With nearly two dozen athletes with connections to the state competing in London, here is a look back at 10 of the state’s most intriguing Olympians.
By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman
Beginning with University of Washington discus thrower Gus Pope at Antwerp in 1920, athletes with ties to the state of Washington have collaborated to win 74 gold, 33 silver and 29 bronze medals in the Summer Olympic Games. Rowers affiliated with the UW’s outstanding crew program claimed the majority, but swimmers, shooters, and track and field athletes have also stood on Olympic podiums. Ten of our more interesting Olympians:
HERMAN BRIX / Track & Field
A Tacoma native (born May 19, 1906) who graduated from Stadium High School in 1924, Brix entered UW in 1925 and played left tackle for Enoch Bagshaws Huskies for three years he started in the 1926 Rose Bowl against Alabama — but gained his main athletic fame in track and field. Brix won the 1927 NCAA title in the shot put as a prelude to a post-Husky career in which he won a string of AAU championships.
Amsterdam 1928 (1 Silver): Brix set a world record with a throw of 51-0 on his first toss of the final round but then made the mistake of giving a pep talk to friend and teammate John Kruk who, inspired, beat Brixs throw by five inches to win the gold medal.
Over the next four years, Brix, representing the Los Angeles Track Club, continued to rank among the world’s best putters, setting a number of indoor and outdoor records.
The favorite to win at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, Brix suffered a separated shoulder weeks before they opened while filming a movie titled Touchdown and couldnt compete.
The injury also cost the aspiring actor, who had befriended sports enthusiast Douglas Fairbanks Jr., an opportunity to play Tarzan in the 1932 film Tarzan The Ape Man. The role went to Johnny Weismueller.
After The Olympics: Three years later (1935), Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzans creator, selected Brix as an alternative to what he considered Weismuellers objectionably crude interpretation of the character.
Brix first played the role of “Greystoke” in The New Adventures of Tarzan, and his portrayal remains the only presentation of the sophisticated English nobleman the author envisioned.
After filming Tarzan and the Green Goddess in 1938, Brix realized he had been hopelessly typecast, changed his name to Bruce Bennett, and sought (and received) non-Tarzan roles.
Brix appeared in 113 films, notably starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) as a lone-wolf gold prospector.
Brix played opposite Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Bette Davis in “A Stolen Life,” Ann Sheridan in “Nora Prentiss” and Ida Lupino in “The Man I Love.”
Brix/Bennett also acted in such clunkers as The Alligator People (1959) and The Fiend of Dope Island (1961).
Brix/Bennett lived to the age of 100 (died Feb. 27, 2007 from complications from a fall) and last caught up with the Huskies in 2001, before their date with Purdue in the Rose Bowl, when head coach Rick Neuheisel asked him to address the team. UW presented the 95-year-old Brix/Bennett with a game ball after its 34-24 win.
FIRST FROM HERE: In 1912, in an Olympics in which Jim Thorpe won the decathlon and pentathlon, UW student J. Ira Courtney became the first athlete from the Pacific Northwest to participate in the Olympics when he ran the 100 and 200-meter races in Stockholm, Sweden. He won his heats in both events, but lost in the semifinals and failed to medal.
HELENE MADISON / Swimming
Ray Daughters, who taught swimming at Crystal Pool (Second and Lenora) in downtown Seattle, first spotted Madison, then a gangly 14-year-old, as she took part in The Seattle Post Intelligencers 1927 Swim Carnival at Green Lake.
To Daughters’ eye, Madison had average technique and did little to distinguish herself from other girls her age. But Daughters liked her height (5-foot-11), her large bones and the way she naturally navigated the water. Daughters volunteered to coach her.
It took Madison nine months to win her first local race and more than a year before she set a state record. Then, in the 16½ months before the 1932 Olympics, Madison broke 16 world records at distances from 100 yards to one mile. At Daughters urging, the Washington Athletic Club funded her Olympic journey.
1932 Los Angeles (3 Golds): Madison became the most successful local athlete ever produced by Washington in a single Olympic Games (her gold medal haul has yet to be matched after 80 years ).
