Getting Involved in The Olympic Movement
An Interview with Bill Toomey


Topics Discussed
The Olympic Movement
Olympic Values
Role of Former Olympians
Fans & Supporters
Bill's Motivation

Message to Olympians

Bill actively supports the Olympic cause. He served eight years on the US Olympic Committee, was President Nixon's personal representative to the Munich Olympic Games, Presidential Advisor to the Peace Corps, co-founded World Olympians and has represented the IOC on key humanitarian missions.


   Think winning Olympic medals are about egos and endorsements? Think again. In this exclusive interview, Bill Toomey speaks frankly about the meaning of the Olympics and getting involved in the Olympic family.

Q: What is the Olympic Movement?

Toomey: "The Olympic Movement is perhaps one of the most valuable institutions that have survived several thousand years. Those of us who participate realize the incredible honor bestowed on us, but to really understand the true scope and depth of the movement requires more investigation and concentration. The Olympics have been with the world since 776 B.C., and have only been interrupted by war, especially in the modern era. Many view the Olympic movement as a 'peace' movement.

"The Olympic movement is divided into two very distinct eras. The ANCIENT GAMES began in 776 B.C. and ended abruptly in 393 A.D. when emperor Theodosius I abolished them by decree. The Ancient Games are relatively obscure to most Olympians, but to understand just what the Games are about, it is really necessary to investigate the roots and the meaning that has transformed culture and society for so many years.

"The Olympic Games of the Modern Era began in 1896 in the city of Athens. Athens will again be the host of the Games in 2004, but there are rumors that they might be switched if the Greeks don't begin to construct the sites faster.

"Nobel Peace Prize winner, Philip John Noel-Baker (1959) ran in three Olympic Games (Great Britain) and won a silver medal in the 1500 meters at Antwerp in 1920. His contributions to the League of Nations and also the United Nations made him one of the most well known Olympians whose life was dedicated to peace. He helped draft the UN charter in 1945 and in 1946 was appointed to membership on the British delegation.

"I had the immense pleasure to both meet and work with the Right Honorable Philip John Noel-Baker during the Games of Munich in 1972. He became the president of the International Council of Sport and Physical Recreation of UNESCO, and appointed me to become a member in 1972."

Q: What value does the Olympic Movement have to individuals and their countries?
Toomey: "The ability to compete globally places the Olympic Movement on a different level than the competitions in regional or local levels.

"The ability to mingle with so many countries and cultures is extremely valuable for men and women. During the 1992 Opening Ceremonies, as the nations of the world marched in, suddenly there was a silence throughout the stadium. Iraq had entered. We had just finished a war with this country, and I had mixed emotions. Then in a fraction of a second, I realized that these sportsmen were not anyone's enemies. The crowd then became inspired and gave these young men and women a wonderful welcome. For many athletes, the OPENING CEREMONIES are the highlight of their Olympic Experience."

Q: What roles can former Olympians play? how can they get started?
Toomey: "Past Olympians have a continuing role within the Olympic family. They can convey to the youth of their country those messages about the Olympics that may stir a youngster to dream an Olympic dream.

"In 1995, Dr. Elizabeth Ferris (1960 Bronze medal, Diving) and I pursued the International Olympic Committee to inaugurate the World Olympian Association. I had been the president of the US Olympians for two terms, and the chance to develop our organization on a world level was truly exciting. It is the hope of the WOA to assist past Olympians to regain a role in the Olympic Movement. The WOA is an important group for the International Olympic Committee, and I am proud to have been a part of the first two executive boards. Currently I hold the position of Vice-President."

Q: What roles can the fans and supporters of the Olympics play? How can they get started?
Toomey: "The fans and supporters are also part of the Olympic family. People need to know that by donating, coaching, and just lending support, anyone can become part of the wonderful global family. Olympians are the product of the Movement, and to get them to the stadiums, pools and playing fields, it takes the actions of legions of people who might not be Olympians. Anyone who is interested can participate in the Movement; it only takes a degree of desire!"

Q: What motivated you to become so deeply involved in the movement?
Toomey: "My Olympic voyage has continued because it is so rewarding.

"I can remember coaching in the Peace Corps. It was in Ghana back in the early 70's. I was coaching and giving seminars with Dr. Tom Waddell all around the world. During national championships, I noticed two Ghanaian pole-vaulters. They were brave, but not well coached. I took off my blue blazer and introduced myself.

"I realized that they both had courage, but they did not have technical expertise. I helped them by rearranging the pole vault standards. I dug out the landing pit and moved the standards further back. I then dragged the runway so they would have a faster approach and instilled into their minds a few principles. Instead of pulling the pole towards their chest on take-off, I suggested they 'push' the pole and then invert themselves. If they did this, I knew the rest would come automatically.

"One of the vaulters told me that the officials had indicated he was too old. In fact we were the same age. I identified with him! While he was going to the back of the runway, I decided to raise the bar above the national record. Actually, it was almost a foot above the record. I went to him and went over the instructions. He then began the trip down the runway and I watched and waited. He planted perfectly. He pushed, and then inverted and flew over the crossbar. He rotated at the top and then I realized that he was going to land on his back. I went to the pit and he emerged with blood escaping from the largest smile I had ever seen. When he found out that he had beaten the record by a foot, the look was my reward. This is why I continue to be part of the Olympic Movement. It is the best."

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievements in the movement?
Toomey: "The greatest feeling of accomplishment for me is the fact that I was an athlete who was somewhat disabled. At the time, I never shared this with the press and the public. My family knew, but most of the sporting world did not realize that my right hand been some 75% paralyzed. It was due to a childhood accident. A youngster threw a dish under my locker door and it shattered and then ripped my wrist open. The doctor did not know that the median nerve had been severed, and to this day I believe that this was my secret weapon. I made it work for me!"


Olympic Links

International Olympic

United States
Olympic Committee

World Olympian Association

The Olympic Museum

The International Medalists

University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on the
Ancient Olympic Games





"There is nothing wrong with aiming high. If a person really wants to do something - if for example to become an Olympian - he or she should be encouraged. Trying and not making it aren't bad. Not trying because the odds look high - that is much worse. If everybody had that attitude where would we be?"
Bill Toomey






TOP LEFT: Bill Toomey (right) with Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham (center), whose career inspired the film "Top Gun".

LOWER LEFT: Meeting President Johnson after the Mexico City Olympic Games.

RIGHT: Bill Toomey in Accra, Ghana during his coaching and outreach tour with the Peace Corps.

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