th in '51, and 6th and 3rd in '52. The dispute was as to the method of scoring. Eliminating only eligible foreign athletes from the scoring would give Lafferty the better score of 14 (2-7-5) to Corbitt's 16 (10-3-3). Elimination of all except those who had run in all three races (as was done in '48) put Corbitt ahead of Lafferty 10 (6-2-2) to 11 (1-6-4).

The full committee at its meeting in Long Beach, CA, all coaches and managers of the team present, unanimously decided in favor of Corbitt, not only on the basis of past interpretation but also on the extremely practical ground that, whereas Lafferty had been better than Corbitt in '51, Corbitt had beaten Lafferty in both races in '52, when the Olympic Games were going to be held.

It is recommended that selection of Marathon runners for future Olympic teams be based solely upon performance during the year of the Games and that whatever method is used be clarified as to scoring.

With his Olympic status came the distinction of becoming the University of Cincinnati’s first track and field Olympian. Ted was also the first African-American to represent the USA in an Olympic Marathon.  His next marathon was to be in Helsinki on July 27. 

Ted Corbitt posing in front of the Paavo Nurmi statue, immediately in front of the Helsinki, Finland Olympic Stadium.  Nurmi, world record holder and winner of multiple Olympic medals is a national hero.

Corbitt, with only five marathon completions coming into the Games, was still a novice at this distance. There is a picture of Emil Zatopek, who went on to win his third distance event of the 1952 Games, leading the pack after exiting the Olympic Stadium. The photo shows Ted in about 15th place.  Perhaps his early pace was too fast. We do know that his performance there was less than what he hoped for as he came, with a 2:51:09 time, in 44th place out of 53 finishers.  Of the other two Americans, Dyrgall ran 2:32:52 to place 13th and Jones’ 36th took 2:42:50 to complete. 

Corbitt during the Olympic marathon race.

Years after he ran in the Helsinki Olympics a man roughly the same age as Ted came over and gave him a hug. Ted didn’t recognize him, but the man introduced himself and mentioned that they had both competed in one of the 1952 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials’ races. The man then became somber. He said that he wanted to make a long-overdue apology. It seems that at the race, this individual and a few others decided that a black man shouldn’t be allowed to represent the United States at the Olympics. They made a secret pact to prevent Ted from making the team. “We boxed you in, we kicked you, we tried to trip you, we did everything we could to take you down, but you managed to get away and win that spot. I’ve regretted my behavior for years, and I just wanted to say that I am sorry for what I did.” Ted, who by nature was very forgiving, replied, “You guys gave me a great run. If it weren’t for you, I may not have run so fast.”

For Corbitt the Olympic experience, other than his final placement, was fulfilling. He came away with a new appreciation for training, having witnessed Emil Zatopek’s greatness, as the Czech swept all three distance running gold medals in those Games. Ted resolved to implement some of Zatopek’s exhaustive interval and strength training into his already extensive program.  To use a trite expression, we can say that the rest is history.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

V.1 #41 Jesse Owens’ Shadow – “Sam Stoller”

Jesse Owens’ Shadow – “Sam Stoller”

Imagine being part of a great rock and roll band, but your career paralleled The Beatles.  Imagine being an honor roll student, but there was a guy named Einstein seated in the adjoining row.  Imagine being a gifted artist, but an individual named Picasso was in your group.  Imagine being an outstanding sprinter while in high school in Ohio, while attending  a Big Ten university, and while on the U.S. Olympic team, but there was a fellow dash man named Jesse Owens.  This was Sam Stoller’s fortune, or misfortune, as a runner and long jumper.