She set an Olympic record in the 100 freestyle (Aug. 6), a world mark in the 400 freestyle, (Aug. 11) and swam the anchor leg for the USA on the womens 4×100 relay team (Aug. 12) that set a world record in 4:38.0. Madison won the 100 by a full second.
After winning her third gold, Madison celebrated by dancing at the Coconut Grove with Clark Gable.
Upon her return to Seattle, she received a ticker-tape parade on Fourth Avenue that drew a throng estimated by Seattle police at 200,000 (see Wayback Machine: Queen Helene Madison).
After The Olympics: Madison gave up her amateur status soon after the Games when she began performing swimming exhibitions for pay. She attempted to become a Hollywood actress and a nightclub entertainer, without success.
Madison eventually returned to Seattle and, when her plans to become a nurse didnt work out, opened a swimming school at the Moore Hotel Pool, adjacent to the Moore Theater, which she operated for 13 years. Future Olympian Nancy Ramey, then a pre-teen, became her prize pupil. In 1956, Ramey won a silver medal in the 100 butterfly at the Melbourne Olympics. Two years later, she set world butterfly records at 100 and 200 meters.
Madison married and divorced twice and suffered a series of health setbacks, including two strokes. She died in virtual poverty Nov. 25, 1970.
Madison lived long enough to attend two of her Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. In 1960, she became part of the inaugural class of inductees into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame, joining Nig Borleske (football), Hiram Conibear (rowing), Gretchen Fraser (skiing) and George Wilson (UW football).
The International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted her in 1966 and, in 1992, 22 years after her death, Madison entered the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.
UW SILVER: Steve Anderson matched the world record in the 110-meter high hurdles 14.4 seconds five times during his UW track career (1928-30). At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Anderson lost the 110 highs in a photo finish to South Africas Sydney Atkinson.
JACK MEDICA / Swimming
Medica attended Lincoln High, which, before it closed in 1981, produced a remarkable array of alums, including basketball-baseball star Sammy White, College Football Foundation Hall of Fame coach Don Coryell, former Mercer Island basketball coach Ed Pepple, Northwest amateur golf star Harry Givan, 1962 Worlds Fair chairman Eddie Carlson (whose napkin sketch inspired the Space Needle), singer-actress-dancer Dorothy Provine, and Norma Zimmer, the Champagne Lady from the long-running Lawrence Welk Show.
Lincoln also produced the only swimmer in state history more prominent than Medica Helene Madison, a 1931 graduate who won three gold medals at the 1932 Games and set 117 world records during a career that made her the states first inductee into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
Medica came to prominence at UW. During his tenure, he won nine national collegiate titles, including the 220, 440 and 1,500-meter freestyle events three years in a row, set 11 world records in various strokes and distances, and won 17 national AAU crowns. Medicas nine titles stood as the NCAA record for 41 years (not broken until 1977).
In a sport of frequent record breaking, Medicas 1935 world 200-meter freestyle mark stood for nine years and his 400-meter freestyle standard set in 1934 lasted for seven.
1936 Berlin (1 Gold, 2 Silvers): Undefeated at Washington, Medica won the 400 freestyle gold and earned silver medals in the 1,500 freestyle and 4×200 freestyle relay. In the 400 meters, a race won by American Buster Crabbe four years earlier, Medica surged in the final 10 meters, clocking an Olympic record 4:44.5.
After The Olympics: Medica competed in China, Japan, New Zealand, Cuba, the Philippines and Europe. When World War II broke out, the Seattle native retired from competition and became a coach, first as a Columbia University assistant.
In 1944 Medica took over as coach of the varsity swim team at the University of Pennsylvania and remained in that position until 1958. Medica continued to teach physical education until his retirement in 1976.
At that point, Medica moved to Carson City, NV., where he died April 15, 1985 at the age of 70.
DISCUS DOMINATOR: A veteran of three Olympics, Spokane native Fortune Gordien dominated the discus for a decade during the late 1940s and early 1950s, improving the world record four times. He won three NCAA titles at the University of Minnesota (1946-48) and was AAU national champion six times. The first thrower to exceed 190 feet, Gordien won a bronze in 1948 in London and a silver in 1956 in Melbourne.
