Jim Dunaway has been the editor of American Track & Field for the past four years, and also the editor of Athletes Only. He is, in my mind, a great editor and my mentor. I have known him for twenty five years. This coming trip to Beijing will be his fourteenth credentialed Olympics as a sports specific writer. This is a record that Jim is quite proud of.
Jim is a sight to behold at a track meet. His love of the sport is obvious and he takes the craft of writing just as serious. His writing is clean, thoughtful and well researched. I am lucky enough to consider James a good friend. As cantankerous as he can be, especially after fifteen or so days writing in an Olympic venue, James has always been there when a good friend is needed. For that, I continue to be thankful for his comments and his thoughts.
On Sunday, in the Austin Statesmen, a feature will be printed on James, we have provided the link: http://www.statesman.com/
The real treat comes from Walt Murphy, who as part of his Walt Murphy News Service, asked James to write a piece about his first Olympics, the 1956 Games, held in Melbourne, Australia. I hope that you enjoy this piece. Walt’s comments on his friend, James are touching about a man who loves our sport and celebrates the great moments with his friends.
Walt Murphy’s News and Results Service
(c)Copyright 2006-all rights reserved. May not be reprinted or retransmitted without permission.
(From Walt Murphy–To coincide with my look at the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Olympic Games, I asked Jim Dunaway to share the tale of his trip to the first of the 13 consecutive Summer Games (including the 1980 â€œBoycottâ€ Games in Moscow) he has covered as a journalist. In addition to the Olympics, Jim has also covered all ten (now 11) World Outdoor Championships, almost 50 NCAA Outdoor Championships, all but two or three U.S. Outdoor Championships over the same period, and various World Cups, European Championships, World Indoor Championships — and literally hundreds of invitationals, relays, and conference championships, indoors and out, far too many to count. He has been a contributor to Track and Field News for almost 50 years, written many stories for the NY Times, and has worked tirelessly to improve working conditions for journalists in pressboxes throughout the U.S.
Iâ€™ve considered Jim my mentor for many years, both as a writer and also as a TV â€œconsultantâ€, a role he filled with ABC at the 1968-1972-1976-1984 Games and with NBCâ€™s Triplecast at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. His story is a long one, but one well worth reading by any fan of the sport who has traveled some distance to a meet or who shares Jimâ€™s philosophy–â€œTo paraphrase Will Rogers, â€˜I never met a track meet I didn’t likeâ€™”.)
Fantastic Voyage (My Trip to the 1956 Olympics)
by Jim Dunaway
Early in 1956, I was working as a copywriter at Leo Burnett Company, a Chicago
advertising agency. I had been thinking about going to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but
the Cold War was getting pretty hot, and I thought that by 1960 there might not be any
Olympics, or even any world.
So I decided to take a shot at Melbourne. I had a couple of thousand dollars saved up,
and I had an idea for a way that I might earn some money at the Games, as a journalist.
My idea was to cover the Games for newspapers which had a local athlete competing in
Melbourne, but wasn’t going to send one of their own reporters.
[You have to remember that the Olympics were nowhere as big a deal as they have become
since the advent of television. For example, there were only 70 press spots reserved for
Americans in Melbourne. Only a few American papers had anyone there to cover the Games
and those that did sent just one].
So I called up the U.S. Olympic Committee, then based in Chicago, and made an
appointment to see Kenneth L. “Tug” Wilson, who was then the executive secretary
of the USOC. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said something like “That’s a good
idea!” and right then and there I was approved for accreditation.
Shortly after that, the men’s U.S. Olympic Trials were held in Los Angeles, with the top
three in each event making the team. When the list was published, it included their home
towns, and I looked up the newspapers for each one. Then I wrote a letter to the sports
editor of 34 different papers.
There was one problem: I had never written a news story in my life. On the other hand,
those sports editors didn’t know that. I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to do the
job, but I didn’t want to lie about my qualifications. And I had learned a lot about selling
things while writing ads.
