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Pete Clentzos, 97; USC Athlete Was Olympian in 1932

September 15, 2006|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Pete Clentzos, a USC pole vaulter who competed for Greece in the 1932 Olympics at the Los Angeles Coliseum and two years ago carried the Olympic torch on the way to the Athens Games, has died. He was 97.

Clentzos, believed to have been the oldest living Greek Olympian, died Monday from complications of hip surgery at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, his son Pete Jr. said Thursday.

Born June 15, 1909, in Oakland to parents who had emigrated from the Greek island of Kythera, Clentzos attended USC in the early 1930s. He was a three-year letterman on the track and field team coached by Dean Cromwell that won NCAA team titles in 1930 and '31.

Although he fell short of qualifying for the 1932 U.S. Olympic team in the pole vault, his Greek heritage allowed him to compete for that country's 16-member team.

Clentzos stayed in the Olympic village in Baldwin Hills with his Greek teammates during the Games, but found it difficult not to root for his Trojan teammates on the U.S. track team.

Though his personal best was 13 feet 9 inches, Clentzos cleared only 12 feet 3 1/2 inches at the Coliseum and wound up seventh after gold-medal winner Bill Miller of Stanford, who set a then-Olympic record of 14-1 3/4 . (Today's world-class vaulters, using fiberglass rather than bamboo poles, routinely clear 19 feet.)

After college, Clentzos found work at Barstow High School, teaching history and woodworking, which he had learned from his carpenter father. He coached a variety of athletic teams, including football and track.

When World War II broke out, he joined the Army and taught physical education at Santa Ana Army Air Base.

After leaving the military in 1946, Clentzos and his wife, Helen, moved to Pasadena. He was a teacher and coach at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights until 1959, then an administrator at Narbonne and Franklin high schools until retiring in 1974.

But that didn't mean he slowed down. He golfed regularly, worked out at the Pasadena Athletic Club and competed in the Pasadena Senior Olympics. He also volunteered as an official at athletic events in Los Angeles, including the 1984 Olympic track and field competition at the Coliseum.

Then in 2004, he ran a leg of the Olympic torch relay past the Coliseum and attended the Athens Games as a guest of the Greek government.

Besides his son, Clentzos is survived by sister Barbara Young of Lakewood and several nieces and nephews. Services will be private.


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