The 2012 Summer Olympics kicked off a week ago today, and for the past week, we haven't been able to get enough of the Games. From Queen Elizabeth parachuting (sort of) into the opening ceremonies to Missy Franklin swimming her way to a gold medal 10 minutes after winning a semifinal heat, from the U.S. beach volleyball team of Misty May and Kerri Walsh reaching for their third consecutive gold to the weird fun of watching team handball or water polo, from the spectacular U.S. gymnastics team to Michael Phelps's record-breaking 19th (and then 20th) medal, we're hooked.
But while we enjoy the festivities and the competition, we also take a moment to remember great Olympians who've passed away. Yesterday we featured legendary boxer Smokin’ Joe Frazier
. Today, we salute a few of the other Olympic greats who have died in the past year.
Ann Curtis swam for the U.S. team in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, winning gold in the 400-meter freestyle, gold in the 4x100-meter relay and silver in the 100-meter freestyle. She was one of many athletes whose Olympic careers were delayed by World War II: the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled – for 12 long years, there were no Olympic games. But Curtis made the best of the long hiatus. While she waited, she won eight national titles and broke 18 U.S. records.
Bob Anderson represented the U.S. in fencing at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Though he finished in fifth place, he went on to a brilliant fencing career… Not something you hear everyday but Anderson made it happen by becoming a cinematic sword fighter in Hollywood. As a sword master and fencing coach, he was responsible for the awesome swordsmanship in movies like The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers, and the Star Wars series - and he even served as Darth Vader’s light saber stunt double, performing much of Vader’s light saber work.
Jack Davis also competed in Helsinki in 1952, taking home the silver in the 110-meter hurdles in a photo finish. He took silver again in 1956 in Melbourne, in yet another photo finish. That same year Davis set a world record at the national Amateur Athletic Union championships, and for many years he was ranked as the world's best hurdler. Davis was a member of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame, and he helped found the United States Olympic Training Center.
Murray Rose was an Australian swimmer who gained Olympic glory in his home country, winning three gold medals at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. Just 17 years old, he became the youngest person to win three gold medals at one Olympics – and he became an Australian hero, receiving adulation and movie offers. Though he appeared in a few films and TV shows, his greatest legacy remains his contributions to swimming. During his career he broke 15 world records, won three more medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and worked with The Rainbow Club teaching disabled children how to swim.
Bob Boozer was selected by the Cincinnati Royals in the 1959 NBA draft, but he put off his professional career to be part of the gold medal-winning basketball team at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The spectacular U.S. team won eight games – by an average of 42.4 points a game – and was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. After his Olympic win, Boozer came back to the Royals, then went on to play with the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics, and finally Milwaukee where, in his final season as a pro, he was part of the NBA championship-winning Bucks.
Teófilo Stevenson has been described as Cuba's greatest boxer, and his Olympic record makes that easy to believe. Stevenson is one of just three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals – he took his in Munich in 1972, Montreal in 1976, and Moscow in 1980. He was poised to make a run for a fourth gold in 1984 until the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles games, and communist Cuba followed suit. Fans dreamed of a professional career for Stevenson, envisioning spectacular bouts with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but Cuba wanted him to retain his amateur status. Stevenson agreed with the decision: "I prefer the affection of 8 million Cubans."
Leroy Walker coached the U.S. track team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, guiding them to 22 medals, six of them gold. It was an impressive feat, but it's made all the more memorable by the fact that in 1976, Walker became the first black man to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic team. He went on to lead the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1992 to 1996, guiding Atlanta to its year hosting the games and overseeing the selection of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Even with his success as an administrator, he best liked the role of coach: "When you call me [coach], it means you're my friend."
Grete Waitz won the silver medal in the marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, her third Olympics – and the only time she medaled in the Olympics. But her career as a marathoner was impressive long before she earned that silver medal. When Waitz ran her first marathon in 1978, she was expected to be an early pacesetter who would flag as the race went on – after all, she was a champion at shorter races, but the marathon is grueling. Rather than tiring early, Waitz won the marathon… and she set a women's world record in the process.
Mark Lenzi was once a wrestler, but he found his niche when, inspired by Olympic champion Greg Louganis, he switched to diving. His skill in the sport took him to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where he won gold on the three-meter board. He competed again in Atlanta at the 1996 Olympics, taking bronze. In fact, he was the last American man to medal in diving until just three days ago, when David Boudia and Nicholas McCrory won bronze in synchronized 10-meter platform diving. We think Lenzi, in the true Olympic spirit, would have applauded the young athletes who broke his streak.
Written by Linnea Crowther