Avery Brundage

Avery Brundage

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Avery Brundage
Height 6'0" (183 cm)
Weight 201 lbs (91 kg)
Nationality United States
PR DT – 40.63 (1912); Dec - 5630 (1915)
Born September 28, 1887 at Detroit, MI
Died May 8, 1975 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bayern, Germany
College Univ of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Club Chicago Athletic Association

Avery Brundage (1887-1975) was an American athlete, sports official, art collector and philanthropist. He was a controversial member of the United States Olympic Committee and president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952-1972. He is the only American to hold the IOC presidency.

Brundage was born in Detroit, Michigan, but his family moved to Chicago when he was young. He attended the University of Illinois, graduating with a civil engineering degree in 1909. While in college he competed on the track & field team, winning the conference discus championship in his senior year. After college, Brundage worked as a construction superintendent in Chicago. Using borrowed money he was able to start his own construction company in 1915, an enterprise at which he was eminently successful and which made him a wealthy man.

But Brundage continued competing in track & field athletics after college. He joined the Chicago Athletic Association in 1910 and specialized in the all-around event, a 10-event competition that was a precursor to the decathlon. With his all-around talents, Brundage qualified for the 1912 U.S. Olympic team in both the decathlon and pentathlon. 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm in the pentathlon and decathlon events, finishing 6th and 16th, respectively, placing behind teammate Jim Thorpe. Later, Thorpe's amateur status was challenged and his medals rescinded. Although many people called for this injustice to be undone, Brundage blocked any proposals to restore Thorpe's medals, which were reinstated after Brundage's death. He was the first IOC President to have actually competed in the Olympic Games. Continuing to compete even after forming his own company, Brundage eventually won three national championships in the all-around – in 1914, 1916, and 1918. In 1934, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) awarded Brundage the James E. Sullivan Award.

Avery1916b.jpg When his track & field career wound down, Brundage turned to handball (the American individual version) and became one of the best individual players in Chicago. By the mid-1920s, Brundage had already made a fortune in the construction business, allowing him the freedom to pursue sports administration, and handball was the sport in which his avocation began. After working for several years with the Central Association of the AAU, he served as chairman of the national handball committee of the AAU from 1925 to 1927. In 1928 he was elected president of both the AAU (serving until the fall of 1935, except for 1933) and its Olympic arm, the American Olympic Association (AOA), the forerunner of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). He continued as President of the American Olympic Association, and its successor organizations, until his election as IOC President in 1952. He was also the first President of PASO and was involved in the creation of the Pan American Games. From 1932 to 1952, he was Vice President of the IAAF.

The debate over the proposed American boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin unexpectedly launched Brundage's IOC career. A staunch believer that sport should be kept apart from politics, Brundage took the pro-participation stance. One of the American IOC Members, Ernest Lee Jahncke, supported the boycott, which met with great disfavor from the IOC. In an extremely close vote of delegates at the AAU convention held at the Commodore Hotel in New York City in December 1935, Brundage’s point of view prevailed, and the Americans agreed to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In June 1936, Charles Sherrill, one of the other U.S. IOC Members, died. Almost concurrently, Jahncke was ousted from the IOC because of his stance in favor of boycotting the Berlin Olympics. Brundage was the obvious choice to move onto the IOC and he was confirmed at the 35th IOC Session in Berlin in July 1936. Within one year, Brundage was named to the Executive Board of the IOC. Brundage himself also took part in the 1936 Olympics, entering the art competitions, which he had also done four years earlier. At the 1936 Summer Olympics the United States relay pool included two Jewish runners, who had been selected to run based on competitive trials. The day before the race, the Jewish runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were replaced by Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, eventhough the gold medal for the US team was predicted based on the expected times of the various teams. Critics of Brundage viewed this last minute change as being antisemetic. After the 1936 Olympics, Brundage's construction company was awarded a building contract to build the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.

When IOC President Henri de Baillot-Latour died in 1942, the Sigfrid Edström from Sweeden stood in as de facto President until the end of World War II. One of his first actions was to appoint Brundage as Vice-President. Together, Edström and Brundage kept the IOC together by letters written to the members throughout the world. In 1946, at the first post-war IOC Session, Edström was chosen as IOC President by acclamation. He then appointed his friend, Avery Brundage, 1st Vice-President. In 1952, when Edström stepped down as IOC President, Avery Brundage was elected President of the IOC in a very close vote over David, Lord Burghley, of Great Britain, a former Olympic gold medalist in the 400 metre hurdles who inspired the movie Chariots of Fire.

