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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

Venerable Lord of Rings Finally Completes Circle

June 25, 1997|RANDY HARVEY

The oldest living Olympian doesn't tell all.

But Leon Stukelj does tell his secrets for a long life. Five months from his 99th birthday, he qualifies as an expert.

"Sleep eight or nine hours, eat like a bird, drink one glass of red wine a day and exercise," he said Tuesday.

It took him 65 years, but Stukelj, from Maribor, Slovenia, finally made it to the Coliseum.

He had expected to be there for the 1932 Summer Olympics, defending the gymnastics gold medal he won on the rings for Yugoslavia four years earlier in Amsterdam.

As he looked at the plaques on the Coliseum facade, reading the lists of champions from the '32 Games, he said, "But for a little bit of money, my name would be there."

Like the rest of the world, Yugoslavia was suffering through a depression in 1932 and had little money to dispatch athletes to Southern California.

Because Stukelj was among the country's most celebrated athletes, having won the all-around gold medal in 1924, the government offered to send him. But his teammates would have to stay home. Stukelj nobly chose to stay with them.

The winner of six medals in three Olympics is en route to Oklahoma City, where he will be inducted Friday into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame founded by Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci.

But before leaving Los Angeles, Stukelj fulfilled a promise he made to himself decades ago. If he ever got to the Coliseum, he vowed, he would perform the maneuver he believes would have won him a gold medal in 1932.

With no rings available, he duplicated it as best he could on a folding table with a red plastic tablecloth, every muscle in his 98-pound body straining.

When he finished, he smiled gleefully. So did everyone in the audience except for one woman, who said she was from a television station and that her cameraman had missed the exhibition.

"Could you do it again?" she asked.

"Of course," he said. "But could I wait 10 minutes?"

Coming from someone who waited 65 years to show Los Angeles his Stukelj Cross, it didn't seem like too much to ask.

*

For those who thought the Spark-Liberty game Saturday had no chance on television against the Dodgers and Giants, the numbers are in. . . .

Between 1 and 3 p.m., the WNBA game was the most-watched program in Los Angeles, with a 4.8 rating (237,235 households) to the Dodgers' 4.2 (207,580). The baseball game's numbers didn't increase until the Sparks were finished. . . .

Note to Linda Sharp, Lisa Leslie, et al: Now that you have our attention, can you keep it? . . .

Fans here support gender equity, quickly disassociating themselves from losing teams whether they employ women or men. . . .

Jim Edmonds has our attention. . . .

The Angel center fielder, who made another diving catch Monday night to save a 1-0 victory over Texas, is having an all-star season. . . .

But not in the eyes of fans who vote. He's not listed among the top 16 outfielders. . . .

Darryl Strawberry is 13th. No comment. . . .

It took the Angels and Rangers three hours 16 minutes to play that one-run game. . . .

I'll bring that up to the next person who complains soccer is dull. . . .

It's certainly not dull the way teams in Copa America have been playing the last couple of weeks. . . .

Mexico probably will run out of gas, or at least oxygen, in tonight's semifinal against host Bolivia. . . .

Coach Bora Milutinovic should take a tip from former DePaul basketball coach Ray Meyer in preparing the Mexicans to play at 12,000 feet above sea level in La Paz. Don't tell them about it. . . .

"If they don't know about the altitude, they won't feel it," Meyer said before his Blue Demons played the David Greenwood-Roy Hamilton-Brad Holland UCLA team in a 1979 NCAA regional game at Provo, Utah. DePaul won, 95-91. . . .

While teams will be deciding the South American soccer champion in Copa America, Siphon, Sandpit and Gentlemen will be racing toward the unofficial South American thoroughbred championship in Sunday's Hollywood Gold Cup. . . .

That will be the second of at least three anticipated races among the South American-breds this year. Siphon won the first in Santa Anita's Big 'Cap. . . .

A sad note: The mother of all South American champions, so to speak, died recently after giving birth. Bayakoa, whose success on North American tracks inspired South American breeders to send more horses here, was 13.

*

While wondering who's got next if Sparks don't fly tonight, I was thinking: It'll be nice to see Kevin Johnson driving again, I can't say the same thing about Tim Hardaway, Gustavomania didn't last long.

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