Saturday, July 7, 2012

Olympics: Brief histroy of the Modern Games - 1932 Los Angeles

Throughout the post war period demand for leisure footwear grew ant the fitness craze of the 30s meant sneakers became associated with sports and leisure activities.

The 1932 Olympics was held in Los Angeles but the adverse economic factors of the Great Depression) meant the event was less well attended. Former cowboy millionaire Zack underwrote the event and although the organizing committee never published a record of the Games finances contemporary newspapers reports suggested there was a left over profit of US$1,000,000.

For the first time an Olympic Village was built and housed the male athletes only. Female athletes stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. Many counties could not afford to support their representatives and desperate measures were required. The Norwegian athletes were sponsored when 40,000 people paid to walk through the unfinished subway system of Oslo. Brazil was badly effected on and although 69 athletes embarked on a naval boat carrying 50,000 bags of coffee beans. As they docked at ports along the way they tried to sell the coffee to raise funds, but there were few takers. When the boat reached Los Angeles, 45 athletes were unable to pay the $1-per-head landing charge. As a last ditch attempt to get the whole team ashore the Brazilian consulate in San Francisco sent a courier with a Brazilian cruzeiro check to the value of US$45, but by the time he arrived in L.A., the Brazilian cruzeiro had devalued and was only worth about $17, and to make matters worse, the check bounced. Sadly the majority of athletes had to return to Brazil and only 24 members of Brazil's Olympic team competed.

Track events were timed with manual stopwatches with twenty five people eyeballing the finish line then averaging their stopwatch results to find the winner. Official results were given at 10ths of a second. The excellent weather conditions led to new world records in athletics although Japanese team was accused of cheating when they were seen using oxygen tanks.

One of the more outstanding competitors was Mildred (Babe) Didrikson (US) won gold medals and broke her own world records in both the javelin and the 80-metre hurdles. In the high-jump she was awarded the silver in the high jump despite clearing a world-record height. The judge ruled her unorthodox technique of clearing the bar headfirst precluded her from gold. At the opening ceremony Bebe was uncomfortable wearing the regulation white stockings of the women’s U.S. team uniform and appeared with no stockings. After the Olympics, Babe turned professional and took up golf becoming the greatest woman golfer.

Poland's Stanislawa Walasiewicz (Stella Walsh) won the women's 100m race becoming the first woman to break the 12 second barrier. When she was killed in 1980, as an innocent victim in a robbery attempt, an autopsy declared her as intersex which would have made her ineligible to participate.

Paavo “The Flying Finn” Nurmi did not take part in the 1932 Olympics after the IOC ruled he was really a professional and had accepted too much "expense money" on a German tour.

Buster Crabbe, the great American swimmer went on to make a name in Hollywood as Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

The most colorful participant was probably the Italian cyclist, Attillo Pavesi, who set out on the 2 1/2-hour, 100-km. race well fortified. He carried a bowl of soup and a bucket of water on his handlebars, 12 bananas, buns, sandwiches, and spaghetti in a bib tied around his shoulders, and 2 spare tires around his neck.

In 1932 Mohandas K Gandhi was a reporter and covered the Los Angeles Olympics.

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