Blast from the Past: East-West romance in Melbourne

American athlete Hal Connolly (1931 - 2010) competing in the Hammer Throw at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, 24th November 1956. Connolly won the gold medal in the event. (Photo by Getty Images)
American athlete Hal Connolly (1931 - 2010) competing in the Hammer Throw at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, 24th November 1956. Connolly won the gold medal in the event. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and wonderful stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear on your cheek. This week: cold war love?

True Romance

It’s a story that could have been thought up by a film producer. It starts in 1956, at the peak of the Cold War. The Olympic Games are taking place in Melbourne, Australia. Promising discus thrower Olga Fikotova is competing for Czechoslovakia. She wins the gold medal by beating the Soviet favourite Nina Romaschkova, and breaks the world record with a throw of 53.69m. In the men’s hammer event, American Hal Connolly leaves it late for his moment of glory, waiting until his last throw to win the gold medal with 63.19m.

It was in Melbourne that the two champions got to know each other, and that’s where the romance started. Things quickly became serious, to such an extent that they decided to get married. But in those days, an American marrying a Czechoslovakian was not that simple...

Hal Connolly and Olga Fikotova in 1968. The couple met in 1956 at the Olympic Games in Melbourne.
Hal Connolly and Olga Fikotova in 1968. The couple met in 1956 at the Olympic Games in Melbourne.
© 1968 / Allsport

Crowded wedding

In theory, Moscow would not allow Conolly to travel to Prague to get married, but thanks to an intervention from the legendary marathon runner Emil Zatopek, the wedding (actually three weddings: one catholic, one protestant and one civil!) took place in October 1957, in front of a huge crowd.

Flag bearer

Soon after, the couple settled down in Boston and went on to have four kids. Conolly broke the world record six times between 1956 and 1965. Olga could not represent her country anymore, but instead competed as an American athlete for the next four Olympic Games, even playing the role of the American flag bearer at the 1972 Games in Munich. However, the love story ended in 1974 when the couple sadly divorced. Hal Conolly passed away in 2010, aged 79. Olga, on the other hand, moved to Nevada and continued to work as a fitness coach until recently.

Cold War Love Story
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