Olympic Days

olyWhat a great Olympic Games. London certainly came up trumps and our very own team Ireland were magnificent. I first became interested in the Olympics when my mother bought me The History of the 1948 Games in Craddock’s bookshop in Harcourt Road. It cost her ten shillings, a pretty big sum then as the Evening Herald and Evening Mail cost just a penny.

In those far-off days, around 1950, my schoolboy pal Jim Bolger and I were drinking a pint of buttermilk in Josie Ward’s shop (in those days most Dublin dairies sold buttermilk, it was a penny a pint).

Josie Ward had two shops then, one at Kelly’s Corner and another beside the Bleeding Horse Pub. She was a much older woman and was telling us about her two-week holiday in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics. She was twenty in 1936 and travelled by boat and a two-day train journey (no Ryanair back then, folks).

Everything Josie told us was in colour. She described the thousands of Olympic flags and the Nazi flags, the big beautiful buildings, the clean streets, everything perfect, the lovely people – all the girls were gorgeous, of course, with their cool linen dresses, their lightly perfumed hair and white teeth. As for the men, they were perfect in their lovely uniforms, shiny boots, tanned skin and, of course, pearly teeth.

At this stage, three much older women were shopping and were hanging onto every word Josie said. When I asked Josie about Jesse Owens’ four medal wins one old dear said, “Don’t listen to Noel, Josie, tell us about the lovely men in their shiny boots and pearly teeth,” at this we knew the magic was gone so Jim and I made a hasty exit!

The 1936 games were a great success for the despot Hitler and his gang. It was the first but not the last Olympics to have intriguing scandalous politics, for example: the three medal winners in the Women’s 100 metres were all men posing as women.

Some twenty years later, the sham finalists Helen Stephens and Kathe Krauss admitted they were men, however, Stella Walsh aka ‘Stella the Fella’ denied this. When Stella Walsh was shot dead in a bank robbery many years later the FBI autopsy showed that Stella was indeed a man!

Another great scandal was US swimmer Eleanor Holm, who was caught every morning climbing out of the tarpaulin-covered lifeboats with various male athletes. Chef De Mission Avery Brundage was informed and dismissed her from team USA. She was sent home on the next ship.

On arriving home, Eleanor told the US media, “I love men, parties and champagne.” Eleanor Holm ended up in Hollywood, and made some ‘B’ movies, including Tarzan’s Revenge with a fellow swimmer, Glen Morris. They all bombed at the box office.

oly2Eleanor retained her flirtatiousness even into old age. As recently as 1999, at a White House reception she sidled up to Bill Clinton and said, “Hey Mr. President, you’re a really good-looking dude.”

Aside from the above, the Berlin Games were a great success, with many records broken by super athletes, not forgetting the immortal Jesse Owens, who was voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

I would like to dedicate this article to my boyhood friend Jim Bolger, who I have been told died recently. To add to my chagrin, I have also just learned that my grandson Conor Twamley and Jim’s grandson Paul Bolger play rugby with St. Mary’s R.F.C. in Templeogue and I never made the connection.

I have great memories of Jim, our time spent in the Princess and Stella cinemas in Rathmines, the cricket practice in Leinster Cricket Club on Mount Pleasant Avenue and the many days we all played ‘Ice Hockey’ with hurleys on frozen Portobello Harbour in that horrific, bitter winter of 1947.

I would like to close my eyes now and dream of those innocent and happy days when we were all young and that day around 1950 in Josie Ward’s shop listening to Josie’s tales of lost Berlin and those lovely Berlin belles with their cologne-scented hair and pearly teeth. Oh I forgot Josie, please give Jim and I two more pints of your cool buttermilk, ah yes, dream on Noel, dream on.

By Noel Twamlet