When 'train'ing helped Betty

Chasing trains could be risky, but IT could bring world records too! As it did for Betty Robinson, the youngest women’s 100m champion at the Olympics, who set the world record at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.

Published : Jul 28, 2016 22:25 IST

Betty Robinson, the 1928 Olympic 100 m champion, survived a near-fatal plane crash, to return to the Games in Berlin in 1936 and help quartet win the 4X100 m gold.
Betty Robinson, the 1928 Olympic 100 m champion, survived a near-fatal plane crash, to return to the Games in Berlin in 1936 and help quartet win the 4X100 m gold.

Betty Robinson, the 1928 Olympic 100 m champion, survived a near-fatal plane crash, to return to the Games in Berlin in 1936 and help quartet win the 4X100 m gold.

She was spotted running after a train by her school teacher, who advised the girl to try out her speed on the track instead. And in only her second competitive 100m race, American Betty Robinson broke the world record in an unofficial time.

The 1928 Olympics was only months away, and when the inexperienced Robinson arrived in Amsterdam, where women were allowed to compete in track events for the first time, she was far from overawed by the big stage. With two runners disqualified after a series of false starts, the six-woman final, which was just Robinson’s fourth competitive race, turned out to be a battle between four sprinters.

Robinson, 16 then, was a foot ahead of Canadians Bobbie Rosenfeld and Ethel Smith, as she won in a world record time of 12.2s. She is still the youngest women’s 100m champion at the Olympics.


Three years later, Robinson was given up for dead after she was severely injured in a plane crash. Her ‘body’ was placed in the trunk of a car and taken to the undertakers, where, fortunately, she was found to be alive.

Robinson had suffered a broken leg, a crushed arm and severe concussion; she remained in coma for seven months. But the determined girl recovered and by 1936, she was back at the Olympics in Berlin. She could not run the 100m as Robinson was unable to kneel down for the start. She, however, ran the relay and helped the US quartet win the 4x100m gold in an impressive performance.


Football was a popular sport at the Olympics, and this made the sport’s world body, FIFA, conduct its own world championship in 1930, when the first World Cup was played in Uruguay. But unlike American football, it was not a popular sport in the US, and the FIFA and the International Olympic Committee also could not reach an agreement on the status of amateur players. So, football was dropped from the 1932 Olympics.


Jesse Owens would only have won three gold medals had the Americans run their original 4x100-yard relay team.

Sam Stoller, who had defeated Owens at the 1931 Ohio High School 100-yard dash, and fellow Jewish-American Marty Glickman — the third fastest man in the US — were selected to run alongside Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff. However, on the day of the heats, the relay team’s seven members were told at a meeting that there were rumours of a secret German team being lined up to shock the Americans, who had appeared to be the favourites earlier.

The coaches told Stoller and Glickman that they would be dropped and that Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, virtually the two fastest men in the world, would take their place.

Owens protested but was ordered to run the relay. No secret German team came; the Americans won by 15 yards, while host, Germany, came third. And Stoller and Glickman were left shattered.


Adolf Hitler badly wanted to see him run in Berlin, but the athlete virtually said no. Robert Rodenkirchen, born in Cologne in Germany, had moved with his family to the US when he was nine. At 19, he broke the 200m world record, clocking 21s, at the US Olympic trials.

Unfortunately, Rodenkirchen had not fulfilled all the conditions to become an American citizen — he had applied for his first papers but not his second — and news came in that he would be dropped from the US team.

A few days later, the German Ambassador to the US came to Rodenkirchen’s house with a letter from Hitler.

It requested the athlete to run for Germany. But Rodenkirchen, whose family had hated the changes happening in Germany and moved to the US, told the German Ambassador, “If I can’t run for the US, I won’t run for anyone. I won’t run for Germany.”


Imagine Usain Bolt running and winning the marathon one day! Well, Greta Andersen did something of that sort in the swimming pool.

A gold medal winner in the 100m freestyle at the 1948 Games in London, the Danish swimmer set a world record for the 100 yards event in 1949, a record she held until 1956.

But shortly after the 1952 Olympics, the freestyle sprinter began focusing on distance events and later became one of the world’s best-known marathon swimmers.

She set a world record for swimming 10 miles in California and then a 25-mile event. She also clocked the fastest time for swimming the English Channel in either direction.


Liz Hartel’s scores would have helped her qualify for the 1948 Olympics in equestrian, but unfortunately, women were not allowed to compete in the sport then. And when they were allowed to compete, in Helsinki in 1952, they could compete alongside men in mixed events.

Hartel was so good that she won the silver medal in dressage, the first-ever woman to do so.

The Dane was no ordinary lady. She was paralysed below her knees and had to be carried up and down her horse. It must have been a very touching moment when Sweden’s Henry Saint Cyr, the gold medal winner in the event, carried Hartel from her horse to the Olympic podium.


Britain’s walker Don Thompson knew that Rome would be unbearably hot and humid during the 50 km event. So he came up with a nice plan. He filled his bathroom with heaters and boiling kettles and exercised there.

“I stuffed towels around the door and window, brought in a Valor stove and steaming pots and kettles of water, then turned the wall-heater full,” he said years later. The trick worked; he won the gold in the 1960 Games.

British athlete Don Thompson leading in the 50 km walk at the Rome Olympics. He won the gold medal. He had trained for the event by creating a steam-room effect in his bathroom.

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