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON EIGHT / Rowing
The 1936 UW eight-oared crew included Roger Morris (bow), Charles Day (2), Gordon B. Adam (3), John G. White (4), James B. McMillen (5), George E. Hunt (6), Joseph Rantz (7), Don B. Hume (8) and Robert G. Moch (cox), and won every race it entered, including the Pacific Coast Championships, IRA Regatta and National Sprints at Princeton, NJ.
The Huskies earned the right to compete in Berlin by scoring a 1¼-length victory over Pennsylvania at the U.S. Olympic Trials (see Wayback Machine: UW Bonanza At The 1936 Olympics).
1936 Berlin (1 Gold): Seventeen crews made up the Olympic field, including Germany, the favorite. But during preliminary heats, rowing in the Husky Clipper, a shell designed by famed boat builder George Pocock, UW established a world record for 2,000 meters, clocking 6:00.8 over the Lake Grunau course.
Germany drew Lane 1 for the gold-medal race and Washington Lane 6, which had rougher water and more wind. With the locals chanting Deutschland! Deutschland!, Germany burst to the lead, followed closely by Italy. UW got off to an uncharacteristically poor start and trailed by open water at the 1,000-meter mark. But the Husky crew closed to within a length with 600 meters remaining and then picked up the pace.
The Huskies passed Britain, Switzerland, Hungary and Great Britain. Then, with about five strokes left, the Al Ulbrickson-coached crew whizzed past the Italians and Germans for the gold (margin of victory was a length and a quarter in a time of 6:24.4), infuriating race observer Adolph Hitler.
The boys won that race on courage,” said Ulbrickson. “I thought (Don) Hume was going to collapse in the last 100 meters when they lifted the beat (strokes per minute) to 40. Where he got the stuff to finish the way he did Ill never know. It was a magnificent performance.
After The Olympics: The 1936 crew entered the National Rowing Foundation Hall of Fame in 1971, and became the first UW team inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1979. All the oarsmen were charter members, along with their coach, Ulbrickson. Four members of Washingtons winning shell lived into their 90s.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Rick and Lynn Colella are the only University of Washington brother-sister combination to win medals in the Olympic Games. Lynn won a butterfly silver in 1972 and Rick a bronze in the 200 breaststroke at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
PETE RADEMACHER / Boxing
Rademacher boxed well before he became a Washington State University football and baseball letterman (1950-52). During his amateur career, he engaged in 79 fights, going 72-7. Rademacher won a series of tournaments, including the 1949, 1951, 1952, and 1953 Seattle Golden Gloves (he lost in 1950 to Zora Foley, whom he would face several times later in his career), and the U.S. Amateur Championship as a heavyweight in 1953, avenging his earlier loss to Foley.
Rademacher also captured the Chicago Golden Gloves, the All-Army championship, and the Service championship in 1956, before qualifying for the Olympic team.
Melbourne 1956 (1 Gold): Fighting in the heavyweight division, the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Rademacher knocked out three consecutive foes Czechoslovakias Josepf Nemec in two rounds, South Africas Daan Bekker in three and the Soviet Unions Lev Mukhin in one to win the gold medal.
The three consecutive knockouts constituted an Olympic rarity, in that Olympic bouts only last three rounds. Recognizing his feat, the U.S. Olympic Committee selected Rademacher to carry the American flag in the Closing Ceremony.
After The Olympics: Rademachers promoter, Jack Hurley (see Wayback Machine: Hurley & Kid Matthews) began to trumpet that his new charge could win the world heavyweight title in his first pro fight. Hurley promoted this idea so persuasively that he was able to lure defending world champion Floyd Patterson into giving Rademacher a title shot, which made Rademacher the first man to fight for the world title in his first pro bout.
The fight took place Aug. 22, 1957, at Sicks Stadium. Rademacher dropped Patterson in the second round, but Patterson recovered, knocked Rademacher down six times and claimed a sixth-round KO.
Rademacher never again fought for the heavyweight title. After compiling a 17-6 record as a pro, he became a successful salesman and patented several inventions before relocating to Akron, OH., where he became president of Kiefer-McNeil in Medina, OH. He retired in 1987.
