Olympics and History of the Modern Games Lake Placid and Los Angeles 1932

About the olympics and the modern games, account of the games in Lake Placid and Los Angeles in 1932.


Seventeen countries entered teams, and while Scandinavians dominated skiing and Canadians triumphed in ice hockey, the Americans swept the medals sweepstakes, mainly because Europeans were not familiar with American rules in speed skating and some other events. Americans even won twice in bobsledding. Eddie Egan, Olympic lightweight boxing champion of 1920, won a bobsled event to become the 1st person to win in both summer and winter games.


A long-discussed idea came to reality: an Olympic Village of 550 cottages was constructed on 250 acres in a Los Angeles suburb. Male athletes stayed in the village; women in a hotel. The complex included an open-air theater where athletes could see films of the previous day's events. But there were many complaints: political and racial disturbances, fears that training secrets would be stolen, and intrusions into the peace and quiet by the American public. According to Zack Farmer, grizzled ex-cowboy millionaire who organized the 1932 Olympics:

They said Americans are known as the most undisciplined goddam people in the whole world. Oh, we got privacy for those athletes, all right. We fenced it all in and put cowboys out on riding the fences. Those Europeans used to love to watch those cowboys lassoing any SOB who tried to climb over the fence.

Under Farmer's guidance, the Olympics made a $1,300 profit . . . in a Depression year!

Brazil had no money to spend on its athletes, but 69 of them embarked from Brazil on a naval boat carrying 50,000 bags of coffee. They were to stop in ports along the way and sell the coffee to raise funds, but there were few buyers. When the boat reached Los Angeles, 45 athletes didn't even have the $1-per-head landing charge; sadly, they waved good-bye to the lucky 24 and set off to sell their beans and return home.

Paavo Nurmi was forced out of the games when the IOC decided he was really a professional and had accepted too much "expense money" on a German tour.

By this time, women were coming into their own in Olympic competition, and Mildred "Babe" Didrikson was the premier performer. She started training in 1928 when her father, a Norwegian immigrant, read stories of the Olympics. She played basketball in high school and after graduating, a Dallas insurance company offered her a $75-per-month job as a clerk; a place on the company basket-ball team went with the job. She was All-American in basketball and won the Women's AAU track championship in Dallas.

At the 1932 National AAU finals in Chicago, the Olympic qualifying event, Babe Didrikson was the sole representative of her team and entered 8 of the 10 events. Babe ran herself ragged that afternoon. At the end, she had won 5 events and 30 points; the 22-woman Illinois Women's Athletic Club was 2nd with 22 points.

Opening day of the '32 Olympics in Los Angeles was a thrill for the Babe, although she was uncomfortable in the regulation white stockings which U.S. women had to wear. She never wore stockings. She threw the javelin 143'4", an Olympic and world record. She then broke the world record in the 80-m. hurdles for another gold medal. In the high jump, she was up against her nemesis, Jean Shirley, whom she had tied in the AAU meet. Both cleared 5'5 1/4", but officials ruled Babe had dived over the pole instead of jumping feet 1st (a rule later changed). She was disappointed with the silver medal.

After the Olympics, Babe turned professional and took up golf, becoming the greatest woman golfer. She was chosen Woman Athlete of the Year 5 times and Greatest Female Athlete of the half century in an AP poll.

American women took all track and field events at Los Angeles except for the victories of Stella Walasiewicz who, although living in the U.S., ran for her native Poland in 1932 and 1936. Stella Walsh, as she was known in the U.S., was not as brilliant as Babe Didrikson, but she was almost as versatile and more durable in championship competition. She won 40 U.S. and world titles, competing until well after the age of 40.

Eddie Tolan, U.S., won 2 gold medals in the sprints. Janusz Kusocinski, Poland, surprisingly beat the Finns in the 10,000-m. Japanese men and U.S. women dominated swimming. The 400-m. freestyle title went to Buster Crabbe, who became a competitor with Weissmuller for the Tarzan role.

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.

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