At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the two favorites in the long jump event were Jesse Owens (USA) and Carl Ludwig ‘ Luz’ Long (Germany).In the preliminary round, Luz Long easily qualified for the final , breaking the Olympic Record in the process. Owens, however, stepped on the hashmark and fouled his first two jumps; one more foul and he would be out of the competition. As he sat there dejectedly, Long approached him and suggested that he jump from a point several inches behind the mark in order to avoid another foul. Owens took the advice and qualified easily for the final where he set a new Olympic record and won the gold medal; Long came in second and got the silver. After Owens’ victory, Long was the first to congratulate him and the two walked arm-in arm to the dressing room. Later,Long was wounded fighting in Sicily and died in a British military hospital ; he was only 30 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for his spirit of sportsmanship.
Max Schmeling, the German boxer, is best known for his two bouts with the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. The first, at Yankee stadium in June 1936, was a victory for Schmeling as he used his jab to perfection and knocked out Louis in the 12th round. The return bout ,two years later at the same venue, was much ballyhooed. Louis carried the hopes of all America while Hitler hoped that a Schmeling victory would validate his theories of Aryan superiority. The bout was over quickly as Louis leaped out of his corner and unleashed a savage onslaught knocking Schmeling down three times and scoring a decisve 1st round KO.It is rumored that when Schmeling was knocked down for the first time Hitler ordered that the radio broadcast in Germany be halted . Most people assume that Max Schmeling was a Nazi but actually he refused to join the Nazi party, an act that took courage. He also refused Goebbels demands that he stop assosciating with American Jews. Schmeling and Louis were life-long friends and Schmeling regularly visited the impoverished Louis , gave him gifts of money and even paid for his funeral.
At the Rome Olympics in 1960, the decathalon provided a thrilling contest between Rafer Johnson of the USA and C. K. Yang of Formosa , later Taiwan. The two were teammates at UCLA, trained together and were great friends.After nine events, Johnson was in the lead but Yang was favored in the final event, the 1500 meters. If Yang could beat Johnson by at least 10 seconds, he would get the gold medal. A determined Johnson stuck doggedly to Yang’s heels and, calling on his last reserves of strength, finished only 2 seconds behind. After they crossed the finish line, the two exhausted men held on to each other for support as the packed stadium gave them a standing ovation.
In all these cases, the protagonists competed fiercely, but they played fair, did not grudge victory when they lost and were friends immediately the match was over. What a contrast to these days when players will go to any length to win, are arrogant in victory,sullen in defeat and hold long standing grudges against their rivals. In basketball, a ‘non-contact sport’, a defender will commit a flagrant foul if necessary to prevent an easy lay-in because ‘ anybody drives on me , they gotta pay the price’. In football, a defender will deliver a crushing hit on a receiver , jar the ball loose and stand over the fallen player, taunting him. In ice hockey, recently a N.Y Islander player went after an opponent and took a two- handed slash at him with his hockey stick. I was happy to hear that he was suspended for the rest of the season. I am happy also that the NFL imposes penalties for ‘taunting’. I wish there were ways to instill that old style sportsmanship in players but in these days of big money sports I suppose it is all but impossible.
Next: Sporsmanship… Off the Field