Home » Olga Fikotova Connolly, Olympian in a Chilly Warfare Romance, Dies at 91

Olga Fikotova Connolly, Olympian in a Chilly Warfare Romance, Dies at 91

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Olga Fikotova Connolly, who gained a gold medal in observe and discipline for Czechoslovakia within the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, watched Harold Connolly of the US win one the following day, and, in March 1957, married him because the spotlight of a storybook Chilly Warfare romance, died on April 12 in Costa Mesa, Calif. She was 91.

The trigger was breast most cancers, her daughter Merja Connolly-Freund stated. She died in her son Jim’s dwelling, the place she had been receiving hospice care, Ms. Connolly-Freund stated.

The governing physique European Athletics stated Olga Connolly had been the final dwelling feminine gold medalist from the Melbourne Video games.

Her aggressive file as a discus thrower was distinctive: 5 Olympic Video games (4 representing the US as an American citizen), 5 American championships and 4 American data. Harold Connolly, a hammer thrower from Massachusetts, competed in 4 Olympics.

However each could also be remembered most for his or her unlikely Olympic romance. As The New York Occasions recalled in 1972:

“He went to an tools shed one morning within the Olympic Village to take a look at a hammer for follow. A lovely lady discus thrower from Czechoslovakia named Olga Fikotova occurred to be within the shed on the identical time. 4 months later, they had been married.”

Attending to the purpose of exchanging vows had not been simple. Officers of Czechoslovakia’s Communist authorities had refused to permit the marriage to go ahead till Antonin Zapotocky, the president, intervened greater than three weeks after the couple had first sought permission. As Ms. Connolly instructed Radio Prague in 2008, “They had been telling me I used to be a traitor and that I used to be working round with an American fascist.”

The couple — she was 24, he was 25 — deliberate a tiny wedding ceremony in Prague, with two former Czech Olympic champions, Emil Zatopek and his spouse, Dana Ingrova Zatopkova, as witnesses. However phrase obtained out, and a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 packed the historic Previous City Sq. to see the couple.

“By some means, destiny introduced us collectively,” Olga Connolly stated, “and we discovered that though we had been from reverse or faraway corners of the world, and positively from political methods that gave the impression to be fully incompatible, that when it got here to fundamental human values and observations, we had been extraordinarily related.”

The Connollys settled in Southern California, and Olga turned a U.S. citizen. She went on to compete within the subsequent 4 Olympics — in Rome, Tokyo, Mexico Metropolis and Munich — as an American, though she didn’t win any extra medals.

She and her husband had 4 youngsters, all of them turning into athletes: Mark, a university basketball participant and briefly a boxer; Jim, an impressive decathlete and javelin thrower; and their twin daughters, Merja, a nationwide staff volleyball participant, and Nina, a gymnast.

Along with Merja and Jim, she is survived by her two different youngsters, Nina Southard and Mark Connolly, and three grandchildren. From 1959 to the early 2000s, Olga lived in Culver Metropolis, Calif. After that, she lived principally in Costa Mesa.

She had been a medical pupil whereas successful gold within the 1956 Olympics, however she by no means returned to these research. As an alternative, after her marriage, when not competing, she labored on environmental causes, turned a private coach, offered mountaineering items, lectured at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, coached discus throwers and shot-putters at Orange Coast Faculty in Costa Mesa, and supervised athletic applications for preschool youngsters and older folks.

Olga, alongside together with her husband, additionally loved a measure of superstar. She was the thriller visitor on an episode of the sport present “To Inform the Reality” in 1958, and the couple appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Present,” warmly launched by Mr. Sullivan and serenaded by Louis Armstrong.

In 1968, she wrote a ebook, “The Rings of Future,” about her romance with Connolly. And in 1997, when the US issued a collection of postage stamps honoring girls who had formed American historical past, her picture was chosen for a 10-cent stamp.

The wedding didn’t final, nonetheless. Separating after 16 years, the Connollys finalized a divorce in 1974. Olga by no means remarried, however in 1975 Harold married Pat Daniels-Winslow, a observe coach and former Olympic 800-meter runner and pentathlete. Their son, Adam, turned a nationally ranked hammer thrower. Harold Connolly died in 2010 at 79.

Olga Fikotova was born on Nov. 13, 1932, in Prague. Her father, Franticek Fikota, was a legionnaire within the Czech Military who turned a private guard of Tomas Masaryk (1850-1937), the primary president of Czechoslovakia. As a woman, when visiting her father on the job, Olga could be instructed to face erect when President Masaryk handed by on horseback.

After World Warfare II, the household moved to the Czech village of Libis. Olga’s mom, Ludmila (Uhrova) Fikotova, helped assist the household as a laborer in a chemical plant.

As a youngster, Olga participated within the Czech program of gymnastic schooling generally known as sokol. She found that she was a standout athlete.

At 5 ft 11 inches and 176 kilos, she performed on Czechoslovakia’s nationwide groups in basketball and staff handball. Two years after she took up the discus, she gained the Olympic gold medal with a throw of 53.69 meters (176 ft 1 inch).

Olga Connolly stated her proudest athletic second got here throughout the opening ceremony of the Munich Olympics, when she carried the American flag into the stadium (one-handed, simply as a Soviet heavyweight wrestler had carried out moments earlier than carrying his flag).

“Stunningly, the captains of all sports activities inside the Olympic delegation elected me to hold the flag throughout the opening ceremony,” she instructed The Baltimore Solar in 2004. “However the staff’s supervisor canceled the consequence” of the election, “reportedly due to my outspoken opposition to the conflict in Vietnam, and held one other one. Democracy prevailed. The staff elected me once more.”

To sports activities historians, nonetheless, she’ll undoubtedly be remembered foremost for the romance that many years earlier had captured the imaginations of a tense world, breaching the iron curtain and turning into front-page information. As The Occasions wrote the day after the Connollys’ wedding ceremony in 1957:

“The H-bomb overhangs us like a cloud of doom. The subway throughout rush hours is nearly not possible to endure. However Olga and Harold are in love, and the world doesn’t say no to them.”

Frank Litsky, a longtime sportswriter for The Occasions, died in 2018. Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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