Brundage’s term as IOC President faced many political challenges. The IOC had to resolve the questions of the two Germanies, the two Koreas, the two Chinas, the apartheid problem in sport in South Africa and Rhodesia, performance enhancing drugs, rising problems with professional encroachment on the Olympic Movement, political demonstrations by American blacks, and finally, in the last days of his term, by the horrible massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich at the 1972 Olympics. Fortunately to some and unfortunately to others, these problems were addressed almost solely by Brundage, who believed in an autocratic, one-person rule of the IOC, who had little diplomatic skills. His mores were anachronistic, paricularly with regard to women, racial equality, Jews, and amateurism.

Brundage was proud of the way in which the two Germany question was handled. Early on, the IOC was able to get the two German states to enter a combined team. But East Germany continued to press for independent representation at the Olympics and eventually this was granted. Concerning the two Koreas, Brundage also brokered a compromise in which a combined Korean team would compete, but this never occurred as the two Korean states refused to do so. Brundage never made any inroads into solving the problem of the two Chinas, leaving that situation to his successors, Lord Killanin and Juan Antonio Samaranch, who were eventually able to produce a solution.

South Africa vexed the IOC throughout Brundage's term of office. South Africa was eventually evicted from the IOC and the Olympic Movement in the 1970s because of apartheid and, in particular, its racial bias in choosing its Olympic teams. South Africa would not return to the Olympic fold until 1991, after the fall of apartheid as a political system. Similar problems confronted Brundage in regard to Rhodesia, which led to a small boycott of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Brundage was enraged by this and it later led him, during the memorial ceremony for the Israeli hostages in Munich, to compare the African boycott of Munich to the Israeli massacres, a comment so inappropriate that it evoked outrage from many and brought only contempt for Brundage from even his closest allies, including Lord Killanin, who was to succeed him as President in just six days.

Brundage believed in pure amateurism, with no possible compromise allowed. He was especially bothered by the Olympic Winter Games, in which the alpine skiiers openly flaunted advertising on their skis, and many of them were known to be closet professionals. Brundage even proposed canceling the Olympic Winter Games because of the creeping professionalism, or at least canceling the alpine skiing events, often considered the highlight of the Olympic Winter program. In 1972, he succeeded in the token banning of Austria’s Karl Schranz as a professional. Schranz was a favorite to win several medals and his ouster outraged the Austrian team, who stated that many skiiers were being paid by ski companies. Brundage commented that Schranz was the worst and refused to reinstate him. He also blocked the reinstatement of Jim Thorpe's Olympic medals. However, Brundage accepted the "shamateurism" from Eastern bloc countries, in which team members were nominally students, soldiers, or civilians working in a non-sports profession, but in reality were paid by their states to train on a full-time basis.

The IOC under Brundage was not responsive to the desire of women to have equal competitive opportunties. Nor did it address the problem of performance enhancing drugs in sports.[1][2] By the end of his term, Brundage had become the poster boy of a non-responsive leadership in the Olympic movement.

Avery Brundage stepped down as IOC President after the Munich Olympics in 1972. Shortly thereafter, he married a much younger German woman whom he had met during his Olympic travels. His hypocritical self-righteousness was revealed when it was discovered that he had fathered at least one child out of wedlock, while married to his first wife, and had never admitted it. After retirement from the IOC, he lived only a few more years, dying in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on May 7, 1975. It was revealed after his death that Brundage had been responsible for notifying the IOC of Thorpe's playing professional baseball years before resulting in Thorpe's loss of amateur status.

In 1988, Brundage was the subject of a television mini-Series King of the Olympics: The Lives and Loves of Avery Brundage where Brundage was played by David Selby.[3] His gravesite in Chicago, IL, has been the target of recent pro-Jewish vandals who painted "The People of Israel Live" in Hebrew on the grass in front of his tombstone, apparently in protest at his stated pro-Nazi sympathies, the exclusion of Jewish athletes from the US track team, and his attitude to the attack on Israelis during the 1972 Munich games.

Journalist David Maraniss described Brundage as a "Crusty Chicago businessman who ran the International Olympic Committee as his vast personal fiefdom."[1]

External links

Further reading

  • Allen Guttmann, The Games Must Go on: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement, Columbia University Press, 1984


  1. 1.0 1.1 Maraniss, David. "The Road From Rome Politics, commercialism, doping, nonstop TV coverage—it all started in 1960", Newsweek, Jul 26, 2008. Retrieved on 2009-04-14.
  2. The IOC did form a medical committee in 1961 as a start to study the problem.
  3. http://www.filmreference.com/film/85/David-Selby.html Retrieved 2009-04-14.