SI Vault
 
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

There was no mistaking that it was an Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928: 3,000 athletes from 46 nations were on hand. The U.S. men's track team alone had two managers, two assistant managers, a head coach, 10 assistant coaches and six trainers. The president of the U.S. Olympic Committee was Douglas MacArthur, and he firmly declared the team to be in "superb condition...for the great test" and said that "Americans can rest serene and assured."

The men's track team proved to be terrible. The only U.S. runner to win a gold medal in an individual event was Ray Barbuti in the 400-meter dash. People muttered that it was a blow to the nation's pride. Nevertheless, when all the points were added up in all the events, the U.S. had more than any other country. And in his formal report General MacArthur left few phrases unpurpled in arguing that the U.S. had been well served in Amsterdam.

"Nothing is more synonymous of our national success than is our national success in athletics," he wrote. "This team proved itself a worthy successor of its brilliant predecessors." He described specific triumphs thusly: "The resistless onrush of that matchless California Eight as it swirled and crashed down the placid waters of the Sloten; that indomitable will for victory which marked the deathless rush of Barbuti; that sparkling combination of speed and grace by Elizabeth Robinson [a sprinter] which might have rivaled even Artemis herself on the heights of Olympus...."

If anyone still had doubts that the U.S. had sent less than a full complement of Olympia's own gods and goddesses to Amsterdam, the general let it be known that "the American team worthily represented the best traditions of American sportsmanship and chivalry. Imperturbable in defeat, modest in victory, its conduct typified fair play, courtesy and courage. It was worthy in victory; it was supreme in defeat."

MacArthur also reported that the total cost of sending the godlike creatures to the Olympics was $290,000.

"ESKIMO PIE HAS CALLED"

The U.S. Olympic Committee steadfastly refuses to ask the U.S. Government for money on the assumption that if it did the Olympic program would fall into the hands of bureaucrats. The bread is supposed to come from voluntary contributions. For the 1963 Pan-American Games and the 1964 Olympics the budget was $4 million; in 1968 it was $4.5 million and this year it is $10 million.

A few years ago the USOC concocted a scheme whereby a few extra hundred thousand bucks could be raised by dealing big business a piece of the U.S. Olympic effort. It works like this: if a company donates $30,000 to the U.S. Olympic Committee it is allowed to use the U.S. Olympic symbol in its advertisements and to identify itself as a supplier to the U.S. team. For $100,000, a firm can use the Olympic symbol and base a promotional campaign on the Olympics, such as a sweepstakes with the first prize being a trip to Munich for four. Hawaiian Punch, for one, has done this.

Not long ago, the people who make Copper-tone Suntan Lotion contributed $30,000 to include the Olympic symbol in their ads. Their campaign featured the famous trademark of the little girl with a healthy tan on her back and a puppy tugging playfully at her bathing suit, thus exposing a lot of her white bottom in striking contrast to her brown top. The symbol was shown not far away. Several elderly members of the USOC complained about the symbol appearing next to a bare bottom. They felt this desecrated the Olympic Ideal. Their outrage subsided, however, when they learned of Coppertone's $30,000 donation.

Raising money in this fashion is a substantial commercial operation in itself. On a fairly typical day in May 1971 there was a certain amount of tension at Olympic House, where the ice-cream people were scheduled to make their donations. Olympic House, a mansion on New York's Park Avenue, is the headquarters of the USOC. The building was once owned by J. P. Morgan and occupied by his mistress, actress Maxine Elliott.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10