RICHARD WAILES / Rowing
Although his father and older brother attended Washington and rowed for the Huskies, Richard “Rusty” Wailes yearned to head east when the Edmonds native graduated from Edmonds High School. He won an academic scholarship to attend Yale, where he studied engineering.
Oddly, the 6-foot-6, 194-pound Wailes had never sat in a shell or touched an oar when he joined the crew team at Yale. But all he did was wind up as one of the greatest rowers in Yale and American history.
Melbourne 1956; Rome 1960 (2 Golds): Wailes is one of the few American rowers to win two gold medals. The first came in 1956 when, in the same No. 7 seat that Dr. Benjamin Spock occupied for Yale at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, he helped led the Eli eight that took gold in Melbourne (defeated Italy by two seconds).
(Before rowing in Melbourne, Wailes received a pep talk from Spock, plus a 15-page letter of encouragement, that’s on file at the National Rowing Hall of Fame in Mystic, CT.)
Wailes graduated from Yale in 1958 (captain his senior year) after helping the varsity eight to victories in 1957 and 1958 at the Eastern Sprints and the Harvard-Yale Regatta. In 1959, Wailes returned to the Northwest and rowed for the Lake Washington Rowing Club. Teaming with Ted Nash, John Sayre and Jay Hall, the quartet won the fours without cox at the 1959 Pan American Games. The next year, at the Rome Olympics, Dan Ayrault replaced Hall, but the new quartet won a gold medal by a two-second margin over Canada.
After The Olympics: Wailes became a member of National Rowing and Yale Halls of Fame. Wailes also helped form Sing-Out-65, which became the highly popular Up With People, a worldwide, secular group that used musical performances to promote peace. Wailes association with Up With People led to a job as dean of students at Mackinac College in Michigan. Later, Wailes worked for Paccars Kenworth Truck Division as a manager.
In 2001, a reporter asked Wailes to reflect on his athletic career and he said, Anything worthwhile in life, you pay for in advance. Anything that is not worthwhile you can get in the twinkling of an eye. I have often been asked whether winning a gold medal was worth it. I have replied that I learned more about myself and my fellow men in six minutes of rowing than I did in four years at college.
Wailes, who spent his final years in Woodinville, enjoyed getting together on weekends with some of his old rowing buddies. Theyd go for a row and then breakfast. On Oct. 11, 2002, during one such row, Wailes died of a heart attack as he dipped his oar.
BARRIER BREAKER: Snohomish County native Kaye Marie Hall, who won a pair of gold medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, became the first woman to go under one minute for the 100-yard backstroke (Dec., 1967). Hall retired in 1970 after winning three gold medals in the World Student University Games in Italy. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1979.
MATT DRYKE / Shooting
Dryke grew up in Sequim,, on a 40-acre spread that his father, Chuck, once used to train hunting dogs. By the time Matt joined the U.S. Army, as an 18-year-old in 1977, he already was an accomplished sport shooter and trick-shot artist. He even appeared on the TV program Thats Incredible, and shot a round of skeet from his hip while pedaling a unicycle, hitting 24 of 25 targets.
Dryke became an Olympian for the first time in 1980, when the U.S. boycotted the Games.
1984 Los Angeles (1 Gold): Dryke had a spectacular run up to the 1984 Games, winning the 1981 Championship of the Americas with a world-record score, the 1982 World Shooting Championship, and the 1983 Pan American Games with another world record.
In the Olympics competition, a three-day event held in Chino, CA., Dryke fired at 200 clay pigeons, hitting 74 of 75 targets on each of the first two days and all 50 targets on the final day. His score of 198 out of 200 enabled him to become the first American to win the gold medal in skeet.
After The Olympics: Dryke continue to reap national and international medals for years after the 1984 Games. He won golds in skeet at the 1985 Championship of the Americas, 1986 World Shooting Championship, and 1987 Pan American Games. Dryke made the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams, finishing 24th and sixth, respectively. In the 1992 Games, one disputed miss kept him from a medal.