So I got a letterhead printed up that looked like I was a freelance journalist, with a corny
type face called Cheltenham Bold, and called myself “Hometown Features,” which
actually was a pretty good description of what I intended to do.
Then I wrote a letter which made it sound like I had been writing about sports for years.
I didn’t ever say I was an experienced sports writer, I just made the letter sound like I
knew what I was doing. To the sports editor of the Valley Morning News of San Benito,
Texas, it went like this:
“Dear Mr. Soandso,
How would you like to get complete, low-cost coverage of Bobby Morrow’s Olympic
performance in the Olympic Games — direct from Melbourne?
Hometown Features will be there, officially accredited by the U.S. Olympic Committee,
and our package of four stories will cover Bobby from the moment he lands in Melbourne
till the finish of his last race.”
Then I went on and outlined what the stories were going to cover in enough detail so that
the editor could envision how he could use the stories in his paper, told him what the
price would be and so on, and enclosed an order form and a return envelope.
I guess my sales letter was convincing, because nobody questioned my writing skills. In
fact, one of the five papers I ended up working for actually wrote to say they’d agree to my
proposal only if I were personally doing the coverage and not one of my employees!
By that time, I’d decided that if I were going to go halfway around the world to Australia,
I might as well come back via Asia, Africa and Europe and see for myself that the world
really is round. So one day in late July 1956, I walked into my boss’ office and said, “I’d like
to take a year’s leave of absence, starting September first.”
This was the 1950s, and nobody had ever asked for a year’s leave of absence before. Most of
the people at the agency thought I was crazy. But they eventually said, “Okay,” and
I started packing.
I had one advantage over most travelers. My father worked for Texaco, and he managed to
get me a free ride to Australia on a couple of oil tankers. So on September 1, Doug Stuart and I
got into a driveaway car and headed for San Francisco via the fabled Route 66. Doug was an
Australian high jumper (6-8 1/4) who attended Michigan State, and he needed to get home to
try out for the Australian Olympic team.
We checked in at the Texaco office in San Francisco, and a few days later we boarded
the Margaret Onstad, a Norwegian tanker chartered by Texaco to transport Indonesian
crude oil to California, and then deadhead back to Sumatra, where the crude was produced.
Lucky us! Doug and I were put in the owner’s cabin, where we had real beds and a real
bathroom. We ate our meals with the captain, the first mate, and the chief engineer, all
Norwegians, as was the crew. The captain was Nick Dahl, who had first gone to sea as a
12-year-old and worked his way up while continuing to go to school. He was also a member
of the famous Bislett Club of Oslo, and he knew a lot about track and field. Outside of a few
students I had known, and athletes like Doug and Kevan Gosper of Michigan State, these
were the first “foreigners” I’d ever met, and while the Norwegians were courteous and
friendly, they regarded the United States as a sort of â€œ800-pound gorillaâ€.
We sailed across the Pacific non-stop to Sumatra. What I remember best about the trip
was lying at the bow and sunbathing while watching the flying fish scoot
along and above the ocean surface as we cut through the water. It was a very peaceful
We cut through the Philippines just north of Mindanao and into the South China Sea. Two or
three times we passed small islands, with beautiful beaches and palm trees, looking just
like the kind of island in everyone’s dreams. I wished we could have stopped and gone
ashore for a couple of hours.
We turned the corner south of Singapore, and anchored in an inlet called Sungai Pakning.
Doug headed to Singapore, where he would fly to Sydney and try to qualify for the Games
without success (those three weeks on the tanker with no place to train were too much to
overcome). I said goodbye, and soon found myself in a village of a few hundred houses
which, in spite of the jungle all around it, looked like an American suburb. Almost all
the people who lived there were American oilmen and their families, and they had
brought their environment with them, swimming pool and all. They were even working
on building a nine-hole golf course.
One Texaco man I met there was Ross Nichols, who finished 5th in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympic Trials. The oil was amazing. It was so close to the surface, and the ground was so soft, that you could actually see the rotary drill slowly going down.
