1928 Olympian Recalls How It Was
BRAINTREE, MASS. — MILDRED WILEY DEE still has the cloth bearing the number 26 that was pinned to her uniform at the Olympics in 1928. And she still has a host of Olympic memories to go along with it.
"They almost disqualifed me because they said my shorts were too short," she recalls with a grin, "and look at what they wear nowadays." Mrs. Dee, who won the bronze medal in the women's running high jump, says she was always rolling her shorts up.
"I wanted them out of my way," she explains. The questionable shorts came to mid-thigh, according to the tall native of Wollaston, Mass.
The ninth Olympic Games were held in Amsterdam when Dee attended in 1928 - the first year women's track and field events were included. She was the United States' indoor and outdoor champion in the women's running high jump that year.
Dee's jumping career began at her home near the beach. "I'd come in from swimming and we had a little hedge there and I used to hop over it," says Dee. When she was in her early 20s, her swimming coach, who also coached track, got her involved in the high jump.
Three years and several record-breaking jumps later, she was headed to the Amsterdam Olympics with 268 other US athletes.
The steamship President Roosevelt carried the athletes across the ocean and, says Dee, the man who "had charge of us" was none other than Maj.-Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then chairman of the US Olympic Committee.
"There was training on board ship," recalls Dee. Boxers, gymnasts, wrestlers, swimmers, fencers, and runners practiced during the nine-day journey. Training for her event would have been difficult: "How can you practice high jump on a ship when you're [moving] up and down?" she asks.
In Holland, the American athletes were greeted with an unexpected reminder of home. "When we were sailing up the canal to Amsterdam," Dee recalls, "a US destroyer was coming out. As they passed us, their band played `The Star Spangled Banner' and they all stood at attention. There wasn't a dry eye on our ship."
With the words "American Olympic Teams" painted boldly on its side, the ship was a hotel for the athletes. Because they lived and ate most of their meals on the ship, they met few of the athletes from other countries until they competed, Dee says.
The high jump has changed over the years, notes Dee. "In my day, we did the scissors jump, and not this dive that they do today," she says.
In the Olympics, each jumper may try up to three times to clear the bar at each height. Dee took three tries to reach the bronze-medal height of 5 feet, 1 1/4 inches. Gold-medalist Ethel Catherwood of Canada jumped 5 feet, 2 1/2 inches. (The women's Olympic high-jump record today is 6 feet, 8 inches.)
Receiving a medal in Amsterdam was a royal occasion. Dee explains: "The first-place medals the queen of Holland gave out, and the second-[place] medals her consort, the prince, gave out ... and it was the head of the Olympic Committee then who gave out my medal - the third-place medals."
"We walked up on the platform where the queen was - they didn't have a podium, then - but the flag was flown and the anthems were played," she says.
Sixty-four years later, Dee says that participating in the Olympics gave her great satisfaction. Even though she says the Games have become too commercialized, she still tunes in.
"I'm glued to the television," says Dee. "I watch every minute of it - Winter Olympics and Summer," she says.