Kilgour claims bronze
Olympic Medal Men—an 8-part series
OLYMPIAN, written by Dr Basil Ince, was published in 2011. The book examines, in detail, the history of Trinidad and Tobago's Olympic participation. Included in OLYMPIAN are profiles of the country's eight individual Olympic medallists, between 1948 and 2008. Between July 17 and August 9, excerpts from those eight profiles are being featured in the pages of the Trinidad Express.
The profiles, in their entirety, are being published on the Express website (http://www.trinidadexpress.com/olympics).
Today, we feature weightlifter Lennox Kilgour. He earned bronze at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland.
The question of financial assistance for athletes preparing for international competition is one that has received considerable attention worldwide. During the Cold War years, international sports became virtually a "war without weapons," and the Olympics were usually the focus of such international competition.
The intense competition between the Soviet Union and the United States emanated from the desire of these countries to proclaim the superiority of their political and socioeconomic systems. This behaviour explains the unofficial tallying of medals once the Soviet Union entered the Games in 1952. It is in this context that one can understand countries doing their best to assist their athletes.
Trinidad and Tobago was not isolated from the Cold War, and many Trinbago athletes, especially those based in the United States from the seventies onward, caught the mood of the times. Some of them demanded as much financial aid as possible to assist them with their expenses, especially during the summer months preceding the games.
Nineteen fifty-two was the year the Soviet Union re-entered the Games, and the mood that later characterised the seventies was non-existent in Trinbago at that time. Generally all athletes preparing for the Olympics faced the expense of preparation. In Trinidad and Tobago, it was a case of getting time off from work to train assiduously.
Take the case of Lennox Kilgour in 1952. His situation is not singular but epitomises the position of many athletes at home and abroad.
In 1952 he was employed at the Port Services where he worked from 7 am to 4 pm. He trained after work and returned to the job at 6 pm. Because the pipes that were being loaded into the gondolas had to reach the oil fields in the South by 7 o'clock in the morning, his job was to supervise the operation until it was completed, usually in the early morning.
The money earned from the extra hours was spent on dietary supplements, which also led to the loss of sleep. Kilgour regarded those days as a "wonderful experience". Lest one believes that experiences of this nature occur only in the Third World, the case of Vince Matthews, the US gold medallist in the 400m at the 1972 Olympics demonstrates that it is not much different. He recalls in his book, My Race Be Won (1974), that many evenings after working late he would have to climb over the wall to gain entry to the Boys High School track in Brooklyn to train.
Triumph in adversity makes the victory much more rewarding. Lennox talked about the use of vitamins as dietary supplements. What sort of diet did he follow? "In those days," he explained, "we the weightlifters were guided by what we read in Health and Strength. That is milk, ice cream…we used a lot of figs, oranges, fruits on the whole and that was it…Supplements I could remember taking were things like cod liver oil and malt. I could not afford steak but I ate well." In other words, when Kilgour ate 'well' that meant that he ate what his money could buy. Whether it was the most appropriate diet is open to question.
There was the usual uncertainty about funds for the 1952 Olympic Games and it did not end until close to departure time. As Gour explained, "we got on the team the night before we went on the plane. Mr. L.C. Hannays was then on the Legislative Council arguing for funds. Our bags were packed but up to the night before, we were not sure he would get the funds."
The uncertainty and the nagging doubts of leaving for the Games made the actual leaving a dream.
"That morning at 7 o'clock, when we were about to leave Freddie Mendes came to my home at 21-23 Tragarete Road, and asked me if I was ready. My bags were packed and I accompanied him to Piarco where we met Rodney Wilkes. We then embarked. Up to then I was not sure that I was on the plane. It seemed so fantastic. It was a dream."
Kilgour believed that he was in good condition for Helsinki. He had been carrying on extensive correspondence with John Davis, who had advised him how to reach his peak and maintain it. In fact, at competition time, Mendes did lots of communicating with Davis about the desired poundage that Kilgour should attempt. This was Mendes's first trip to a major international games. He had to learn fast and that he did.
On this occasion Davis and Kilgour were not lifting in the same division. The former was in the heavyweight division, while Kilgour was lifting in the newly formed middle heavyweight division (198 1/4 lbs). Wilkes was also assisting in relaying messages between Kilgour and Davis, who was located in the US quarters.
Kilgour was competing against the great US lifter Norbert Schemansky who would later go on to become the only weightlifter to win four Olympic medals. Why all this relaying of messages between the Trinidad and US camps? No Cold War animus was involved because Schemansky was far superior to the Russian competitor, Grigori Novak, and was assured of the gold. Neither was it an effort for Kilgour to beat Schemansky. It was simply because of the strong bond that had grown between Kilgour and Davis, and the latter wanted to see his protégé do well.
When the dust of the battle had settled, Schemansky emerged victorious, Gregory Novak, the Russian, second and Lennox Kilgour of Trinidad third.
Schemansky had totalled an aggregate of 979 lbs for a new world record. His individual lifts were press 2801/2 lbs, snatch 308 lbs, a world record, and clean and jerk 3901/2 lbs, also a new world record. Schemansky scaled new heights to beat his Cold War rival and the Trinidad boy.
Kilgour's lifts were: press 275, snatch 264, and clean and jerk 3461/2 lbs, a total of 8851/2 lbs. Such was Schemansky's superiority that he outlifted Lennox by 931/2 pounds. Schemansky was in a race of his own but Lennox stayed within striking distance of the Russian and lost by 16 1/2 pounds.
It was a brilliant effort. It was to be Kilgour's only medal at an Olympic Games. Four years later in Melbourne he would lift 27 1/2 lbs less and finished in seventh place.
For the full Lennox Kilgour profile and other articles, log on to http://www.trinidadexpress.com/olympics.
On Tuesday, July 24, we feature George Bovell.