Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

His Olympic Spirit Still Strong, 60 Years Later

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

His Olympic Spirit Still Strong, 60 Years Later

Article excerpt

The U.S. Olympic Committee made it possible, though uncomfortable, for Lucille Johnson to cheer for her husband, Francis, at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin.

She rode steerage on the USS Manhattan, which was chartered by the USOC for the week-long Atlantic crossing.

"There weren't many wives who went," said Lucille, a bride then for less than two years. "The wives were clear down on the bottom of the boat. Francis was up with the Olympic team in tourist class.

"We had to eat all of our meals down there and sleep down there. Up where Francis was, they had far better meals. I think the farther down in the boat you went, the more onions they had in the meals.

"I didn't care. To me, it was worthwhile to be on the same ship with him to go over."

Sixty years later, with no help from the USOC, she stayed home in Chesterfield as Francis took bows at the Atlanta Games, where he was honored as captain of the first Olympic gold-medal basketball team.

Francis never dreamed of being honored, much less chauffeured, when he drove to Atlanta with his daughter, four grandchildren and their friend. He was happy to have four nosebleed tickets to the last three rounds of men's hoops.

He was less happy about being snubbed by the USOC, USA Basketball and corporate sponsors who had used him in Olympic promotions. For no fee.

Francis, who lost his job at Globe Oil by taking off for Berlin in '36, said, "You just do it because you owe something back."

Francis's case is baffling. He turned 86 on Monday, making him one of America's oldest gold medalists. Of the four surviving hoopsters from '36, only he went to Atlanta.

Francis believes he got seats from the USOC only because of Mike Dyer, the National Basketball Association executive who previously ran the Olympic Festival here in 1994. Francis spent nearly $3,000, because tickets to other unwanted sports were required in his Dream Team package.

Once in Atlanta, his daughter, Jan Klaus of St. Louis, contacted the NBA officials who ran the basketball venue. Tickled to hear of him, they arranged the van and cart service that would have let Lucille, who uses a wheelchair and a walker, attend. …

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