Updates to Swiss Olympic Mysteries

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to highlight some great recent research from Connor Mah, who has expanded our biographical data on Swiss and Austrian Olympians significantly. While there are far too many names to cover in a single post, we wanted to highlight some of the updates that involve past Olympic mysteries that were featured on this blog.

(Original Caption) Jesse Renick, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, captain of the U.S. Olympic basketball team (left) is congratulated by Maurice Chollet, captain of the Swiss team, after the Americans had whipped their opponents 86-21 at Harringay Stadium on July 30th. The American boys have since bettered a Czech five, 53-28.

(Maurice Chollet, pictured on the right at Getty Images)

Starting with Switzerland, back in June Mah was able to confirm that the Hugo Vonlanthen who was listed as dying on April 28, 2009 was in fact the Olympic field hockey player. Then, earlier this month, he verified that the obituary for a Maurice Chollet who died February 22, 2017 was for the two-time Olympic basketball player. Most recently, he was able to confirm that the Kurt Bryner who died in Cape Verde in February 1984 was the two-time Olympic sailor.

(Adolf Müller, with the moustache in the background)

In-between, Mah was also able to solve several other Swiss Olympic mysteries. Firstly, 1936 Olympic canoeist Rudolf Vilim did die in February 1959. The Wikipedia date of death of August 28, 2005 for field hockey player Roland Annen was also confirmed as correct. He also proved that the January 2017 obituary for a René Wohler was for the 1952 Olympic basketball player. Finally, he discovered that Adolf Müller, a wrestler who was one of our Olympic medal mysteries, died July 7, 2005.

(John O’Connor, pictured in the Northern Whig, June 18, 1951)

We also have a handful of non-Swiss updates. From Austria, Mah was able to confirm that water polo player Sebastian Ploner, born May 27, 1907, did die in December 1981 as suggested by the Vienna cemetery index. From Ireland, with some help from Emma Edwards, we learned that athlete John O’Connor died October 10, 1977. From Italy, Adriano Brunelli verified that Wikipedia’s date of death for Amedeo Banci, December 24, 2013, is correct. From El Salvador, we learned that sport shooter Tomás Vilanova did die in July 2007.

(Rosella Thorne pictured in “A Sporting Chance: Achievements of African-Canadian Athletes” by William Humber)

Finally, a few days ago we featured Canadian track and field athlete Rosella Thorne, a previous Olympic mystery born December 11, 1930, as our Olympian of the day based on information that she was still alive. Sadly, it turns out that she died April 16 at the age of 91.

Update to the Historical List of the Oldest Living Olympians

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to correct a mistake that we made in a previous post, one that concerns our historical list of the Oldest Living Olympians. Originally, we listed sport shooter Giuseppe Rivabella of Italy as the oldest living Olympian from April 8, 1896, the start of the military rifle, 200 metres event, until May 20, 1900, when French sailor William Martin, born October 25, 1828, began his first competition.

(Giuseppe Rivabella)

We recently learned from Diego Rossetti, however, that Rivabella was 63 when he died on August 24, 1919, which means that he was born in 1855 or 1856. This leads to a chance that Rivabella was never the oldest living Olympian, as American Charles Waldstein, born March 30, 1856, also competed in the same event. If Rivabella was born between April 1 and August 24, 1856, then he was never the oldest living Olympian and thus we have updated our tables to reflect this possibility.

(Kevin Wilson)

In terms of other age mysteries, we recently noted that Australian sailor Kevin Wilson, whom we had listed as being born March 18, 1923, may actually have been a few years younger. With the death of Frank Prihoda, we learned that this was indeed the case: Wilson was born December 15, 1927, making another sailor, Gordon Ingate, born March 29, 1926, the oldest living Australian Olympian. We have also been able to confirm details on two of our other Olympic mystery sailors. Manuel Escobar of El Salvador, born August 6, 1924, died March 8, 1995, giving us a more precise date that we suspected in our original post. Connor Mah, meanwhile, was able to verify that Canadian Olympic sailing mystery Dick Townsend was born April 29, 1928 and died November 22, 1982.

