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Avery Brundage

Biographical information

TypeCompeted in Olympic Games, IOC member
SexMale
Full nameAvery•Brundage
Used nameAvery•Brundage
Born28 September 1887 in Detroit, Michigan (USA)
Died8 May 1975 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bayern (GER)
Measurements183 cm / 91 kg
AffiliationsChicago AA, Chicago (USA)
NOC(s) United States

Biography

Avery Brundage served as the 5th President of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. He served during a tumultuous time politically, in which the Olympics were changing dramatically from a small sporting festival to one of the best-known symbols in the world.

Avery Brundage was born on 28 September 1887 in Detroit, Michigan, but his family moved to Chicago when he was young. He attended the University of Illinois, graduating with a civil engineering degree in 1909. While in college he competed on the track & field team, winning the conference discus championship in his senior year. After college, Brundage worked as a construction superintendent in Chicago. Using borrowed money, he was able to start his own construction company in 1915, an enterprise at which he was eminently successful and that made him a wealthy man.

Brundage continued competing in track & field athletics after college, joining the Chicago Athletic Association in 1910 and specialized in the all-around event, a 10-event competition that was a precursor to the decathlon. With his all-around talents, Brundage qualified for the 1912 US Olympic team in both the decathlon and pentathlon, and although he finished fifth in the pentathlon at Stockholm, he did not finish the decathlon. He was the first IOC President to have actually competed in the Olympic Games. Continuing to compete even after forming his own company, Brundage eventually won three US Championships in the all-around – in 1914, 1916, and 1918.

When his track & field career wound down, Brundage turned to handball (the American individual version) and became one of the best players in Chicago. By the mid-1920s, Brundage had already made a fortune in the construction business, allowing him the freedom to pursue sports administration, and handball was the sport in which his avocation began. After working for several years with the Central Association of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), he served as chairman of the national handball committee of the AAU from 1925-27. In 1928 he was elected president of both the AAU (serving until the fall of 1935, except for 1933) and its Olympic arm, the American Olympic Association (AOA), the forerunner of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). He continued as President of the American Olympic Association, and its successor organizations, until his election as IOC President in 1952.

Brundage benefited politically from the proposed American boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. A staunch believer that sport should be kept apart from politics, Brundage took the pro-participation stance. One of the American IOC Members, Ernest Lee Jahncke, supported the boycott, which met with great disfavor from the IOC. In an extremely close vote of delegates at the AAU convention held at the Commodore Hotel in New York City in December 1935, Brundage’s point of view prevailed, and the Americans agreed to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In June 1936, Charles Sherrill, one of the other US IOC Members, died. Almost concurrently, Jahncke was removed from the IOC because of his stance in favor of boycotting the Berlin Olympics. Brundage was the obvious choice to move onto the IOC and he was confirmed at the 35th IOC Session in Berlin in July 1936. Within one year, Brundage was named to the Executive Board of the IOC.

When IOC President Henri de Baillot-Latour died in 1942, the Swede, J. Sigfrid Edström, stood in as de facto President until the end of World War II. One of his first actions was to appoint Brundage as Vice-President. Together, Edström and Brundage kept the IOC together during the War by letters written to the members throughout the world.

In 1946, at the first post-war IOC Session, Edström was chosen as IOC President by acclamation. He then appointed his friend, Avery Brundage, 1st Vice-President. In 1952, when Edström stepped down as IOC President, Avery Brundage was elected President of the IOC in a very close vote over David, Lord Burghley, of Great Britain, a former Olympic gold medalist in the 400 metre hurdles.

Brundage’s term as IOC President was a difficult one politically for the IOC. The IOC was faced by the question of the two Germanies, the two Koreas, the two Chinas, the apartheid problem in sport in South Africa and Rhodesia, rising problems with professional encroachment on the Olympic Movement, political demonstrations by American blacks, and finally, in the last days of his term, by the horrible massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in München at the 1972 Olympics.

These problems were addressed almost solely by Brundage, who mostly ran the IOC as a one-man show. Brundage was proud of the way in which the two Germany question was handled. Early on, the IOC was able to get the two German states to enter a combined team, and Brundage exulted, “We have succeeded where the politicians could not.” But East Germany continued to press for independent representation at the Olympics and eventually this was granted.

Concerning the two Koreas, Brundage also brokered a compromise in which a combined Korean team would compete, but this never occurred as the two Korean states refused to do so. Brundage never made any inroads into solving the problem of the two Chinas, leaving that situation to his successors, Killanin and Samaranch, who were eventually able to produce a solution.

South Africa vexed Brundage and the IOC throughout his term of office. South Africa was eventually evicted from the IOC and the Olympic Movement in the 1970s because of apartheid and, in particular, its use of apartheid in choosing its Olympic teams. South Africa would not return to the Olympic fold until 1991, after the fall of apartheid as a political system.

Similar problems confronted Brundage in regard to Rhodesia, which led to a potential boycott of the 1972 München Olympics. Brundage was enraged by this and it later led him, during the memorial ceremony for the Israeli hostages in München, to compare the African boycott of München to the Israeli massacres, a comment that evoked outrage from many, including Lord Killanin, who was to succeed him as President in just six days.

Brundage believed in amateurism, pure and simple, with no possible compromise. He was especially bothered by the Olympic Winter Games, in which the Alpine skiers openly flaunted advertising on their skis, and many of them were known to be closet professionals. Brundage even proposed canceling the Olympic Winter Games because of the creeping professionalism, or at least canceling the Alpine skiing events, often considered the highlight of the Olympic Winter program. In 1972 he succeeded in the token banning of Austria’s Karl Schranz as a professional. Schranz was a favorite to win several medals and his ouster outraged the Austrian team, who stated that many skiers were being paid by ski companies. Brundage commented that Schranz was the worst and refused to reinstate him.

Avery Brundage stepped down as IOC President after the 1972 München Olympics. Shortly thereafter, he married a younger German woman whom he had met during his Olympic travels. After retirement from the IOC, he lived only a few more years, dying in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on 7 May 1975.

In the 1930s, Brundage competed twice in the literature section of the Olympic art competitions. The Significance of Amateur Sport is probably based on the text of a lecture given by Brundage in 1929 entitled In defense of the amateur code.

Results

Games Discipline (Sport) Event Status Team Pos Details
1912 Summer Olympics Athletics Discus Throw, Men Olympic 22 Representing United States    
  Discus Throw, Both Hands, Men Olympic DNS
  Pentathlon, Men Olympic 6
  Decathlon, Men Olympic AC
1932 Summer Olympics Art Competitions Literature, Open Olympic HM Representing United States    
1936 Summer Olympics Art Competitions Literature, Epic Works, Open Olympic AC Representing United States    

Organization roles

Role Organization Tenure Details
President United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee 1928—1952 Representing United States    
Executive Board Member International Olympic Committee 1936—1946 Representing United States    
Member International Olympic Committee 1936—1972 Representing United States    
Vice-President International Olympic Committee 1946—1952 Representing United States    
President Pan American Sports Organization 1948—1951 Representing United States    
President International Olympic Committee 1952—1972 Representing United States    
Honorary President for Life International Olympic Committee 1972—1975 Representing United States    

Special Notes