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.

Missing Biographical Data From 1936

The 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berlin Olympics are the last prewar Games for whom some of the more mysterious competitors could still be alive and have not yet been covered on this blog. In seeking to address this, today on Oldest Olympians we to cover five starting Olympians who competed at these editions, but for whom we lack any biographical data.

Two of these individuals represented Austria in aquatic sports. The first, Helena “Elli” von Kropiwnicki, was a member of the 4×100 freestyle relay team that was eliminated in round one. While all four are missing dates of death, von Kropiwnicki is the only one missing a date of birth. The second, Therese Rampel, was a member of the same club, 1. Wiener Amateur Schwimmclub, but took part in platform diving, where she was 16th.

(Qadri Mahmud)

A third competitor, Egyptian Fadl Ibrahim, was also an aquatic participant, as he took part in the 4×200 metres freestyle relay, where his nation was also eliminated in round one. He is the only one of his teammates about whom we know nothing, although our only information on Zaki Saad al-Dine is that he died prior to May 20, 2000. Qadri Mahmud, born October 8, 1917, was a star swimmer at the American University of Cairo, but we do not know his date of death. Finally, Higazi Said, born sometime in 1916 in Cairo, died August 30, 1998 and was a well-known national swimmer as well.

The final summer Olympian is Abouwi Ahmad Shah, who was a member of Afghanistan’s field hockey team in Berlin, which placed fifth overall in the tournament. There was an Ahmad Shah Abouwi who competed for Afghanistan in field hockey at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but records indicate that he was born in 1930, too early to have also been the 1936 Olympian. The 1936 squad also had a few non-starters, such as Abdul Chaffar and Nauroz Ali Nauroz, about whom we also know nothing.

01AH8CER; Bozena Moserova

(Picture from Diomedia)

Finally, we have Wilhelm Blechschmidt, who represented Czechoslovakia in both the two- and four-man bobsleigh events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. As with many bobsledders of this era, we know nothing else about him. On the topic of bobsledders, however, Connor Mah was able to prove that John Read, who represented Great Britain in the four-man at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics, and whom we covered previously on Oldest Olympians, died April 12, 2000 in Salisbury, England. And in terms of Olympians who represented Czechoslovakia at the Winter Games, we learned that Božena Moserová, who took part in three alpine skiing events at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, and who we have also covered previously, died February 9, 2017.

1932 Track and Field Olympic Mysteries

Today on Oldest Olympians, we want to return to the 1932 Los Angeles Games to look at some of the non-starters and reserves in the athletics competition about whom we know nothing. In general, data on track and field athletes is fairly good, but we wanted to devote a little attention to those competitors who have been overlooked.

First on our list is József Szabó, who was entered by Hungary into the long jump, but did not start the event. We do not know anything else about him, since his name is fairly common in Hungarian, but there was a József Szabó who wrote books on athletics during the 1940s who may be the Olympic non-starter. About another non-starter from Europe, Georgios Theodoratos of Greece in the shot put, we know nothing.

Brazil, meanwhile, has a number of athletes about whom we have only limited information. For example, we have at least a year of birth for six of the eight members of Brazil’s 4×100 metre relay entry, but two have eluded us. We believe that Raimundo Chrispiniano (who was also a potential for the 4×400 metres relay) might be the Raymundo Chrispiniano do Nascimento who was born in 1907 and died October 26, 1999 in Rio, as both were military professionals, but we have no proof. The name of the other, Aloisio da Silva, is too common for us to be able to find useful information. In the 4×400 relay, our mystery non-starter is Vicente Araujo, for whom we were also unable to uncover any biographical details.

(Heitor Medina, pictured at TECPAR)

There were three Brazilian non-starters in the 5000 metres, but the only one without even a year of birth is Jeronimo Maria, although we do know that he was competing as early as 1929 and continued until at least 1937. In the javelin throw, three Brazilians were entered, one of whom, Heitor Medina, actually competed. Born July 10, 1910, Medina later became a prominent biologist, but we were unable to locate his date of death. Similarly, Esmeraldo Azuaga, born August 8, 1908, who was entered into four events but did not start any of them, also became a doctor and is also missing a date of death. For the third javelin thrower, Domingos Trevisan (whose surname is sometimes spelled Trevison), we have no data.

Over the past few months, we have taken a look at some of the lesser-known Olympians from 1932 for whom we lack biographical data, but there are always more that we could cover. For Brazil’s water polo team, for example, we are missing at least one piece of biographical data on all but two of the players, and for two reserves, Alfredo Di Blasio and Jorge Pessoa, we know nothing at all. The further we examine reserves, the more such cases we can find, such as Austrian Franz Janisch, who did not start his weightlifting event. We want to move on to other topics, however, so we will leave 1932 with this and bring you something new soon!

Mystery UAR Competitors

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to address a new finding of ours in the world of Egyptian Olympians. At the 1960 Rome Games, Egypt competed as the “United Arab Republic” (UAR) because it had unified politically with Syria. As far as we know, however, there were no Syrians in the actual delegation, but we did have one mysterious competitor in wrestling listed as “Ben Ali” for whom we could find no record in contemporary sources. This left open the possibility that he might have been a Syrian on the team.

As we discovered recently, however, “Ben Ali” was a transcription error for the real competitor: Al-Sayd Hassan Ali Rifa’i. Rifa’i was born in Alexandria and represented Egypt internationally for over a decade, most notably at the 1959 Mediterranean Games, where he won silver in the freestyle, welterweight competition (in Rome, he competed in Greco-Roman). We were unable to find dates of birth and death, but we have now confirmed that he was Egyptian.

This leaves us with only two representatives from the UAR delegation for whom we have no biographical data: divers Moustafa Hassan and Ahmed Moharran. Both were relatively prominent on the national sports scene and Hassan even won a bronze medal on the platform at the 1959 Mediterranean Games. Hassan and Moharran competed on the platform in Rome, placing 25th and 24th respectively, while the latter also finished 28th in the springboard. We do not have a year or place of birth for either, however, or even an age estimate.

(Ibrahim Abdulhalim and his name on the Swissair Flight 306 memorial)

Finally, we were able to identify additional information about a member of the UAR’s rowing squad: the competitor that we had listed as “Ibrahim Mahmoud” was actually Ibrahim Abdulhalim, one of Egypt’s most successful rowers of the 1950s. Unfortunately, he died only three years after the Rome Olympics, in the crash of Swissair Flight 306 on September 4, 1963.