Max Müller

Thanks to recent research from Connor Mah, we have learned about the existence of a new Olympic centenarian! Swiss cross-country skier Max Müller, born June 27, 1916, died November 22, 2019 at the age of 103 years and 148 days. Müller represented his country in three events at the 1948 St. Moritz Games, finishing 17th in the 50 kilometers and 25th in the 18 kilometers. He was also fifth with the 4×10 kilometers relay squad. Domestically, he was a three-time national champion and later ran a sports store.

(Max Müller, pictured in a 2018 bulletin from Club Alpin Suisse)

While we are on the subject of potential centenarians, we also wanted to mention Australian sailor Kevin Wilson. Wilson represented his country in the Star class at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where he and his crewmate Bart Harvey placed 18th. Currently, we have Wilson as being born March 18, 1923, but travel documents suggest a year of birth of 1927 or 1928. We know that he was still alive in March 2021, but in the report he is mentioned as being 93 years old, which would align with the contemporary sources. While we are leaving him born in 1923 on our tables for now, it seems likely that he is several years younger, albeit still among the Oldest Olympians.

Paul Makler, Sr.

On October 22, on what we believed to be his 102nd birthday, we featured Paul Makler, Sr. as the oldest living American Olympian and Olympic fencer. After an investigation from George Masin, however, we learned that Makler had actually died on May 12, at the age of 101 years, 202 days.

(Paul Makler)

With this update, we now believe that swimmer Iris Cummings, born December 21, 1920, is the oldest living American Olympian. Cummings competed in the 200 metres breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Games, making her the last known survivor from that edition. Soviet fencer Yulen Uralov, meanwhile, who took part in the foil tournament at the 1952 Helsinki Games, was still alive in 2018 and living in Israel. If he were still alive, he would be the oldest living Olympic fencer. If not, that distinction would likely go to Bernard Morel, who won a bronze medal for France in team sabre in 1952 and also competed in 1956.

While we are on the topic of Olympic uncertainties, it has come to our attention that the individual that we have listed currently as the oldest living Panamanian Olympian, Aurelio Chu Yi, born January 31, 1929, may actually be deceased. According to a source located by Connor Mah, he may have died in the 1990s, although the notice was vague and did not provide sufficient information to identify him definitively as the Olympian. As public records from Florida list him as still living, we have kept him on our lists, but are now aware that this may be in error.

(Mario Ghella)

Finally, we wanted to address two recent removals that may have gone under the radar. First, we initially listed Dutch gymnast Nanny Simon, born June 23, 1931, as alive and living in Florida. Some findings by Connor Mah, however, proved that the American individual was not the Olympian, and thus we do not know if the Olympian is still alive. Secondly, we had listed Italian Olympic sprint cycling champion Mario Ghella, born June 23, 1929, as alive on our tables until recently. Adriano Brunelli, however, discovered that Ghella actually died February 10, 2020 in Spain, at the age of 90, demonstrating that even Olympic champions can sometimes die without receiving widespread notice.

International Competitors at the 1936 Ice Stock Sport Tournament

The last time that we discussed eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics on this blog, we brought up the lesser-known women who participated in the tournament. Today, we wanted to highlight the non-German teams that took part in the competition.

There were three events open to international competitors at Games – target shooting, distance shooting, and a team tournament – all of which were for men and all of which were won by Austrians. Ignaz Reiterer of Graz captured the target title well ahead of the rest of the field with 15 points. Two of his compatriots, Franz Lawugger and Josef Kalkschmid, shared a four-way tie for second, alongside August Brunner of Germany and Karl Wolfinger of Czechoslovakia. Reiterer did not compete in any other event, placing him in the company of German Hans Moser, Austrian Josef Marx, and Czechoslovakian Friedrich Czernich.

(Georg Edenhauser (left) and Friedrich Mosshammer (right))

The winner in the distance event was Georg Edenhauser, who was also relatively dominant. Second was his compatriot Friedrich Mosshammer, while third was Ludwig Retzer of Germany. Like Reiterer, Edenhauser and Mosshammer did not compete in other events, nor did their teammates Anton Schaffernak and August Ischepp, or Czechoslovakian Wilhelm Feistner.