Dryke became a member of the World Shooting Hall of Fame in 2000 and operates Sunnydell Shooting Grounds in Sequim, a training ground for trap and skeet shooters. He also coaches Jaiden Grinnell of Port Angeles, who won the womens U.S. National Championship earlier this month and has her sights set on the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
UW OCCUPATION: When the United States captured the gold medal in womens eight at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, three former UW rowers occupied the winning boat: Kristi Norelius, Shyril OSteen and coxswain Betsy Beard. Bob Ernst, head of Washington rowing team, coached the U.S. women, capturing the top prize in the Olympics for the first time.
REBECCA TWIGG / Cycling
Few Olympic athletes won as many international medals as Twigg collected in cycling. By the time she pedaled her final mile, the Seattle native was a six-time World Champion in Individual Pursuit, the winner of 16 U.S. championship titles, and a pair of Olympic medals.
Before winning her first Olympic medal, Twigg had won world and national championships not only in track events, but in road races. During the 1980s, Twigg was Americas best-known female rider both for her great looks and brilliant mind (she skipped high school entirely and enrolled at the University of Washington at the age of 14).
Los Angeles, 1984; Barcelona, 1992; Atlanta, 1996 (1 Silver, 1 Bronze): Twigg began her career as a track cyclist, but was forced to turn to the road when only that event was chosen for the inaugural womens cycling program at the 1984 Olympics. Twigg narrowly missed a gold medal when Connie Carpenter-Phinney out-sprinted her, winning by eight inches.
Twigg retired in 1987, the reason she did not compete in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, but returned to competition in 1991, made the 1992 Olympic team and won a bronze in individual pursuit.
Twigg also made the 1996 Olympic team, but quit over a disagreement with head coach Chris Carmichael. The U.S. Cycling Federation had made a major investment in the development of a SuperBike, but Twigg refused to ride it. Her career ended in 1997 after she won another national title in pursuit.
After The Olympics: Twigg received a biology degree from UW, then enrolled at Coleman College in California, where she earned an associates degree in computer information science in just eight months. After quitting the 1996 Olympic team, Twigg largely dropped out of public view.
FIVE FLINGERS: The University of Washington has had five different athletes compete in the Olympic discus throw: Gus Pope (1920-24), Paul Jessup (1932), Borys Chambul (1976), Adam Setliff (1996-00) and Aretha Hill Thurmond (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012).
MICHELLE AKERS / Soccer
Akers grew up in the Lake Forest Park/Shoreline suburbs of Seattle, and played soccer at Shorecrest High, where she became a three-time All-America. Following graduation, Akers attended the University of Central Florida, where she was a four-time NCAA All-America.
Named CFUs Athlete of the Year in 1988-89, Akers won the Hermann Trophy (awarded annually to the nations best male and female players) in 1988, and upon graduation had her No. 10 jersey retired by the school.
Akers became a charter member of the U.S. Womens National Team in 1985 and, on Aug. 18 that year, played in the team’s first match, a 1-0 loss to Italy. On Aug. 21, Akers scored the first goal in National Team history during a 2-2 tie with Denmark. Her National Team career lasted until shortly before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, when she retired.
Atlanta, 1996 (1 Gold): Akers started all five matches for the USA, scoring a crucial tying goal on a penalty kick in a 2-1 semifinal victory over Norway. Injuries forced Akers to retire shortly before the 2000 Olympics.
After The Olympics: Akers played a key role in the USAs 1999 Womens World Cup victory. She retired as the national teams second all-time leading scorer (behind Mia Hamm) with 105 goals, 37 assists and 247 total points, including 12 goals in World Cup play.
CONCACAF named Akers its Player of the Century in 1999 and FIFA selected Akers as its Player of the Century a year later. She received a U.S. Soccer Federation Lifetime Achievement award in 2002 and entered the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
Akers started a horse rescue business, known today as Michelle Akers Sundance Horse Rescue and Outreach” in Orlando, FL. On her web site, Akers writes, This is much harder than I thought it would be as my heart is continually broken and there is way too much paperwork!
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out Davids Wayback Machine Archive. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org