22 April 2011

Persevere - Olympic Friday

I love a good Olympic story. I don't know why they appeal to me so much, but they do.

One of my favorites is the story of Al Oerter, who was impossibly, absurdly great when it mattered the most. He threw the discus, and he won four gold medals in four consecutive Olympic games. Each winning throw in each of those games was an Olympic record.

There is another angle to that story that I read in Sports Illustrated. I forget the names, but the facts are as written in an SI retrospective from about 11 years ago. Here it is:

In 1956 in Melbourne, Al Oerter was 20 years old, and he beat a man in the discus to win the gold medal. That man already had a son, and he was raising him up strong. He taught his son to hurl the discus. The son was good and qualified for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he faced the aging Al Oerter. Al beat him, and everyone else, to win his fourth gold medal in a row.

Here's another great story that I hadn't heard, courtesy the Guardian.co.uk:

5) "I'm here to learn" – The greatest sporting comeback of all time? (1948)

The Olympic gods were not smiling down on Károly Takács during his early career as a pistol shooter. His talents demanded a place in the 1936 Olympics, but the Hungarian authorities refused to pick him as his status in the army – he was a mere sergeant – was not considered high enough. The rules were relaxed after those Games, and he was looking forward to competing in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. But even before the second world war could get in the way, fate dealt him another hammer blow: in 1938, a faulty grenade he was holding during army training exploded, shattering his right hand to pieces.

It looked over for Takács, but he decided to train himself to shoot with his left hand instead, and see where that took him. Remarkably, after training in secret, he won the Hungarian pistol shooting title a mere 12 months later, and was part of the Hungarian team that won the world championships in the same year. A decade later, aged 38, he qualified for the rapid-fire pistol event at the 1948 Games. Finally, he would get to compete on the world's biggest stage.

The favourite was the exotically named Argentinian world champion and world record holder, Carlos Enrique Diaz Saenz Valiente. "What are you doing here?" he asked Takács. "I'm here to learn," came the reply. In the event, Takács took Diaz Saenz Valiente's world record from him, beating it by 10 points. As the gold medal was placed around the neck of the first physically disabled competitor in Olympic history, Takács heard a mutter from the silver podium. It was Diaz Saenz Valiente. "I think you've learned enough."

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