The squad from Tirol, which consisted of Wilhelm Silbermayr, Anton and Otto Ritzl (whose relationship, if any, is unknown), Wilhelm Pichler, and Rudolf Rainer won the team tournament. Austrians also took third place with the Steiermark squad of Josef Hödl-Schlehofer, Johann Mrakitsch, Rudolf Wagner, Friedrich Schieg, and Hubert Lödler. A third Austrian team, from Kärnten, made up of Josef Hafner, Isidor Waitschacher, Josef Kleewein, Paul Begrusch, and Josef Maierbrugger, placed sixth.

The two Czechoslovakian teams, meanwhile, did not fare as well. Wolfinger teamed with Friedrich Brave, Friedrich Feistner, and Friedrich Arnhold to place seventh. Eight and last, meanwhile, went to Hans Bernhardt, Rudolf Kopal, Hans Großmann, Alfred Hein, and Otto Hanff. Unfortunately we know nothing of all of these competitors, but we hope that one day we will discover more about their lives and their contributions to the Olympic movement.

One (Maybe Two?) New Olympic Centenarian(s)

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to cover two art competitors, one of whom definitely reached the age of 100 and a second who might have.

The first, Iranian Abolhassan Sadighi, born October 5, 1894, was definitely a centenarian, as he died December 11, 1995 at the age of 101 years, 67 days. From a noble family, Sadighi eschewed his parents’ expectations and took up painting. He later shifted to sculpting and is best known for his statue of the Persian poet Ferdowsi, completed in 1971, that sits in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Square.

Sadighi entered an earlier statue of Ferdowsi into the sculpturing competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Since the art competitions at these Games were unofficial, they can be considered a non-medalling demonstration event, and thus Sadighi is not a full Olympian. Regardless, we find it worthwhile to mention him in this blog and on our tables, particularly as he is, to the best of our knowledge, the only Iranian associated with the Olympics to have reached the age of 100.

The more uncertain participant is Japan’s Hajime Ishimaru. Unlike Sadighi, Ishimaru competed in painting at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, so he definitely qualifies as an Olympian (at least as far as art competitors go). Ishimaru painted in several styles and was active both before and after World War II. He submitted a work listed as “The Sun Shines Most Beautifully Here”, although in Japanese it was titled simply “Seifuku”, which means “conquest”. Ishimaru was born in 1890 and died in 1990 but, without exact dates, we cannot be certain that he was a centenarian.

Women in the 1936 Ice Stock Sport Tournament

In one of our recent posts, it may have come as a surprise that there were women who participated in eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. Given that women were significantly underrepresented at the Games during this time, we wanted to devote a little attention to their events at this edition, even though we know almost nothing about the actual participants.

The women had only one individual event, target shooting, which judged how close to a target the competitor could get. There was no distance competition. The winner by a considerable margin was Mathilde Seyffarth of SC Riessersee; no one else could make even half her score of 27, with the runner-up being Dora Landes of Eisstock-Club Straubing coming in at 12.

(Therese Ryhiner’s 1936 identification card, pictured at The Saleroom)

In the team event, Seyffarth came in third with Therese Ryhiner, Maria Clausing, Maria Weinmüller, and Gertrud Großberger. Ryhiner is one of the few women in this sport for whom we have any certain biographical data, as her 1936 identification card came up for auction several years ago. Landes, meanwhile, was fourth in the team event with Elise Landes, Mathilde Kronfeldner, Ida Kellermann, and Ida Holzer. What relation there is between Dora and Elise Landes, or between Mathilde and men’s Straubing team member Georg Kronfeldner, if any, is unknown.