After a couple of weeks, I caught an Australia-bound tanker bound for Sydney, with
British officers and a crew from Goa(a state in India). It was at the time of the Suez War, and then the Hungarian Revolution, and I kept up with the news bulletins from the radioman and wondered if there would be any Olympics by the time I got to Melbourne. I also learned to play darts.
The tanker docked in Botany Bay, a few hundred yards from the spot where Captain
Cook first landed and laid claim to Australia for Great Britain. A day or two later I took
a train to Melbourne. It’s easy to remember the date — November 5 — because it was Guy Fawkes Day and that night as we sped through the countryside there were many bonfires.
The next day, I picked up my press credential in Melbourne. I found a room above
a pub called Young and Jackson, amazingly a short walk from the Melbourne Cricket
Grounds, the main Olympic Stadium, known as the MCG.
A word about Young and Jackson. I had stumbled on to the most famous pub in
Melbourne, and maybe in Australia. By law, any place that served drinks had to have
rooms for guests, but most Melbourneans thought of Y&J as just a place to drink and
were surprised when I told them I was staying there.
Young and Jackson was famous because behind the main bar was a huge painting of
a nude called “Chloe.” Australian beer was (and may still be) a lot stronger than
American beer, and Australians drank a lot of it. And because the pub was just
across the street from the main railroad station, a lot of commuters would stop in
for a beer or two after work.
Australia was in many ways still very Victorian, and one of the ways was that the pubs
had to stop serving at 6 p.m. After that, the customers had 15 minutes to finish their
drinks before the bartender said, “Time, gentlemen!” So, many of the customers
would order several beers just before 6:00 — as many as eight or ten — and then
proceed to polish them off in 15 minutes before staggering across the street to
take the train home.
My press credential was a badge — a bronze oval shaped like a track with a ribbon
that said “Press.” With it, I could go anywhere. The trams and busses were free,
the training and competition venues were open to me, I could walk into the Olympic
village at any hour of the day or night as long as I had my badge.
Australians love to gamble. As the saying goes, if there are two flies on a wall, they
will bet on which one will move first. I found this out a few days after I arrived, on
the day of a horse race called the Melbourne Cup. It’s like the Kentucky Derby, only
multiplied by twenty. I was on a tram that afternoon, and suddenly the tram stopped
in the middle of a block, and everybody trooped into a pub to listen to the Cup on
the radio. After the race was over — and some money changed hands — we all got back
on the tram and off it went.
There was a practice track not far from the MCG, and quite a few times I went there
to watch Kevan Gosper and Chris Brasher, among others, train. The head starter of
the Games, Julius “Judy” Patching, spent hours there helping sprinters from many
countries practice their starts. A real gentleman.
The most popular practice track was just outside the Village. There, one could not
only watch the athletes train, but get into conversation with them. I spent several
hours with Lee Calhoun (I was covering him for the Gary (Indiana) Post-Tribune)
watching him work out and chatting with him about hurdling and sprinting. Once
I joined a group clustered around Emil Zatopek; he was amazingly relaxed as he
cracked jokes and talked about his training for the Olympic marathon.
I was also covering a couple of basketball players for the Oklahoma City Times and
the Amarillo News-Globe, and I would watch them practicing and then go eat with
them in the Olympic Village dining hall.
There were several pre-Olympic track meets. They were really needed because most
of the athletes were from the Northern Hemisphere and hadn’t competed for several
months, to say nothing of having traveled thousands of miles to get to Australia.
On November 10 I rode a train with some of the American team to a meet at
Puckapunyal Army Base; I had a long conversation with Bill Dellinger (a junior at
Oregon), and another with Parry O’Brien, who 10 days earlier in Los Angeles had
raised his shot put world record to 63-2.
