By GLORIA BRADLEY
The Daily Times of Salisbury
HARBORTON, Va. (AP) — Olympic champion Frank Havens has found watching the coverage of the 2012 London Games especially memorable since the last time they were held in that city was 1948 and he was there — competing in his first of four Olympic Games.
“Like going back home,” said Havens, 88, of Harborton, a two-time Olympic medalist in C1 canoeing (canoe single), about watching the London Games. Havens was born and raised in Arlington, Va., and he moved to the Eastern Shore in 1985.
The 1948 Olympics were of special significance for the entire world as it was finally able to come together in athletic competition for the first time since 1936, due to a world at war that had prevented the 1940 and 1944 games from taking place.
“England was just recovering from the war,” said Havens, about still being able to see the damage in some parts of the country due to the German bombings, when he arrived for the 1948 games.
Havens won Olympic silver in canoeing in 1948 paddling C1 for 10,000 meters, which is 6.25 miles.
Havens would compete in the C1 for 10,000 meters again in the 1952 Helsinki Games — winning Olympic gold and setting a new world’s record at 57 minutes, 41.1 seconds.
He also took fourth place in the 1,000-meter race the day after his gold medal win.
Another special reminder of the 1952 games was sent to him later — the Olympic flag.
Havens would also compete in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and he had the honor of being in the torch relay carrying the Olympic flame on its journey to the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Havens ran the Olympic torch through Arlington National Cemetery at night after having it handed off to him by a Marine Corps general who had run the torch around the Iwo Jima Memorial.
“My brother, Bill, was on that team, too, so that was particularly memorable,” said Havens about his older brother being a teammate in the 1948 Olympics. His brother earned 5th place in C1 canoeing in the 1,000-meter race.
“He was a much better athlete than I, but the timing was poor for him,” said Havens about his brother, who was six years his senior. “The years when he was really on top of the game were the years he spent in the Army.”
“We were both drafted,” said Havens, who would become a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. “I was drafted six days after I graduated from high school.”
After he got back from the war, Havens went to college on the GI Bill and went out for the football team at Maryland. He said his weight at 180 pounds was an issue for the football coaches who wanted him to be heavier. The Havens family found out there would be 10,000-meter races in the 1948 Olympic Games, and Havens’ father told him he wanted him for canoeing — so he left football training camp and starting training for canoeing.
Havens’ father would coach both he and his brother.
“It knocked him out of the `52 games,” said Havens about his brother’s hand injury, which occurred when as principal of a school he was trying to help get a teacher’s car out of a ditch following a snow.
“Best C1 paddler in the country,” said Havens about his father, also a canoeist, saying he was picked to go to the 1924 Paris games. “But that was the year I was born, and so he passed the games up.”
He said his uncle went to the Paris games and won three gold medals in what was a demonstration sport in 1924 but would become a regular Olympic event by the 1936 games in Berlin.
“I got to watch a wrestling match in the middle of the night in the Coliseum,” said Havens about the 1960 Rome Olympics, saying there were events around the clock.
He said the athletes were housed alphabetically in Rome according to their sport, and he was in a three-story building with the boxers on the first floor, canoeists on the second, and cyclists on the top floor, and they would meet every morning going out to their venues.
Havens said one of those athletes he saw every day was Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) who would win the gold as the light-heavyweight that year, and they flew back home on the same plane.
“He was a great host,” said Havens about President Dwight Eisenhower, who invited both Olympic champions and professional athletes to a reception at the White House. Among the many notable attendees were Joe DiMaggio and Rocky Marciano. Havens said Eisenhower also took them to the Congressional Baseball Game, where the Republicans played the Democrats.
Havens has also met Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
He has attended numerous reunions held every four years for the Olympic athletes and recently went to a reunion of the 1948 Olympians.
Havens said the 1948 games “were high on my list” mainly because his brother was there with him and also enjoyed the boat trip — the only time he traveled to the games by boat.
“On the way over, we were all training and trying to stay in shape,” Havens said. “On the way back, we spent a lot of time in the bar — a lot of parties.”
Havens met his future wife, Kay, on a blind date — and appropriately that first date was an evening of canoeing taking advantage of an unseasonably warm February evening.
In recalling their first meeting, Havens said he had set out to do the paddling for the canoeing date, but Kay said she knew all about it because she had been an instructor at a camp — so he let her take over that evening.
“That gorgeous creature hung out with me for 65 years,” Havens said lovingly about Kay, who died in April 2011.
The couple were married shortly after he got back from the 1948 Olympic games and had three sons.
“They just about wore them out with show and tell,” laughed Havens about his sons wanting to show off their father’s Olympic medals.
He has the 1996 Atlanta Olympic torch that includes in its engravings the names of each modern Olympic Games host city and its date, beginning with 1896 Athens.
The Olympic champion has been the subject of many written accounts and photographs in newspapers both nationally and internationally.
Newspaper coverage of the Olympic champion continues including recently being featured in The New York Times.
“By his outstanding service and achievement has made lasting contributions to the cause of sports in Virginia, the nation, and the entire world,” includes the plaque on a wall in Havens’ home that was presented to him when he was elected into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame on May 5, 1995.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)