'28 Games a breakthrough for women Track and field ban ended in Amsterdam

Olympiads in review

April 07, 1996|By Bob Herzog | Bob Herzog,NEWSDAY

As part of the countdown to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a chronological look at past Olympiads is appearing

each Sunday.

Amsterdam was the site of the 1928 Summer Games and the last hurrah for Olympic legends Johnny Weissmuller and Paavo Nurmi. But, more importantly, it was the site of the first hurrah for women in track and field.

Until 1928, women participated only in archery, golf, tennis and, in 1912, swimming. Seeking to compete in the showcase of the Summer Games, track and field, women formed their own track organizations, even staging "Women's Olympics" in 1922 and 1926. When the results of these events showed creditable performances, the International Amateur Athletic Federation allowed women to compete in the 1928 Games in five events -- the 100 meters, the 800, the 400 relay, discus and high jump.

Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin, who had a worldly vision of sports, opposed the inclusion of women in track and field. So did Pope Pius XI, who criticized the decision from the Vatican. Over these objections, women competed in Amsterdam, albeit modestly dressed in shorts that came no more than four inches above the knee.

The first women's Olympic track event, the 100, was staged July 31, 1928. In a close finish, Betty Robinson, a 16-year-old high school student from Illinois, defeated Canadian favorite Fanny Rosenfeld to win the landmark gold medal. Robinson's race was short and swift, but her journey was more circuitous.

Her track career began when she was spotted sprinting to catch a train by the coach of the high school boys track team.

Several days after her historic gold, she shared a silver medal in the 400 relay, and looked forward to the 1932 Olympics, when she would be in her prime. But in 1931, she was in an airplane accident and suffered severe injuries to her arm, leg and head. She was unconscious for two months, but made a remarkable recovery. She missed the '32 Games, but continued training and two years after the accident was back competing.

Her injuries prevented her from getting into the sprinter's crouch, but she could run upright and was named to the 1936 Olympic 4 x 100 relay team. In the finals, Robinson, running the third leg, was second behind the heavily favored Germans. Amazingly, the German runner dropped the baton during the exchange, and the U.S. team and Betty Robinson grabbed the gold.

In swimming, as in track, the U.S. team saw the world catch up. Japanese swimmers won several golds and, by the 1932 Games, would lead all nations in swimming medals. But Weissmuller concluded his magnificent career with two more gold medals in the 100 and 200 freestyle events.

Fittingly, in the year that women finally were allowed to compete in the featured sports and World War I aggressor Germany returned to action side-by-side with its one-time enemies, an Olympic flame symbolizing peace was introduced. It burned for the entire Olympiad in Amsterdam, and has done so at every Olympics since.

dTC 1928 Games

Site: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Dates: May 17-Aug. 12

Men: 2,724

Women: 290

Nations: 46

Medals leaders:

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..G .. .. .S .. .. ..B .. .. ..T

United States .. ..22 .. .. .18 .. ...16 .. .. .56

Germany .. .. .. ..10 .. .. ..7 .. ...14 .. .. .31

Finland .. .. .. ...8 .. .. ..8 .. .. .9 .. .. .25

Sweden .. .. .. .. .7 .. .. ..6 .. ...12 .. .. .25

Italy .. .. .. .. ..7 .. .. ..5 .. .. .7 .. .. .19

Switzerland .. .. ..7 .. .. ..4 .. ....4 .. .. .15

France .. .. .. .. .6 .. .. .10 .. .. .5 .. .. .21

Holland .. ... .. ..6 .. .. ..9 .. .. .4 .. ....19

Hungary .. .. .. ...4 .. .. ..5 .. .. .0 .. .. ..9

Canada .. .. .. .. .4 .. .. ..4 .. .. .7 .. .. .15

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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