Sam in his Hughes uniform

A 1933 graduate of Hughes High School and a 1937 graduate of the University of Michigan, Sam Stoller led a fascinating life of champion and runner-up, of Olympian and non-Olympian, of athlete and singer.  Sam was born in Cincinnati and attended Hughes High School at the same time that Jesse Owens was running in Cleveland.  As a result, Sam never won the state meet in high school, finishing second to the great Jesse Owens who ran for Cleveland East Tech.  The two followed each other to the Big Ten where Stoller continued to be a frequent runner-up to Owens.  Sam ran for the University of Michigan while Jesse competed for Ohio State.  During their college days they faced each other 20 times with Sam winning only once, yet the races were always close.  Sam once said, “I’m the fellow you see in the movies of Jesse’s footraces.” 

Familiar role. Owens (Ohio) ahead of Stoller (M)

Jesse Owens burst onto the national stage when he set four world records at the 1935 Big Ten Championships.  Sam made his national mark for the first time by tying the world record for the 60-yard dash in 6.1 seconds at the 1936 Big Ten indoor championships.

Sam Stoller

Yet, it was in the 1936 Olympic Trials followed by the Berlin Olympic Games where the two earned lasting recognition.  Stoller, after John Anderson (1928 and 1932), became the second Hughes graduate to qualify for an Olympic track and field team. Jesse immortalized himself by winning four gold medals in the historic “Hitler Olympics” whereas Sam became best known for qualifying for the USA 400-meter relay, then being denied the opportunity to run.  Considerable controversy surrounded that decision at the time and even to the present.

At the 1936 Olympic Trials at Randall’s Island in New York City, the final places for the 100-meters were as follows:  1. Jesse Owens,  2. Ralph Metcalf,  3. Frank Wykoff,  4. Foy Draper,  5. Marty Glickman,  6. Sam Stoller and 7. Mack Robinson (brother of Jackie Robinson).  Using the logic and current thinking of United States sprinting, the top four would run the finals of the 400-meter relay while fifth and sixth would serve as backups, running only in the preliminary trials.  However, at that time, 1936, the plan was to have the headliners run the open sprints and to have the others concentrate on their handoffs, directing their entire attention to the relay.  This is the way it was done in 1932. In 1936 the two open 100 runners, Ralph Metcalfe and Jesse Owens, were aware that they would not be called to run in the relay.  Consequently Stoller rode the Olympic ship to Germany fully planning to run the 400-meter relay. 

Original relay team on the ship traveling to Europe
L-R  Foy Draper, Marty Glickman, Sam Stoller, Mack Robinson

Once in Germany the team of Sam Stoller, Marty Glickman, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff practiced their handoffs faithfully in anticipation of the day when they would represent the USA.  There might be a question as to why Wykoff, rather than Robinson, was designated for the relay. Wykoff had qualified as an open 100 runner and Robinson had done the same in the 200. The 200 was considered more strenuous than the 100. In addition, Wykoff had Olympic relay experience.  He was on the winning world record teams of the 1928 and 1932 Olympiads. Almost from the beginning, Frank Wykoff was considered the anchor man for the team.

While in Berlin, the U.S. coaches supposedly heard a rumor that the Germans were hiding their best sprinters so they could surprise the world, especially the Americans in the 400-meter relay. However, in the 100 and 200-meter races they were nowhere to be seen. This is regarded as a lame excuse at best.  Near the end of the Olympic Games, and the morning of the 400-meter relay trials, a hurried meeting took place with U.S. head coach Lawson Robertson, assistant coach Dean Cromwell and the seven American sprinters.  This meeting is portrayed in the movie “Race”, which is about Jesse Owens. In that meeting it was announced that Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who had placed first and second in the 100 meters, would replace Stoller and Marty Glickman.  The logic explained during that meeting was that the coaches wanted to put the four fastest runners on the relay. 

L-R  Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller

This is how it is done in 2016, but it was not the custom at the time.  Neither Owens nor Metcalfe had practiced baton exchanges with the others while in Germany.  The ability to rapidly and safely pass the baton is an important component of the event.  Even though the raw speed of the original team was slightly inferior to the one with Jesse and Ralph, Frank Wykoff felt that their exchange practices would allow the original foursome to move the baton around the oval as fast or even quicker than with the substitutes.