We already mentioned the winner of the women’s team event, Altonaer Schlittschuhläuferverein, so, for the sake of completion, the runner-up was Eissport-Club Zwiesel, a team that consisted of Frieda Dötsch, Theresia Pfeffer, Lina Strobl, Martha Weickelsdorfer, and Eva Wiede. In terms of family relations, Kurt and Max Pfeffer competed with the Zwiesel squad in the men’s event, while a third Pfeffer, Karl, was with Gießener Eisverein, and was therefore probably not related. There was only one other entry, from Frankfurter Tennis-Club 1914, which finished last. Their squad included Hilde Keck, Hedwig Engelhard, Elisabeth Luchterhand, Hilde Kaiser, and Lisl Dotzert. Hilde Keck’s relationship to Fritz Keck, from the men’s Frankfurter team, is unknown.

As we mentioned, we know very little about most of these women. Hedwig Engelhard might be Hedwig Helene Engelhard, born February 24, 1874 and died April 3, 1963, both in Frankfurt, but we have no proof. In any case, that is enough for today, but we hope that we have drawn a little more attention to this oft-forgotten event in women’s sporting history!

Dagny and Inger Jørgensen

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to present a quick blog entry on two Olympic siblings that we only recently learned are still alive: Dagny and Inger Jørgensen. Both of them represented Norway in alpine skiing at the Games and, in the hopes of being able to feature more Olympians on this page, we wanted to post about them together.

Dagny, born March 22, 1929, is the older sister. Her most notable moment in skiing came at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, where she was 21st in the downhill and 33rd in the giant slalom. Her club, the Asker Skiklubb, celebrated her 90th birthday in 2019.

Inger, born October 30, 1930, was younger, but more successful. She competed at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Games, where she was 13th in the slalom, 24th in the giant slalom, and 26th in the downhill. Domestically, she was Norwegian national champion in slalom in 1953 and 1954 and in giant slalom in 1956.

On the topic of Winter Olympians, we wanted to provide an additional update: a while ago, we mentioned Slovenian cross-country skier Zdravko Hlebanja, born October 15, 1929, as an Olympic mystery, as he was listed in the Slovenian Wikipedia as having died March 9, 2018. We have now been able to confirm that this was indeed the case.

Ice Stock Sport Olympic Mysteries

A few years ago on Oldest Olympians, we wrote a post on eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, a game that is similar to curling and was played at the 1936 and 1964 Winter Olympics as a demonstration sport. You can view that post here. We wanted to revisit this topic today because, as time has gone by, we have uncovered some Olympic mysteries about players from both editions that we feel are worth covering on this blog.

Beginning in 1964, we have a little more biographical data on the competitors at this edition than we do for the 1936 tournament. With some full dates of birth, we have a few regular additions to our “possibly living” group, such as Ernst Meier of Switzerland (born June 23, 1932) and Johann Pregartner (born April 14, 1931) and Alfred Summer (born December 21, 1925) of Austria, for whom we simply cannot ascertain whether or not they are still alive. In other cases, we have more substantial Olympic mysteries.

(The Willi Cahenzli of Portrait Archiv)

For example, the ESC Gelb-Blau Davos team of Switzerland had a Willi Cahenzli among their ranks. Given the rarity of this name, we assume that he is the same Willi Cahenzli of Davos that was born March 16, 1935 and died May 5, 2018, although we cannot prove it. Similarly, we assume that the Engelbert Zunterer of the fifth-placed EC Ferchensee team is Engelbert Zunterer of Mittenwald, born February 22, 1923 and died June 27, 2011, but are not certain. We are also unaware of his exact relation (if any) to teammates Alois Zunterer and Peter Zunterer.

Moving on to 1936, we have a lot more information on the competitors than we did when we made our original post. For example, of the five members of Wintersportverein Aschaffenburg, we suspect that August Köhl and Ferdinand Röser might be the individuals by those names who lived from 1889-1939 and 1885-1954 respectively and died in Aschaffenburg. We also know that Eugen Reusch is deceased, and thus only Lorenz Junker and Hans Zellner remain completely unknown to us.

