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A Cold War Olympic Romance

Olympics, Harold Connelly, Olga Connelly, 1964

1964. Olympian Harold Connelly helps wife and fellow Olympian, Olga, practice the shot-put, in preparation for the 1964 Olympic Games. Photo from the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA Library.

In 1956, in the midst of cold war tensions between the communist east bloc and capitalist west, two athletes from the opposing sides fell into romance during the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Olga Fikotová, a 24-year-old discus thrower from Czechoslovakia and Harold “Hal” Connelly, a 25-year-old hammer thrower (and UCLA alumni) from the United States, met in the Olympic village and fell in love. Under the threat of nuclear confrontation between the East and West, the media was delighted with this unexpected romance. The two each went on to win gold medals in Melbourne in their respective events, Fikotová wining the only gold that year for her country. Although Czechoslovakia celebrated her as an Olympic hero, the authorities were unhappy with her relationship with the American.

The following year, Harold came to Prague to propose to Olga. With much international attention, a personal appeal to the Czech president, and assurances that Olga would continue to positively represent Czechoslovakia, Czech authorities decided not stand in their way. The two were married in a public ceremony that ended up drawing a festive crowd of 20,000 to 30,000 adoring Czechs. Harold returned to the U.S. with his bride, where they eventually settled in Culver City and he began a career as a teacher at Santa Monica High School.

Olympics, Italy, Harold Connelly, Olga Connelly, 1960

1960. Harold and Olga Connelly at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. Photo by Mario De Biassi of Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Connellys, even after adding four children to their family, continued to compete in subsequent Olympic Games. Harold competed in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics. Olga wanted to continue to represent Czechoslovakia in the 1960 Olympics, but, the Czechoslovakia Olympic Committee disqualified her, falsely spreading the story that she refused to represent her birth country. She became a U.S. citizen and competed for the United States in the 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972 Olympics. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, despite objections by some over her vocal objections to the war in Vietnam, Olga was selected by teammates to carry the flag for the U.S. team in the opening ceremonies.

Sadly, the storybook romance ended in divorce in 1975. The two, however, remained friends, and continued (along with their children) to make notable contributions in support of athletic causes and organizations.

Also see East-West Romance in Melbourne.