Favoritism is another possibility as to why the switch was made. In a recent 100-meter runoff just prior to the trial heats, Stoller and Glickman finished ahead of Draper. This indicated that the two who were removed were faster than one who did compete, which counters the argument that the coaches were only interested in the fastest quartet. Coincidently, both Draper and Wykoff ran for Cromwell at the University of Southern California.

The theory most believed, and the interpretation by the two runners left off the relay, is that they were dropped for religious purposes since they were both Jewish and the US Olympic Committee did not want to offend Hitler and the Nazi leaders.  Both Avery Brundage, the Head of the USOC, and assistant coach, Dean Cromwell, were members of the American First Committee, an isolationist group with anti-Semitic leanings. Charles Lindbergh headed the organization. Many feel that the directions to change the team flowed down from Brundage. He presented a favorable Nazis point of view on several occasions.  Glickman, who was more vocal than Stoller about the rationale for the decision, offers his opinion in a short video:

It was Stoller’s 21st birthday and he could not will himself to go to the magnificent stadium that Hitler constructed to witness the relay race that he believed he should have been a part of. Sam vowed never to run again. 

Berlin's Olympic Stadium

However, he reconsidered and ran during his final year at Michigan. Since Owens did not return for his senior year at Ohio State, Stoller dominated the dashes during that season.  He won both the Big Ten and NCAA 100-yard dash titles. This required a change from the headlines of articles that previously read, ‘Second, Stoller.’ 

Stoller winning another race in 1937

After the NCAAs in 1937, he stayed in California, taking up a singing career in nine separate movies as Singin’ Sammy Stoller.  Later in life he was an announcer for the Washington Senators.  In 1988 the US Olympic Committee tried to atone for the Olympic slight by awarding Stoller and Glickman the General MacArthur Medal.  Sam Stoller was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame before dying in 1985 at the age of 69. 

The team of Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalf, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff   went on to win the gold medal in the world record time of 39.8.  However, the controversy continues today.  

The Gold Medal Quartet
L-R (photo and order of running)
Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalf, Foy Draper, Frank Wykoff

Thursday, August 4, 2016

V.1 #40 Olympic Discus Champion - John Anderson

When scouts evaluate non-pitching baseball players, the top prospects are considered ‘five tooled’.  This means they hit for a high average, they can regularly put the ball out of the park, they have speed, they possess a cannon for an arm, and they are good fielders.  John Anderson was ‘five tooled’, but in other ways.  He was a good student, he was an outstanding athlete, he had good looks, he was a leader, and he had the personality to charm others.  John’s father was a vice-president at The Procter & Gamble Company. A couple of years ago a niece of his told my wife that when she was a young girl her main memories about John were how handsome and how much fun he was.  She happily recalled his flinging her around.

In 1925 he led Hughes High School to the area’s first Ohio State High School track and field team title. His strength and skill enabled him to win both the discus and shot put events. The victorious discus toss established a new Ohio high school record, nearly 11 feet farther than the previous standard. With these achievements behind him, he departed for Cornell University, where he would receive an Ivy League education and experiences.

John Anderson throwing for Hughes High School

In order to better adjust to the rigors and differences between prep school and college, athletes were not allowed to compete for the varsity teams their freshmen year.  During his final three years at Cornell, he was a two-sport athlete. He protected his quarterback and opened holes for the backs to run through as a tackle on the football team.  Once the fall season concluded, he used his strength and size to advantage by putting the shot and throwing the discus for the track and field squad. 

Anderson at Cornell

In 1925 his ultimate high school competition waited for him in Columbus, Ohio. Then, as now, that is where the annual state meet championship transpired.

