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One for the history books/The Red Line

July 12, 2012
By Brandon Veale - DMG Sports Editor (bveale@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

There is no reason I should remember a shopping trip from 18 years ago, but here's why.

My dad was directing the Gwinn Middle School marching band in the Holland Tulip Festival parade and on the way home, we hit up the outlet mall in Birch Run. I found an old bookstore and in it, this giant orange hardcover book called "The Complete Book of the Olympics," by David Wallechinsky.

Inside were results to every single event contested in the modern Olympics from the first games in 1896 through Seoul in 1988.

For an undersized kid not yet to his teenage years, carrying around a book with a page count well over 1,000 was somewhat absurd. However, I dragged it around everywhere and purchased each subsequent edition as it came out. I found one of the old ones in my parents' basement, and when the most recent edition came out this spring, I bought it on Amazon (that makes six, not counting Winter editions after they spun off in the late 90s), and skipped through, reading just the results from Beijing in 2008, mostly because I knew a lot of the other stories already.

That's what's at stake later this month in London - places in the history books.

Even in those initial editions, I would annoy my family with stories like that of Ethopian distance runner Miruts Yifter, who may have missed his heat in the 1972 5,000 meters because he either A. got lost in the stadium on the way to the track or B. spent too much time in the bathroom before the race.

The whimsy doesn't stop there. Among my personal highlights are steeplechase champion and FBI agent Horace Ashenfelter, who finished just ahead of Soviet runner Vladimir Kazantsev. "Gleeful American sportswriters had a field day - it was the first time that an FBI man had allowed himself to be followed by a Russian."

There's the tale of Soviet modern pentathlete Boris "Dis-Onyschenko," who rigged his fencing sword to record hits even when he didn't at the 1976 games in Montreal.

Of course, there's more serious (and sad) material, such as 1932 Olympic gymnast George Roth. An unemployed man in the depths of the Great Depression, he'd sneak food from the Olympic Village in Los Angeles to his young family in East Hollywood. After winning the gold medal in club swinging (this was an Olympic event) in front of 60,000 people, he had to hitchhike home.

Hungarian shooter Karolyi Takacs blew up his pistol hand in a military training accident with a grenade, only to teach himself to shoot with his other hand and win the rapid-fire pistol event in 1948.

I also read it for inspiration - Tanzanian marathon runner John Akhwari, who finished dead last in the 1968 (Mexico City) marathon after serious cramping and a fall, kept going and said the following at the finish line:

"My country did not send me 10,000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish the race."

So, that's what's at stake in London. It's a dream of mine to one day cover an Olympic Games and write in those history books. However, until then, I'll look forward to the stories that start here.

Brandon Veale can be reached at bveale@mininggazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.

 
 

 

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