(Memorial to a Georg Reiser at Find-a-Grave)

Even for the winning teams, there is very limited information. Of the five men from Garmisch-Partenkirchen who won the Germany-only team tournament, for example, our only lead is that a Georg Reiser born March 26, 1901 and died January 3, 1963 is buried in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We do not even know how (or if) one of his teammates, Martin Reiser, is related to him, nor do we have any information on the other members: Anton Bader, Anton Jocher, and Egon Härtl. In fact, there are many potential family relations about which we are unaware. For example, we suspect that Willi Knak of the Hamburg’s Altonaer Schlittschuhläuferverein might be the Willi Knak of Hamburg born January 2, 1904, but we do not know what relationship he has to the Martha Knak of the same club that won the German women’s team event. That club also had another pairing, Ruth and Bernhard Becker, about whom we know nothing, along with the rest of the women’s team: Lilli Herboldt, Agnes Knudsen, and Paula Külper.

The final Olympic mystery for today is Fritz Stuis, who played for Eis- und Rollschuhsportverein Passau. We believe that he may be the Fritz Stuis born June 6, 1894 in Pyrbaum, but have no proof. There are many more ice stock sport players that we could cover, but we think that we have mentioned enough names for one day, so we shall end here, but hopefully blog again in the near future!

ALTERNATIVE OLYMPICS

So Russia is mostly banned from international sporting events, based on their recent invasion of Ukraine, but their doping history over the last decade or two certainly doesn’t help. There are murmurs out there that they will not be able to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics. What could come of that, if true? Would the Russians try to hold their own international multi-sport events, inviting their friends – China, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and a few other world sport “powers”.

Not only could the Russians do that, if their ban lasts much longer, they almost certainly will do that. And this will be far from the first time that other international multi-sport events (IMSE) have competed “against” the Olympics, usually with the same result as the ABA had against the NBA, the XFL and USFL have had against the NFL, and probably, that the LIV golf exhibitions will have against the PGA Tour.

Rich Perelman, in his excellent blog, The Sports Examiner, discussed this possibility in his edition of 21 Sep 2022, nothing that, “Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded the idea, telling the SCO Summit in Samarkind (UZB), ‘It seems that there are good opportunities to intensify sports cooperation with the prospect of holding major sporting events under the auspices of the SCO. To do this, we could think about creating an association of sports organizations under our association.’”

Perelman then noted, “On Tuesday, Russia’s Irina Viner, head of the Council for Physical Culture and Sports of the Russian-Chinese Committee for Friendship, Peace and Development spoke even more plainly,

‘We are ready to negotiate with China to hold various events, from joint training camps to competitions. As our leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin said, now we must create a multi-sports organization independent of the IOC.’”

Let’s look at previous attempts to create international multi-sport events competing against the Olympic Games and the IOC.

The first major IMSE was in 1919 and was called the Inter-Allied Games. It was held in Vincennes, France, just outside of Paris, at the Pershing Stadium, and the invited nations were the “victors” in World War I. They contested mostly standard events, but a few extraneous ones were held, such as grenade tossing. Charlie Paddock starred, presaging his victories at the 1920 Antwerpen Olympics. The Inter-Allied Games were never held again as there was no need for them and they were no threat to the Olympic Movement.

In 1936 there were numerous calls to boycott the Berlin Olympics. Spain was also in a tumult at the time, beginning a civil war, and they threatened to hold alternative Olympics, the People’s Olympiad, in their own protest against the Berlin Games, which were to start on 18 July. However, the military coup that began the Spanish Civil War started on that day and the People’s Olympiad was put on hold and never contested. It was also never a threat to the Olympic Movement.

Prior to World War II, the Soviet Union began the Spartakiads. These became well-known as Soviet festivals after the War as primarily a Soviet propaganda event, but before 1940 these events were open to several nations, not just the Soviet Union. There were five of them organized by Red Sport International between 1928 and 1937.

The Spartakiads overlapped with the International Workers’ Olympiads, which were held between 1925-1937 by Socialist Workers’ Sport International (SWSI). They were all conducted in Europe and featured mass participation exercises with as many as 100,000 participants at the 1931 Workers’ Olympiad in Vienna. These Games were an attempt to compete against the Olympic Games which the SWSI considered elitist and only for the privileged classes. Both the international Spartakiads and the Workers’ Olympiads actually had limited national participation, and never threatened the Olympic Movement.

