Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #6

This is the sixth in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.

Let’s begin!

OLYMPIC LEGEND: A British athlete had to make a quick (and strange) move to find a country to compete for in the Olympics.

STATUS: True

Yamilé Aldama has a problem.

The Cuban born triple jumper had been living in London, England, for three years, but she was unable to obtain a passport.

She had competed for Cuba in the 2000 Summer Olympics in the triple jump (coming in fourth) and now she wanted to compete for England.

However, things were going quite slowly (it did not help that her Scottish-born husband had recently been arrested on drug charges), and she already had missed out on the 2003 World Championships in France because of her lack of a passport.

Despite the aide of UK Athletics, the earliest she could obtain a British passport would be November 2004, some three months after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

With seemingly nowhere else to turn, Aldama turned to, of all places, the Sudan.

She traveled to the capital city of Sudan, Khartoum, and within two days, the large African nation (large in size and population but low on Olympic medals) now had one more citizen, Yamilé Aldama.

Aldama has done well for her new country at the various African championships, coming in first in her even three times since 2004, but the games that she was “hired” for, the 2004 Olympics, saw a smaller return on Sudan’s “investmant,” as Aldama came in fifth in the event.

She did not compete in 2008.

OLYMPIC LEGEND: A 17 year old took up the decathlon a few months before he won the Gold Medal in the event.

STATUS: True

Bob Mathias was a sensational high school athlete whose high school career was coming to a close at the start of 1948, his senior year. Mathias already had received over FORTY first place finishes in various track and field events and had won the California Interscholastic Federation discus and shot put champion in 1947.

In the spring of 1948, his coach figured he could use a new challenge, so he suggested that Mathias try out for the decathlon in the Southern Pacific American Amateur Union Games in Los Angeles. The games were literally three weeks away, and Mathias had to actually learn how to play some of the games that make up the decathlon, including to pole vault and throw a javelin.

After three weeks of training, he won the competition easily.

Two weeks later, he was traveling cross country to New Jersey where the Natonal tournament was held (winner would go to the Olympics). He won that also handedly.

The Summer Olympics were in London at the end of July.

Mathias ended the first day third out of 39 competitors, but by the second day he was in first and after the last day, he had easily won! He was, at 17 years of age, the youngest man to win a Gold Medal in track and field in Olympic history!

Now a Gold Medal winner, Mathias saw himself named the Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1948.

Sadly for Mathias, his academic abilities were not on the same part as his athletic abilities, so he had to go to a junior college for a year before he was finally allowed into Stanford.

In 1952, he won his SECOND Gold Medal in the decathlon, defeating the second place athlete by the largest margin in decathlon history.

Mathias did a few different things for the next decade (include get married). He starred in a film adaptation of his life (alongside his wife, also playing herself). He joined the Marines. He ran his own camp.

Finally, in 1966, he ran for Congress in California as a Republican and won. He served four terms before finally being defeated in 1974.

He stayed involved in politics for the next few years, then spent the rest of his life involved in athletics, as part of various Olympic committees and the National Fitness Foundation.

He passed away in 2006 from cancer at the age of 75.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

2 Responses to “Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #6”

  1. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  2. I saw the ‘Diem’ stone at Delphi in my visit to Greece last summer and even took photos of it for my book, SECRETS OF THE OLYMPIC CEREMONIES (currently available on amazon.com). However, in light of all the OTHER graffiti inscribed on the walls of Delphi, CENTURIES’ worth of graffiti–most of it meaningless, I did not find Leni Reifenstahl’s “desecration” of a Delphi stone for her documentary purposes any less egregious than all the other graffiti found at the site. To me, it was simply a marker of, OK, a misguided society but at a particular time in history. And I aim to correct this misimpression in the forthcoming 2012 edition of my book. So it was a ‘fake’ artifact…but was it anymore fake than the ‘snake oil’ and ‘semantic’ act that the ancient Apollonian priests pulled at the site with their so-called ‘dazed oracle’ who was really high on sulfuric fumes from the cracks in the earth? I think not.

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