At the 1948
Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, the four-man American bobsled was discovered to
have been sabotaged—the bolts had been loosened. Once it was repaired, Brundage
declared, "The sled needs testing. I'll ride it down myself." Glasses
taped to his balding head and still wearing a business suit, he pulled on a
crash helmet, took a seat on the sled and zoomed to the bottom.
Always one to
trust his first impression, Brundage referred to his handshakes as
"feelers," contact that produced enormous—and instantaneous—amounts of
information about people. Once in the 1940s, he shook hands with Ernest
Hemingway and disliked him at first touch. Brundage pronounced his verdict:
"He probably won't last long."
preferences were unusual, too. He had left the Anglican Church in the mid-1940s
and became a Taoist, a consequence of his passion for Oriental art, a
preoccupation that led him to acquire exquisite collections of more than 6,000
Shang, T'ang, Sung and Ming dynasty pieces. The Brundage Collection is valued
at more than $70 million today and is exhibited in the Asian Art Museum of San
intensity of his interest in the Orient, the mystical precepts of Taoism
constitute an unlikely credo for the authoritarian rock of ages Brundage always
appeared to be. Yet, oddly enough, he flatly rejected Confucianism, because, as
he once told a friend, "it teaches a very harsh, moral, restricted approach
ever got himself in full harmony with the metaphysics of the Tao—which is
defined as "the creative principle that orders the Universe," is not
known, but while he lived, he did surround himself with an opulence that
manifestly was not metaphysical.
penchant for acquisition and luxury might have been considered vulgar had he
not displayed a fairly constant sense of good taste. He traveled like a king,
paying his own way on Olympic business to the tune of more than $50,000 a year.
Limousines whisked him about almost every city he visited, and he often took
the royal or presidential suite at four-star hotels. He liked to hobnob with
royalty and heads of state, as if they and he were equals. Indeed, his longtime
power over the IOC was sometimes thought to lie in the various rajahs, princes,
counts and kings whom he recruited for IOC membership. Among his royal allies
were King Constantine of Greece, Prince Gholam Pahlavi of Iran (the late shah's
half-brother), Sultan Buwano IX of Indonesia, Prince Takeda of Japan and Prince
Alexandre de Merode of Belgium.
provided the very best accommodations and amenities for himself and IOC
royalty, but his preferences when it came to clothing and food were modest. It
was almost laughable to see the imperious head of the IOC in a frayed black
suit and greasy derby. He may have stayed in the best hotels, but when he
checked in, he carried a briefcase and one small, battered bag containing a few
His eating habits
were quite simple, too. He usually preferred fresh fruit at 7:15 a.m., sliced
tomatoes at 1 p.m. and meat and vegetables at eight. He stuck to this regimen
no matter how late he had been out the night before.
La Pineta, his
California estate, was located in Montecito, a lovely wooded suburb of Santa
Barbara. His 15-room Spanish-style mansion was secluded behind high stone
walls. The five-circled Olympic flag often flew over it. One guest bathroom was
lined with zebra skins, and the Brundages sometimes used 12-inch solid jade
plates at meals. Although he had given the bulk of his Oriental collection to
San Francisco in 1959, he kept a priceless assortment of perhaps 1,000 other
items. In September of 1964 a forest fire swept through the area and destroyed
the mansion, along with all but 60 of the art objects. The disaster moved
Brundage to tears.
Also spared was a
small collection of vintage occult comic books. Brundage explained that he had
obtained them because of his interest in the supernatural. "When I retire I
want to do something with extrasensory perception," he once told a friend.
"A lot of work needs to be done in that field."