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The 1932 gold-medal bobsled team

March 6, 2010

One more Olympic story before we close that chapter until the games are held in Russia in 2014.

The Olympic gold medal for Steve Holcomb and his crew in Vancouver ended the long run for the gold lasting 62 years.

In 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland the U.S. 4-man bobsled piloted by Francis Tyler with Pat Martin, Edward Rimkus and Bill D'Amico on board won the gold medal. There was also a bronze won by another U.S. 4-man team and a bronze in the 2-man.

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St. Moritz had been selected for the 1948 Games because their facilities were well maintained after hosting the 1928 Games and that country had been neutral during WWII. It was not a comfortable atmosphere there in 1948. The Germans and Japanese were not allowed to compete and Russia refused to enter the competition.


Gold in Lake Placid in 1932

In Lake Placid, however, in 1932 the U.S. won gold in both the 4-man and 2-man bobsled competition.

Billy Fiske (whose full name was William Meade Lindsley (sic) Fiske III) was the driver of the 4-man sled with Eddie Eagan, Clifford Gray and Jay O'Brien, and the Stevens brothers of Lake Placid, Hubert and Curtis won the gold in the 2-man.

Bobsledding was pretty new at the time and Lake Placid had the only run in North Americabut Fiske had won the bobsled gold in 1928 in St. Mortiz when he was picked at age 16 to drive one of two U.S. sleds entered.


Why 'Bob' sleds

Following are excerpts from a story about Billy Fiske carried in Holiday magazine:

"Always a flamboyant young man, Billy named his sled Satan and outfitted his teammates with yellow turtleneck sweaters. This was the era of the five-man sled, in which the whole team was already aboard at the start. An official would release a restraining bar, and the team members would bob back and forth to generate the speed that sent them hurtling down the course.

"Billy Fiske and Jay O'Brien were fabulously wealthy; Eddie Eagan, a lawyer and Olympic boxing champion, is chairman of the new York Athletic Commission.


He says 'no' to 1936 Games

"Billy didn't want to go to Germany, according to his Lake Placid friend, Irving Jaffee, an Olympic Gold Medal speed skater. Back in 1932 after the Lake Placid Games, he told me how much he hated Adolf Hitler and that he did not want to compete in front of Hitler, and that he was glad he won in Lake Placid because that would be his last Olympics.

"Fiske hobnobbed with British royalty and was a major part of the winter social scene in St. Moritz. During the 1938 season in St. Moritz, he met the recently divorced Rose Bingham, the former Countess of Warwick. They married later that year.

"He knew the war would come soon and his marriage and athletic fame brought him in close contact with the hierarchy of Great Britain. Billy influenced friends to introduce him to Air Chief Marshall Sir William Elliot of the Royal Air Force."

His connections got him into the RAF. Hhe received high praise as a pilot and was the first American pilot to die in World War II when he was shot down. He apparently landed the crippled plane back at his base; although badly burned, some accounts claim he was sitting up in his hospital bed talking to friends but then later died of shock. America had not yet entered the war.


Visitors ride the bob run

Another magazine story said this about a ride down the run:

"In the very first winter nearly 5000 rides were taken by visitors during the three-month season from Christmas to March. Folks waited in line nearly two hours for a chance to scare ten years off their lives. People from warm sections like California, Texas and Florida would stand in freezing weather, then pay a dollar for the privilege of riding as passengers.

"The sensation is one of absolute helplessness, heart in the throat, implacable speed and a flirting with white eternity, as the big sled scoots down the icy hillside."

Well, folks, rides on the bobsled are still available. It is the thrill of a lifetime, and in my opinion, a bigger thrill than a roller-coaster but the price of a ride has gone up a bit.

Sources: The Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library & the Internet.



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