A few days later, there was a meet near Melbourne in Geelong, John Landy’s home
town. He didn’t run, but there was a terrific two-mile, won by Chris Brasher (later
to win the Olympic steeplechase) in 8:45.2, with American Phil Coleman second
in a national record of 8:47.8. On November 17, there was a meet at Bendigo, a
country town, where Jack Davis beat Lee Calhoun by two meters with a stunning
13.3 high hurdles time. After the meet the ladies of the town served all the athletes
and most of the spectators in a big hall with long tables and lots of home-cooked
foodâ€¦real old-fashioned country hospitality.
One pre-Games moment sticks in my memory. It was when I got Lee Calhoun to
come to the Olympic pool and introduced him to diver Jeanne Stunyo. They were
both from Gary, but had never met. I took a picture of Jeanne leaning down from
the diving board as Lee reached up, and sent it to the Post-Tribune. The paper got
their money’s worth from those two. Lee won the gold in the 110-meter hurdles
and Jeanne took the silver in springboard diving.
Finally, the Games began. I don’t really care much for parades, but the opening
ceremony was something special — elegant in its simplicity. It began with a band
playing as the athletes marched in, country by country, and then stood behind their
flags in the infield. After a couple of two-minute speeches, the band played the
Olympic hymn, world record holder John Landy (3:58.0) took the Olympic oath
in the name of all the athletes, and an 18-year-old Aussie athlete named Ron Clarke
ran into the stadium with the Olympic torch, ran around the track holding it high,
and then climbed the stadium steps to light the flame. Prince Philip said, “I now
declare open these Games of the Sixteenth Olympiad of the modern era,” and
everybody cheered. Then the athletes marched out as the band played.
That was it. No folk dancing. No mass calisthenics. No spectacular pageant
recounting the glorious history of the host nation.
Just the athletes.
I remember thinking that this was the first parade I’d ever really enjoyed.
In the days before the Games I’d already written articles on each of the athletes I
was covering. The first was about their arrival in Melbourne and life in the Olympic
Village, and the second was about how they were training. As the competition
began, my third and fourth articles were written about each athlete’s prospects and
I was typing like a maniac on my old Royal portable. I wrote more than 30 stories
in three or four weeks. I wish I had saved them, or the clips.
The Olympic Stadium had originally been built for cricket, hence its name,
the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, or MCG. It held more than 100,000, and despite
the fact that there were less than 15 million Australians, they pretty much filled it
every day of the Games.
The ‘press stand” was the only part of the stadium which was covered. It was the
part of the MCG which was ordinarily reserved for members of the Club. Not only did
the press have the best seats in the house — right on the finish line — but just
behind us was a cozy little members bar, which for the Games was the press bar,
where we could get cold Australian beer and delicious sandwiches. And when
there was too much action to leave our seats (there was no TV, remember), young
vendors came around frequently with delicious hot meat pies.
I don’t remember all the reporters I met there, but they all treated me as an equal,
probably because while they knew a lot more about journalism than I did, I could
hold my own about track and field. I remember once being on a taxi ride with
Jesse Abramson of the New York Herald Tribune, Allison Danzig of The New York Times, and John Lardner of Newsweek(Many T&F writing awards are named after Abramson). We must have been going to some non-track event, or to a restaurant. Cordner and Bert Nelson I knew from Track Field News. Others I became friends with included Mary Snow and Roy Terrell of Sports Illustrated (Roy later became the editor), and Milton Marmor of the Associated Press, the only reporter present when Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile.
There was no instant replay or big-screen TV. If you wanted to know what happened,
you had to watch — and watch closely — and take notes before it all became a blur in
your mind. Results were announced on the scoreboard, and you better write them
down in your program, just like the paying customers, because the results weren’t
printed up and handed out to the press as they are today.
Outside of an excellent team brochure put out by the USOC, you had to supply your
own information, your own stats, your own biographical data. The only person there
who was fully equipped to cover the Olympic was Jesse(Abramson). He had it all in his head.
It was an exciting month.
When it was over, I traveled around Australia for two months, then went
through 23 other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe before finally arriving
back in the United States on another Texaco tanker which landed me in
‘Copyright, James Dunaway, 2006’
Courtesy of Walt Murphy News Service