Olga Fikotova Connolly, Olympian in Cold War romance, dies at 91

Olga Fikotova Connolly, who won a gold medal in athletics for Czechoslovakia at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, watched Harold Connolly of the United States win one the next day and, in March 1957, married him as the highlight of a Cold War storybook. she romance, she died on April 12 in Costa Mesa, California. She was 91 years old.

The cause was breast cancer, said her daughter Merja Connolly-Freund. She died at her son Jim's home, where she had been cared for in a hospice, Ms. Connolly-Freund said.

European Athletics' governing body said Olga Connolly was the last living women's gold medalist from the Melbourne Games.

Her competitive record as a discus thrower was outstanding: five Olympic Games (four representing the United States as an American citizen), five American championships, and four American records. Harold Connolly, a hammer thrower from Massachusetts, competed in four Olympics.

But both may be best remembered for their unlikely Olympic romance. As the New York Times recalled in 1972:

“One morning he went to an equipment shed in the Olympic Village to try out a hammer for practice. At the same time, an attractive Czechoslovakian discus thrower named Olga Fikotova was also in the shed. Four months later they got married.”

Getting to the point of exchanging vows hadn't been easy. Czechoslovakian communist government officials had refused to allow the wedding to take place until Antonin Zapotocky, the president, intervened more than three weeks after the couple had asked for permission. As Ms Connolly told Radio Prague in 2008: “They told me I was a traitor and that I was hanging out with an American fascist.”

The couple – she was 24, he was 25 – hosted a small wedding in Prague, with two former Czech Olympic champions, Emil Zatopek and his wife, Dana Ingrova Zatopkova, as witnesses. But word spread and a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 people packed the historic Old Town Square to see the couple.

“Somehow, fate brought us together,” said Olga Connolly, “and we discovered that although we came from opposite or distant corners of the world, and certainly from political systems that seemed to be completely incompatible, that when it came to values fundamental humans and observations, we were extremely similar.

The Connollys settled in Southern California and Olga became a U.S. citizen. She went on to compete in the next four Olympics—in Rome, Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich—as an American, although she did not win any more medals.

She and her husband had four children, all of whom became athletes: Mark, a college basketball player and briefly a boxer; Jim, an outstanding decathlete and javelin thrower; and their daughters, Merja, a national volleyball player, and Nina, a tennis player.

In addition to Merja and Jim, who are twins, she leaves behind two other children, Nina Southard and Mark Connolly, and three grandchildren. From 1959 to the early 2000s, she Olga lived in Culver City, California. Thereafter, she lived primarily in Costa Mesa.

She had been a medical student while she won gold at the 1956 Olympics, but never returned to those studies. Instead, after his marriage, when he wasn't competing, he was committed to environmental causes, became a personal trainer, sold mountaineering supplies, lectured at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, coached discus throwers and shot put throwers at Orange Coast College of Costa Mesa and supervised athletic programs for preschoolers and seniors.

Olga, together with her husband, also enjoyed a certain celebrity. She was the mystery guest on an episode of the television program “To Tell the Truth” in 1958, and the pair appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” warmly introduced by Mr. Sullivan and sung by Louis Armstrong.

In 1968 she wrote a book, “Rings of Destiny,” about her love affair with Connolly. And in 1997, when the United States issued a series of stamps honoring women who had shaped American history, her image was chosen for a 10-cent stamp.

The marriage, however, did not last. Separating after 16 years, the Connollys divorced in 1974. Olga never remarried, but in 1975 Harold married Pat Daniels-Winslow, an athletics coach and former Olympic 800-meter runner and pentathlete. Their son, Adam, became a nationally ranked hammer thrower. Harold Connolly died in 2010 at the age of 79.

Olga Fikotova was born on November 13, 1932 in Prague. Her father, Franticek Fikota, was a legionary in the Czech army who became the personal guard of Tomas Masaryk (1850-1937), the first president of Czechoslovakia. As a girl, when she visited her father at work, Olga was told to stand when President Masaryk rode by on horseback.

After World War II the family moved to the Czech village of Libis. Olga's mother, Ludmila (Uhrova) Fikotova, helped support the family by working as a worker at a chemical plant.

As a teenager, Olga participated in the Czech gymnastics education program known as sokol. She discovered that she was an exceptional athlete.

At 5 feet 11 inches and 176 pounds, he played on Czechoslovakia's national basketball and team handball teams. Two years after picking up the discus, she won the Olympic gold medal with a throw of 53.69 meters (176 feet 1 inch).

Olga Connolly said her proudest athletic moment came during the opening ceremony of the Munich Olympics, when she carried the American flag into the stadium (with one hand, just as a few Soviet heavyweight wrestlers had done moments before carrying his flag).

“Surprisingly, the captains of all the sports within the Olympic delegation elected me to carry the flag during the opening ceremony,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2004. “But the team manager overturned the result” of the election , “reportedly because of my open opposition to the war in Vietnam, and supported another. Democracy prevailed. The team elected me again.”

For sports historians, however, she will undoubtedly be remembered best for the love story that decades earlier had captured the imagination of a tense world, breaking through the Iron Curtain and becoming front-page news. As the Times wrote the day after the Connollys' wedding in 1957:

“The H-bomb hangs over us like a cloud of doom. The subway at rush hour is almost impossible to bear. But Olga and Harold are in love and the world won't say no to them.”

Frank LitskyA longtime Times sports reporter, he died in 2018. Alex Traub contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *