University of Louisiana’s National Championship Weightlifting Teams
by Warren A. Perrin, Attorney at Law
Part Two: Olympic Weightlifting
Chapter 2 – Olympic Aspirations
Dr. Joseph Murry Jr. of New Orleans wrote his memoir of the trials and tribulations of being on both the USL track and weightlifting team. The title of his excellent book is Coming of Age (New Orleans, Louisiana, JHM Publishing, February, 2018) wherein he writes the following at page 72 concerning his two frustrating attempts at making the U.S. Olympic Team:
As I was finally becoming adjusted to the new routine of married life and career and equipped with my new master’s degree in physical education, my training began to improve. Through one of my weightlifting colleagues, Pete Talluto, we discovered the Russian training system. Pete was a former national weightlifting champion and was some 15 years our senior. He previously had a great career as a young lifter, had retired, and was now staging a comeback in the later years of his life. He had done research on the Russian training methods and had translated a Russian training manual which he shared with his teammates at the YMCA. This routine proved valuable, not only to me, but to many of my teammates who were following the system. It was at the national championships in 1971, that I was on track to do some of my best lifting. That night I did a personal best total of 1102 and felt that with another year of hard training, with the normal progress that I would make through the next year, I would be on track to have a good shot at making the Olympic team at the trials in 1972. However, on my last lift, as I was performing what would have been my best clean and jerk of 412 pounds, something traumatic happened. As I began the jerk portion of the lift and had the weight securely overhead, my right knee buckled, and the weight and I came crashing to the floor. As I returned home from the competition, with third place, I felt good about the performance and had hope for the future, however my right knee was destroyed, and I needed surgery.
The road back from surgery was a long one, and because I was not affiliated with a team complete with trainers and doctors, I was left to fend for myself for rehabilitation. After months of trying to regain what I had before, I felt that it was time to give it up. Dreams would be dashed and I would have to come to terms with not achieving a goal that I had set for myself. However, with the encouragement of some of the boys I was coaching at the time and some of their parents, I was motivated to give it one more attempt. So back to the gym it was, but as hard as I trained, the body just didn’t respond. I could never regain the flexibility or strength that I had before. However, as a consolation, I did compete in the 1972 Olympic Trials and placed third, with a rather disappointing performance, but nonetheless I had one more accomplishment to place on the resume. 1
Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., besides being a champion shot putter and weightlifter, was an outstanding educator, serving as principal of Holy Cross High School in New Orleans for a quarter of a century. In 2001, he was selected as Principal of the Year for Orleans Parish. He sent me an email on February 14, 2020, with his remembrances of his relationship with David Berger, who was murdered by terrorists during the Munich Olympics in 1972, and the fulfillment of his dream to participate in the Olympics, something that we all had a burning desire to do:
As we lost touch after college, we all became aware of David’s participation on the Israeli Olympic team. I think in my mind there were some questions as to how he was able to participate in such, but I soon realized it was his return to Israel. I know in my mind there was some wish that I would’ve had the ability to do such a thing as we all were accomplished weightlifters, and we all had that goal to represent our country in the Olympics. I know the burning desire—I tried twice and missed the team—but it was worth the effort in going through the process. However, David was our guy. He not only represented Israel, but he also represented us, since we had known him and lifted with him during college years. I think we were all living vicariously through him and somehow wished we would have had a similar opportunity. Then came the unspeakable tragedy. We were all in awe as we were glued to the TV set during that terrible time, hoping for the best yet witnessing the worst. As we had lived with David on the platform in sporting competition and in spirit as he participated in the Olympics, we suffered with him and sent our prayers and hopes that he would somehow make it through safely. He was a part of us and we a part of him not so much because of our culture or religion, but because of our kinship as weightlifters. David will always be remembered I’m sure in the annals of Israeli Olympic weightlifting arena, but he will always be remembered by us who were a small part of his life in an impacting way. Warren, these are some of my thoughts, as I didn’t really have a lot of encounters with David, but I—like you—did feel that special kinship and camaraderie with him at our competitions during those years.2
In 1972, the world was in the midst of the Cold War. Countries changed their attitudes to a more challenging arrangement of alliances. The world was no longer divided between two clearly defined doctrines of communism and democracy. Also, the Soviet Union had achieved parity with the U.S. on nuclear weapons. Based upon the series of competitions between U.S. and Chinese table tennis teams, called “ping pong” diplomacy, President Richard Nixon visited China, the first by a U.S. president. The world experienced many unsettling international events, such as the post-Vietnam collapse of the South which fell to the North Vietnam communists, the development of many new sophisticated weapons by the U.S., and the Soviets incursion into Afghanistan. The efforts to maintain détente was aided by the signing of various treaties by the Cold War enemies, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties I and II.
Sports have been known to impact the real world. On February 22, 1980, at the end of the game when the United States Olympic ice hockey team achieved victory over the highly-favored Soviets, the announcer yelled, “Do you believe in miracles?” The big upset at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York, dubbed the “Miracle on Ice,” was a positive turning point for the United States in the Cold War. Given the decades-old Cold War, severe economic problems caused by the 1979 oil embargo, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the ongoing Iran hostage crisis, this amazing triumph in sports for the United States was truly a godsend that was welcomed by all Americans. The informative article cited below provides this conclusion:
The American underdogs had officially beaten the powerful Soviet Union, and the entire United States began a massive celebration. In the final moments of the U.S. versus U.S.S.R. 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey game, announcer Al Michaels asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” Seconds later, he answered his own question; “YES.” Plagued by Cold War tensions, a struggling economy, and the Iran hostage crisis the national pride of the United States was wounded in the months leading up to the game. The monumental Cinderella story of the U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid, however, re-taught Americans how to believe.3
The hockey team’s big upset came at a time when many Americans believed the Soviet Union was on the upswing and that the United States was losing the Cold War. In February, 1977, President Jimmy Carter wearing a fuzzy tan sweater in a “fireside chat” to the nation, called it a “crisis of confidence that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.”
Columnist Marc Thiessen wrote the following in his column, “40 years after the ‘Miracle on Ice,’ socialism makes a comeback,” which is cited below:
Four days after the Miracle on Ice, Ronald Reagan won the Republican primary in New Hampshire and soon promised to “make America great again.” As president, he boldly pledged that we would leave Soviet communism on the “ash heap of history” and, within the decade, the Berlin Wall was pulled down. The first blow was delivered not by a pickax, but by a hockey stick.4
In the article “Do you believe in miracles?—The ultimate Cold War faceoff,” the author writes on how the Olympics were used by the U.S. to drive foreign policy:
President Jimmy Carter was considering a U.S. boycott of the upcoming 1980 Summer Olympics, which were to be held in Moscow, in the months leading up to the Winter Games. On February 9, just weeks before the fateful night, President Carter made the boycott official in protest to the December 1979, Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan, giving the Communists a growing presence in the Middle East, after U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance denounced the upcoming Olympics in Moscow at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee.5
In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed. This disappointing decision placed much stress on the worlds’ athletes who had been preparing for the event for the last four years. In an article by Paul Newbury, “Olympic athletes ponder what might’ve been in Tokyo,” The Advocate, July 26, 2020, p. 3c, the author quotes Helen Maroulis, a gold medal winner in wrestling, about the 2016 opening ceremonies of the Summer Games: “It is truly one of the most magical moments in sports. Once you walk into that stadium, I don’t have words for it” said Maroulis, a Maryland native. American swimmer Ryan Murphy, who won three gold medals at Rio in 2016, was continuing to work out lifting weights and swimming in preparation for the games which had been postponed until 2021. Newberry wrote that, “for all the outrageous costs and infuriating politics, the Olympics still have the potential to bring the world together. Even if it’s for only one night.” Murphy said that “there’s so much tension between different groups of people, but the Olympics is the place where you really find one common goal that’s a really beautiful thing.
When I was an adolescent, my grandfather Henry M. Perrin would bring me to see professional wrestling matches in Abbeville, Louisiana. There were six wrestling brothers in the Baillargeon family from Quebec, Canada, but the stars in Louisiana were the two brothers professionally called, “The Baillargeon
Brothers, Jean and Adrien.” We were surprised and pleased that the professional athletes could speak French. It was like we were somehow connected to superstars—and an international “community of cousins.” They often appeared on Saturday afternoons on the local CBS television Channel 10 as a way of promoting their Saturday evening matches. Sometime in the 1960s, one of the brothers Adrian Baillargeon visited our quaint little gym in Henry. At the time he was promoting the sales of water softeners along with a salesperson. He had become a pretty famous character by then and we were blown away that he took the time to talk to us about weight training in our own workshop gym, which he said was pretty neat. I told him that my goal was to go to the Olympics one day and he told me to train hard, eat right, and wished me good luck. Adrien Baillargeon died on May 9, 1995, in Lafayette, Louisiana.
1 Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., Coming of Age, (New Orleans, Louisiana, JHM Publishing, February 2018), page 72.
2 Dr. Joseph Murry Jr., email of February 14, 2020, to the author
3 Do You Believe in Miracles?–The Ultimate Cold War Faceoff,’ The History Engine, 22 February 1980, accessed 1 March 2020, https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5573.
4 Marc A. Thiessen, MAT, ‘The Miracle Team wore Trump hats. It was entirely appropriate,’ The Washington Post, 25 February 2020, accessed 1 March 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/25/40-yearsafter-miracle-ice-socialism-makes-comeback/
5 ‘Do You Believe in Miracles?–The Ultimate Cold War Faceoff,’ The History Engine, 22 February 1980, accessed 1 March 2020, https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5573