Entrance to Ohio Stadium where the track used to be

In 1928, only three years removed from that high school experience, the youthful John Anderson sought a new pinnacle – the Olympic Games, which were slated to occur across the Atlantic in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.  But, to go there he first had to qualify at the U.S. Olympic Trials Meet. For the third consecutive (and final) time they were contested at Harvard’s Stadium in Cambridge.
Harvard Stadium

The prime obstacle for Anderson was Bud Houser, who held the world record in the discus. In addition, the veteran had the valuable experience of previously competing at this level when he won the Gold in Paris four years earlier. Houser demonstrated that he was not about to be supplanted easily.  He won the Trials by a meter in front of Weiker, the second place finisher. 

Inside Harvard Stadium

As you will see, Anderson, more than once, was the beneficiary of good fortune when it came to Olympic competitions. This was the final year that four individuals were able to qualify for spots on any country’s team.  That ruling changed to three beginning in 1932. Fortunately the young Anderson secured his position on the discus team by coming in a qualifying fourth in the Trials.  Or, did he? 

He unexpectedly placed ahead of Eric Krenz, who earlier had made the shot put team. Krenz, the defending national discus champion, was more of a favorite to make the discus squad, since that was considered his better event. Team selectors considered placing Krenz on the discus team and moving Anderson to the shot put contingent.  Ultimately, that idea was discarded.  John was set to go to Europe to throw the discus.  In the Netherlands, Houser defended his title and once again earned the gold medal. Anderson always seemed to handle pressure well. He placed fifth at the Games and he was the third American, a notch up from where he finished in the Trials.

Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam

Anderson returned to Ithaca for a busy final year at Cornell.  He was president of the Student Council, played football, and captained the track and field team.  Being an above-average performer with the shot (49 feet) he won the 1929 IC4A indoor shot put title.  Once he moved outdoors during the spring, Anderson threw the discus 150 feet 3 Inches for a new Penn Relays meet record. Those were the only points that Cornell scored in the meet. In his last competition for the Big Red trackmen, a Cornell-Prlnceton dual meet, he set a new personal record with a throw of 151 feet, 8 inches. When he graduated in 1929, he was a member of the Quill and Dagger Society and won his Phi Beta Kappa key. 

Anderson throwing

Eric Krenz repeated as the discus national champion in 1929. In the 30s a new threat to discus supremacy appeared.  The huge Paul Jessup, of Washington, won the national championship in both 1930 and 1931.  In 1930, Jessup established a world record of 169’ 8 7/8.”  This was 18 feet over John’s best.
In 1932 the Olympics were to return to the American soil in Los Angeles.  The Trials were set for Stanford, California on July 15 and 16.  Anderson, who was receiving assistance from the New York Athletic Club, was having a good year.

He made his second Olympic team by placing ahead of Jessup, the world record holder by seven feet.  Henri LaBorde filled out the discus squad.

U.S. 1932 Olympic Discus Team

L-R  John Anderson, Paul Jessup, Henri LaBorde

The 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games began the following month.  1,408 athletes, 37 countries, and 117 events participated.  Since it was in the midst of the Great Depression, the City of Los Angeles was only able to attract half as many athletes as the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Those who came, however, stayed in style. The 1,206 men at the Games were housed in the Olympic Village Los Angeles - the first Olympics to have a single village.

The women numbered 126, and they lodged in a luxury hotel, unlike the village accommodations for most athletes at Rio. The 1932 Games were completed in 16 days and since then, all of the Games have remained between 15 and 18 days. The Coliseum Olympic Stadium stupefied the whole world by its proportions and the quality of its equipment. 

The Los Angeles Coliseum

During the discus competition on August 3, 1932, Anderson assumed the lead in round two.  He improved upon that mark in rounds three and four and they stood up for the victory. Another American, La Borde, was the runner-up. Jessup was down in the standings.

John Anderson in the discus ring at the 1932 Olympics

Anderson on top of the winner's podium

However, luck once again had sided with Anderson.  Do you remember how he qualified for the 1928 team because then the rules allowed four athletes per event from the same country?  That was the final Olympiad to permit this.  His good fortune blossomed again.

