Olympian keeps running beyond ’48 games
BY PATRICK LEONARD
(Ed. Note: This is the final installment of a 3-part series about Brooklyn, Pa., native Curtis Stone’s participation in the Olympics, the last time they were held in London in 1948. Our July 25 issue looked at Stone’s emergence from obscurity to winning an Olympic Trial. Last week looked at the actual race in London. This issue looks at what Stone did for an encore, and how distance running has changed.)
The era of the 19450s and 1950s in which Curtis Stone competed as a world class runner was very different from today.
Stone, a graduate of Brooklyn High School and Penn State University, ran in the 1948 Olympics as a member of TeamUSA. He finished sixth in the 5,000 meters.
By way of comparison, since 1948, only five American runners have placed as high as Stone did in the men’s 5,000 meter Olympics, although that could change Saturday.
(To date, Bob Schul of Ohio is the only American to win a gold medal in the 5,000, running the course at 13:48 in Tokyo in 1964.)
In today’s running community, a performance like Stone had in 1948 would likely earn him a hefty paycheck, as well as a contract from a sponsorship to continue his running career.
In 1948, Olympic athletes were truly amateurs, however. They received no money for their performances, which meant they could not devote all of their time and energy into training. The athletes had to have jobs.
After the ’48 Olympics he resumed his job in State College as a circulation manager at the Centre Daily Times.
He also resumed his training.
By 1952, he decided to pursue teaching at the secondary level and taught at Smethport High School until 1960.
Stone competed in races as a member of the New York Athletic Club, one of the oldest athletic organizations in the country. While the club was not able to help its athletes financially, it did provide them with an opportunity to race after their college careers were finished.
Stone took advantage of this opportunity.
After the Olympics he set American records in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs, clocking times of 14:26 and 30:30.
In 1951 he competed in the inaugural Pan American Games inBuenos Aires, Argentina, winning gold medals in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and the 10,000 meter run.
The next year he returned to the Olympic stage.
The U.S.trials in 1952 were held in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Stone entered in the 5,000 and 10,000, running to first place finishes in both events, a feat that had gone unmatched until Galen Rupp of Oregon duplicated it this year.
The 1952 Summer Olympics were held in Helsinki. Stone said his asthma prevented him from achieving the same level of success he had in London.
In the third preliminary heat, Stone finished in eighth place, 19 seconds behind Aleksandr Anufriyev of the Soviet Union, but 15 seconds off the pace he would have needed to make the finals which was won by his old friend and nemesis Emil Zatopek.
Zatopek also took the 10,000 meters in 1952, and Stone qualified for the finals in that event but finished 20th with a time of 31:02 – a full minute and 45 seconds behind Zatopek.
In 1956 Stone completed the Boston Marathon, finishing in around 70th place.
He also returned to the Olympics in Melbourne as a member of TeamUSA, competing in the 5,000 meters.
He finished seventh in the second qualifying heat in a time of 14:52, but only the top five in each of three heats advanced to the finals. Stone said a bout of appendicitis kept him from running his best.
Vladimir Kuts of the Soviet Union won the gold that year in13:39.
Stone continued training until he was 50 years old in 1972.
Now retired from teaching since the mid 1980s, Stone returned to Brooklyn, and does not give the impression of being a former world-class athlete. He looks more like a favorite grandpa, happy to sit and talk and share a few laughs.
He accomplished far more in his life than his athletic exploits.
Away from the track, Stone pursued a career in education. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Penn State and became a professor of education for 22 years at Kent State University in Ohio.
He and his wife, the former Margaret Lewis, whom he has known since they were growing up in Brooklyn, have been married for 60 years and have an adult daughter named Sarah.
Stone is still a big supporter of his alma mater. “From 1985 to 2010 I went to every Penn State home game,” Stone said proudly. “Last year I was able to go to one game. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to go to another one.”
As for the Olympics, Stone has been to four Games as a spectator, the most recent being the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
On Saturday, he acknowledged watching the 10,000 meters at the London Olympics on television and was mighty proud of fellow American Rupp for taking the silver medal with a time of 27:30.90, in just 48-hundredths of a second off a blistering pace won by Britain’s Mohamed Farah.
But Stone also admits he finds that some of the Games on television just plain boring.
“I think there are too many sports in today’s Olympics,” Stone noted. “It takes away from the individual performers. They usually don’t show the distance races on TV. (Michael) Phelps is a great athlete but his races are all the same. I have a problem with diving and gymnastics because of the judges. Speed and strength are what counts; the outcome shouldn’t be left to the judges.”
Much more interesting to Stone these days are the concepts of time and space, and how they pertain to athletics. He is attempting to write a book explaining these concepts to readers who, he feels, may misunderstand the true value of sport.
“Sports are all about being able to control time and space,” Stone explained. “We all represent time and space. Sports are an outlet to be able to control your own space at a given time.”
Stone noted that the professionalization of Olympic sports today, with so much money at stake, has prevented athletes from getting to know each other on a personal level.
He cited this professionalization as the single biggest difference between athletes of his era and the competitors today.
“A lot of the athletes I competed against went on to become very successful people,” Stone said. “They became doctors or lawyers. The guys today are just professional athletes.”
Stone also pointed out that the equipment and facilities the athletes have today are better than when he was competing.
“The surfaces of the tracks are faster today,” Stone said. “We ran on cinder tracks. Plus the shoes are a lot better nowadays. I remember taping each of my toes individually before running. We did a lot of experimenting to see what worked best.”
While the world is now tuning into London for this year’s Olympic Games, Curtis Stone may or may not still be watching.
It is a good bet, however, that throughout the 17 days of competition among some of the world’s greatest athletes, Stone’s thoughts will go back to the day, 64 years ago, when he competed in the same city on the same grand stage.
He did not receive any endorsement deals or land any lucrative commercial spots for his performance. Nor did he return to his country as a conquering hero.
He did, however, compete to the best of his abilities, embodying the true ideals of the Olympic spirit.
For one glorious moment the boy from Brooklyn who grew up knowing he could run fast, ran as fast as he could, an Olympian competing against the best runners the world had to offer.