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William Johnson
July 17, 1972
For some champions the Olympics have meant enduring fame, for others they are only the memory of a transcendent instant of glory
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July 17, 1972

After The Golden Moment

For some champions the Olympics have meant enduring fame, for others they are only the memory of a transcendent instant of glory

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Baron Takeichi Nishi won a gold medal in the equestrian Prix des Nations event in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932, and he counted Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Will Rogers among his friends. Baron Nishi's widow lives in a small apartment in Tokyo's fashionable Azabu district. She recently recalled that Douglas Fairbanks once said that "one Baron Nishi is worth 10 diplomats."

His widow said that the baron had been downcast after Pearl Harbor, but that he had said, "I have many friends in the United States, but I must go to war for I am first a soldier and second a friend." The baron was killed in 1945 in a cave above a beach at Iwo Jima. As the story goes, one of the attacking U.S. marines knew of Baron Nishi—then a lieutenant colonel—through his Olympic exploits. During a lull in the fighting, he shouted, "Baron Nishi, come on out! You're too good a horseman to die in there!"

His widow said, "Oh, of course, he could not surrender. To surrender is disgrace." She said she was very proud of her husband's courage and that she has been told there is a plaque on a rock along the beach at Iwo Jima that marks the place where he died.


When the mother of Alain Mimoun was carrying him in her womb, she lived in a dismal mountain village in Algeria. One night she dreamed that she was walking across a desolate, stony landscape lit only by the moon. The moon was a comfort and she stopped walking to gaze at it. 11 seemed to drop a little closer to her. It became brighter, more silvery, and it descended gradually toward her, until at last it loomed so close that she reached up and embraced it and held it to her bosom. In the morning she was troubled by the dream. She could not forget it because she could not understand it. She went to sec a crone who interpreted dreams. The old woman said, "The child you carry will someday do a magnificent thing."

Alain Mimoun now lives in the Paris suburb of Campigny-sur-Marne. His home has a wine cave where he keeps a fine stock of Beaujolais and an excellent champagne, which he purchases from a private supplier. He is 51, a prosperous civil servant in the French national sports program and the most popular sports personality in French history—overshadowing Carpentier, Cerdan and Killy. He has named his daughter Olympe, he calls his home L'Olympe and he has a room filled with his medals, which he calls the Olympic Museum. He says, "If the Olympics is a religion, then the museum is my chapel." He entered four Olympics from 1948 through 1960. He won a silver medal in London, two more in Helsinki. In Melbourne he won the gold medal in the marathon. At Rome he was injured and won no medals.

Mimoun left Algeria when he was 18 and joined the French army. He was named a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in World War II, but his mother did not tell him of her dream. Over the years he won a record 32 long-distance running championships. She said nothing. She remained silent when he won his silver medals. Nor was he told about the dreams after he became a physical-education teacher in France—a position of magnificence to the peasants of his village. He was 36 in Melbourne, but he was in fine condition. "I knew I was older and I was losing speed," he said. "I am a realist. But I also knew my resistance was as good as ever."

So he ran the marathon. Only his old nemesis, Emil Zatopek, who had beaten him in every Olympic race he had ever run, and a solitary journalist said that Mimoun had a chance to win. When Mimoun entered the stadium and neared the finish line he turned to see if Zatopek was gaining. There was no one in sight. Mimoun shook off the officials who crowded about to congratulate him and stood gazing at the stadium entrance. "I was sure Emil was there at my heels," he said. "I was hoping he would be second. I was waiting for him. Then I thought, well, he will be third—it will be nice to stand on the podium with him again. But Emil came in sixth, oh, very tired. He seemed in a trance, staring straight ahead. He said nothing. I said, 'Emil, why don't you congratulate me? I am an Olympic champion. It was I who won.'

"Emil turned and looked at me, as if he were waking from a dream. Then he snapped to attention. Emil took off his cap—that white painting cap he wore so much—and he saluted me. Then he embraced me."

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