Fikotová, Olga (1932—)
Fikotová, Olga (1932—)
Czech-American discus thrower and winner of the gold medal in the 1956 Olympics. Name variations: Olga Fikotova; Olga Connolly. Born Olga Fikotová in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on November 13, 1932; entered School of Medicine at Prague's Charles University; married Harold Connolly (American gold medalist in the 16-pound hammer throw), in 1957 (divorced around 1972); children: four.
Won gold medal in discus at the Melbourne Olympics (1956); married, became an American citizen, and competed for the United States (1957); qualified for four consecutive Olympic Games (beginning 1960).
Olga Fikotová refused to accept the status quo. Growing up in Prague, she played soccer with the boys rather than practice the violin as her parents wanted. In high school, she played handball and basketball, representing Czechoslovakia in the top league. After she entered the School of Medicine at Prague's Charles University, Fikotová had philosophical differences with her team coach. In addition, team practice interfered with her studies, so she turned to the discus, an individual sport that gave her greater flexibility.
In 1955, Fikotová began to work with the hurdler "Father" Jandera who put "The Blue Danube" on the stadium's public-address system so that she could throw the discus to music. As she began to excel, Fikotová was given a monthly subsidy from the state (about the same amount her mother earned as a clerk). That same year, she competed in the Progressive Youth Festival in Warsaw but her performance was disappointing. Because of this, Fikotová was thankful when Nina Ponomareva-Romashkova , the powerful Soviet thrower, spent an intense training period with her in Warsaw.
In the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, Fikotová won the gold medal, beating out her Soviet mentor Ponomareva, who was devastated by the defeat. The Soviet government insisted that the Czech and Soviet Olympic teams travel from Australia to Siberia by boat and then make a triumphal tour across the Soviet Union. Though the Czech athletes were not enthusiastic about the tour, they had little choice. Fikotová and Ponomareva were barely speaking when the ship left Australia. By the time the Gruzia reached chilly Siberia after warm Australia, Olga had developed a bad cold. It was Ponomareva who brought her a home remedy, a liquor predicted to "kill or cure." Two treatments
restored her health, as well as the friendship between the two champions.
Back in Czechoslovakia, Fikotová, now a national celebrity, received the title "supreme master of sports" and looked forward to a promising career. There was one obstacle. She was in love with Harold Connolly, the American gold medalist in the 16-pound hammer throw. The two had met at Melbourne, and their romance had been widely publicized throughout the world. Torn, Fikotová took several months before agreeing to marry Harold and move to the United States. A New York Times editorial on March 22, 1957, celebrated the decision:
This poor old world of ours is quarreling, divided and perplexed.… The H-bomb overhangs us like a cloud of doom … but Olga and Harold are in love and the world does not say no to them.… Somehow this seems like a ray of light, intelligence and beauty in a world where ministers of state and heads of government go nervously back and forth in search of such things.
When Olga began competing for the United States, she discovered that with new freedoms came new restrictions. She resented, for example, that athletes were "treated as children" in America, with every glass of beer or wine monitored. The greatest difference, however, was in the attitude toward women's abilities. In New England, where the Connollys lived, she was often asked to speak to school groups, opportunities she took to encourage girls to go out for more strenuous sports as they did in Eastern block nations. "The hands of our girls are created to play the violin," one school principal told her. "Please do not put ideas in their heads about competition." An infuriated Fikotová replied, "For seven years I played the violin, and my hands were as good for that as for winning Olympic Games."
Another problem was a lack of major competitions for women. This was due, she felt, to the provincial reality that schools did not want women to compete, especially in events considered "unseemly." Despite the fact that she had less support in the United States than in Czechoslovakia, Fikotová qualified for four consecutive Olympic Games beginning in 1960. She was pregnant between each.
As an Olympic athlete, Fikotová often found she was in as much disagreement with her adopted government as she had been with her former government. In the 1968 Olympics, she was upset when Tommie Smith and John Carlos were castigated for raising their fists in a black-power salute in Mexico City. Fikotová felt their punishment smacked more of a communist dictatorship than of a Western democracy. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, she was an adamant opponent of the Vietnam War. The Olympic Committee ruled that no athletes could speak to the press unless supervised. Outraged, Fikotová filed a complaint with Senator Alan Cranston's office and the censorship was struck down.
Despite political protests, Fikotová loved participating in the Olympics. In 1972, at 39, she was one of the oldest athletes and, as the mother of four, had the most children of any competitor. Though she did not win a medal, she was the American standard holder at the 185′3″ mark and was thrilled to be elected flag bearer for the U.S. team in Munich.
Olga Fikotová divorced Harold Connolly not long after the 1972 Olympics, but by this time she had adjusted to her adopted country. Eventually, Americans recognized that she had been right—women could and should participate in more strenuous sports.
Carlson, Lewis H., and John J. Fogarty. Tales of Gold. Chicago: Contemporary Press, 1987.
Connolly, Olga. The Rings of Destiny. NY: David McKay, 1968.
Karin L. Haag , Athens, Georgia