In the summer of 1962, Jakarta hosted the Asian Games, but it refused to issue visas to athletes from Taiwan and Israel. For this, the IOC suspended the Indonesian NOC. Unfortunately for the IOC, similar rulings had recently been made by France and the United States, which refused to issue visas to East German athletes competing in those countries. Those nations were not suspended.

In response to the IOC actions, Indonesian President Sukarno proposed the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO) in early 1963 to “promote the development of sports in new emerging nations so as to cement friendly relations among them.” The original conference on these Games occurred in April 1963, with the following nations present: Cambodia, China, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Mali, North Vietnam, Pakistan, the United Arab Republic, and the Soviet Union. But Sukarno denounced the IOC in his opening speech and also noted, “Let us frankly declare that sport has something to do with politics. And Indonesia now proposes to mix sport with politics.”

GANEFO was an obvious attempt to compete against the Olympic Games. GANEFO I was held in November 1963 in Jakarta, Indonesia with 50 nations present. The problem was that China, DPR Korea (North), and North Vietnam were present, none of which were recognized by several of the IFs organizing sports at GANEFO, notably the IAAF (track & field athletics) and FINA (swimming). Indonesia athletes also competed, quite naturally, since they hosted the Games. In response the IOC banned the athletes from Indonesia and DPR Korea who had competed at GANEFO from participating at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (China and North Vietnam could not compete at Tokyo as they did not have recognized NOCs.) Indonesia and DPR Korea responded by demanding that their athletes be reinstated or their entire teams would boycott the Tokyo Olympics. The athletes were not reinstated, and the two nations did not compete at Tokyo. One athlete, North Korean runner Dan Shin-Geum, was sorely missed as she was the world record holder in the 800 metres for women and would have been favored at Tokyo. Sukarno was ousted from power in 1965, and the IOC rescinded its suspension of Indonesia.

GANEFO II went on, however, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1966, and again North Korea competed. For this, North Korea was also suspended from the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City. By then, however, the idea of the Games of the New Emerging Forces had lost favor. They were not held again, but GANEFO was the closest thing ever to a threat to the Olympic Movement, however short-lived.

In 1976 African nations boycotted the Montréal Olympics over the presence of New Zealand, after their rugby team, the All-Blacks, had recently played matches in apartheid South Africa, even though rugby was not an Olympic sport, and this was a professional team, not an amateur Olympic one. Then in 1980 the United States boycotted the Moskva Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the Soviet’ boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic in retribution.

Nothing came of any of these except a lot of athletes lost their dreams. But because of these boycotts, several IMSEs and other events were held to give the athletes something to compete for outside of the Olympics Games.

In 1980 there were alternative events held in the United States, notably the Liberty Bell Classic, a track & field athletics competition held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, site of the Penn Relays.

In 1984 the Soviets went even further, holding the Friendship Games, an IMSE with 22 sports, hosted by nine nations from the Soviet Bloc, spread out over four months from June to September 1984, with 39 nations competing. Neither the Liberty Bell Classic nor the Friendship Games were ever held again.

However, Ted Turner, he of CNN fame and America’s Cup fame, had had enough of this and decided to form his own peaceful IMSE – the Goodwill Games. These would turn out to be the longest-lived attempt to compete against the Olympics, and they basically were held alongside them for several years. Goodwill Games were held in 1990 in Seattle, Washington, 1994 in St.  Petersburg, Russia (the former Leningrad and Petrograd), and in 1998 in New York City.  In 2000, the 1st Winter Goodwill Games were contested in Lake Placid, New York, USA.  The 2001 Goodwill Games were planned for Brisbane, Australia, but with the break-up of the Soviet Union, the need for a Goodwill Games was far from clear.  In addition, all of the Goodwill Games hemorrhaged money (Ted Turner was very wealthy – rich people don’t like hemorrhaging money – attention LIV Golf Tour). The Goodwill Games were discontinued after 2000.

And so it goes. It is highly likely that Russia, if it continues to be banned from international sport, will come up with some IMSE, hosting its friends to compete. It is also more than likely that these will be very short-lived or never held again.

All the Olympic Stats You'll Ever Need