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THE TAKING PART
William Johnson
July 10, 1972
Ah, it was this, not winning, that the little baron with the big mustache said was important about his Olympics. But would Al Oerter, Harry Edwards and the gang at Hawaiian Punch agree? The first of three parts
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July 10, 1972

The Taking Part

Ah, it was this, not winning, that the little baron with the big mustache said was important about his Olympics. But would Al Oerter, Harry Edwards and the gang at Hawaiian Punch agree? The first of three parts

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Two weeks after his arrival in Greece, George Robertson returned to London. He found he had spent $11 in Athens as a contestant in the first modern Olympic Games. "Oh, it was all a huge joke; it was a splendid lark," he recalled.

Al Oerter is 35 years old, a big, serious-looking fellow who works as a manager of data communications for the Grumman Corporation. His office is in a long, white cement building called Plant No. 40. It is located in a section of suburban wasteland in Bethpage, Long Island, and is enclosed by a high wire-mesh fence. One needs an identification badge to get in and out.

Al Oerter is one of the greatest Olympic competitors. He won four gold medals as a discus thrower in four consecutive Games—at Melbourne in 1956, at Rome in 1960, at Tokyo in 1964 and at Mexico City in 1968. No other man has ever done such a thing.

On March 15, 1971 Al Oerter reluctantly decided that he would retire from the rigors of Olympic competition. "My neck was hurting and I couldn't double my weight-lifting program to put on the weight I needed, O.K.? I weigh 235 pounds now and I had to get it up to 275 or maybe 300 to compete properly. I don't believe in steroids and I think I've proved you don't have to take them. It's no secret that most of the weight guys used steroids in Tokyo and in Mexico, but I don't believe in them, O.K.?"

For all his Olympic triumphs, Al Oerter rarely competed without pain or suffering. "In Rome the nervous tension was terrific. I injured my neck in 1962 and had to wear a brace. In Tokyo I ripped the cartilage in my rib cage. I had to use novocain. I was wrapped up in bandages like a mummy. I was popping ammonia capsules to clear my head. In Mexico I pulled an abductor muscle in my leg a week before the Games, but the doctors were good."

When Al Oerter decided that the ordeal of a fifth Olympics would be too much, he telephoned his wife. "Honey," said Al Oerter, "I think I'll be home a little early tonight, O.K.?"

THE RISING PRICE OF NATIONAL PRESTIGE

Amos Alonzo Stagg had to borrow $2,500 to transport a few fellows from the University of Chicago track team to Paris for the 1900 Olympics, which were held in conjunction with the World Exposition. There was trouble from the start. The Americans were appalled when they learned that some of the events would be held on Sunday. "Everybody here feels that it is a most contemptible trick," said Amos Alonzo Stagg. "Not a single American university would have sent a team had it not been definitely announced that the Games would not be held on Sunday. Even at this late date, it is likely that the American teams will unitedly refuse to compete if the French officials persist in carrying out what seems to us a very nasty piece of business."

As it turned out, some Americans did not mind violating the Sabbath and they won a few medals. They won more on the weekdays—including a gold medal in the Olympic tug-of-war. The American teams won no medals at all in Olympic croquet, Olympic bowling-on-the-green, Olympic still-fishing in the Seine or Olympic pigeon racing.

Perhaps they would have done better if they had known that they were competing in the IInd Olympiad of the modern Games. According to Charles H. Sherrill, a New York Athletic Club official who later became an ambassador to Turkey, the Americans were unaware that they were participating in an Olympics until they received their medals and read the inscriptions.

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