Some people say that the worst piece of officiating ever in the Olympic Games occurred during the 1932 discus competition. The French had a good thrower by the name of Jules Noel. Prohibition laws were still in effect in the United States but the French team bypassed the U.S. restrictions by claiming that wine was an essential part of their diet. Apparently Noel’s hydration plan included, during the competition, several trips into the Los Angeles Coliseum tunnel to take swigs of champagne.

Jules Noel

During the fourth round of the men's discus, Noel got off a big throw, which appeared to be beyond the flag marking the 162’ 4½” leading heave of John Anderson. However, the Frenchman’s throw occurred at a crucial moment of the pole vault and all the officials were watching that rather than doing their job determining where his effort landed. They failed to see Noel's long toss. As compensation, Jules Noel was awarded another throw, but he was unable to repeat that long effort. Noel placed fourth and Anderson secured the gold medal. He had the four longest throws of the competition, not counting Noel's invisible toss, all beyond the previous Olympic record.

Rather than heading back East, Anderson stayed put in Southern California as Hollywood came calling. Anderson was thought by the movie moguls to have "dazzling masculine beauty." He was considered as the star in the film “Search for Beauty,” but the lead role ended up going to Buster Crabbe, who was also a 1932 Olympian.  Crabbe won the 400-meter freestyle in swimming.  Crabbe ended up having a long movie and television career.  The top three syndicated comic book heroes of the 1930s were Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers.  Crabbe was the only actor to play all three.  Even though he did not get the starring role, Anderson did have a part because the producers thought he was a ‘hunk’ due to his superb build.  He stood 6’ 3½” and weighed 225.

Search for Beauty poster

If you wish to see Anderson in a short clip from the film Search for Beauty extolling the benefits of exercise, open up this YouTube link. 

Anderson prominently appears several times.  Here are three markers where you can see him.
1:45          front left, does pushups
2:40          simulates discus throwing
3:15          he is the point person

‘Search for Beauty’ is a 1934 pre-Code dramedy (comedy-drama).  Here is how the Pre-code Hollywood period was described:

This period represents the most decadent era in motion picture history. In 1934, Hollywood was turned upside down by the enforcement of a strict “Production Code” that would change the way movies were made for the next 34 years. During the “pre-code” period (1929 to mid-1934), censorship barely existed in Hollywood and filmmakers had free reign to make the movies they wanted and the public demanded. No subject was taboo including adultery, murder, immorality and sex. Screen legends Cary Grant, Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead, Randolph Scott and Sylvia Sidney all starred during this, one of the most influential periods in cinema history.

In 1934, censorship arrived in Hollywood in the form of the "Production Code," - The "Code" was an attempt (which worked) to avoid government guidelines. Prior to that time, censorship was carried out at the local level and the rules varied all over the map- literally. This was a nightmare for the distribution companies, who had to cut (and then restore) prints for virtually every jurisdiction. 
The Production Code was designed to circumvent these local censorship boards by self-censoring and pre-censoring by the industry itself. There was a real fear in the movie industry that the federal government would pass their own guidelines in order to obviate the local boards. The code was set up to head this off.

John did not remain very long in the movie industry.  Not ready to retire from athletics, he again won the AAU discus title in 1933. Along with two national crowns, he scored in three others. In June 1936 he unleashed the best throw of his career (165’ 9”) while winning the Eastern Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, at the Final Trials, he failed to make a third consecutive Olympic team.

Because of experiences that he gained in the Pacific during WWII as a lieutenant commander in the naval reserve, he obtained a post as the chief navigator of a salmon fishing fleet. In 1948, while on an expedition some 700 miles north of Anchorage in Nankek, Alaska he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died immediately, one week after celebrating a 41st birthday.  John's niece said that one of his brothers traveled to Alaska to retrieve his body.