It was a very unusual week, having to say so long to a couple of friends who had left their distinctive mark in the world of sports. The two in question were swimmer Summer Sanders and track afficionado Bert Nelson, co-founder of the Mountain View-based Track & Field News magazine. Both, in a sense, were pioneers in their respective careers. Both touched thousands of lives while leaving indelible memories of their charisma (Sanders) and character (Nelson) for years to come.
Saying so long to Sanders wasn't a difficult task at all. The 21-year-old Stanford student who brought glamour and excitement to the sport, was merely announcing her retirement from competitive swimming. After winning four medals--including two gold--at the Barcelona Olympics, Sanders felt her motivation toward Olympic goals were beginning to fade along with her love of the sport.
"I didn't have those same goals to be the best and beat everybody," Sanders said. "I started questioning, 'Why am I doing this? Why am I making all this effort for this swimming thing?' "
Swimming, which had been so much fun during her first two years at Stanford, suddenly had become a chore. Sanders realized the decision to renounce her final two years of eligibility to accept commercial endorsements had left her with an emptiness, as she found herself training alone between business appointments.
"It's really hard to train on your own," she admitted. "That's where I lost a lot of the love. I was on my own so much of the time . . . I just didn't know what swimming was like without a team."
And now, we'll discover what swimming is like without Summer Sanders. Perhaps a little less glamorous and a little less exciting, for Sanders brought a special youthful spirit to the sport. While others reported how they felt or whether their stroke was on during interviews at the '92 Olympic trials, Sanders would be fielding questions about her bungee jumping or whether she'd date certain members of the Olympic men's team.
That was life with Summer. Often unpredictable. Always fun. As invigorating as a splash of water on one's face on a cold morning. Her presence on the scene will be missed.
So, too, will that of Albert D. (Bert) Nelson, 72, who left this world on Jan. 9 after succumbing to the complications of Parkinson's Disease following a valiant six-year struggle with the illness.
Along with his brother, Cordner, Bert established in 1948 what has become the world's most influential magazine on the sport of track and field. The publication brought a flood of news to a wasteland of information, with Bert the guiding force behind the magazine's editorial and operating policies for 45 years. Both have been inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Upon hearing of his death, the world's track and field community responded with numerous tributes from many of the sport's greatest athletes. A sampling:
From Australia's Ron Clarke, a former world recordholder and one of the greatest names in distance-running history:
"All athletes will mourn the passing of Bert Nelson. He was the true 'affictiano' of track. And I delighted in his company. To me, he was both a true friend and confidante. He and (wife) Jeanette always went out of their way to make me welcome, often in their home--both when I was competing and in the 30 years since--when most had forgotten me or moved on to more recent notorieties . . . He was a true man of his word, a man who in both his professional and personal conduct set a standard and style I greatly admired and respected. I regret his loss very much."
From Norris McWhirter, who along with brother Ross authored the "Guinness Book of World Records":
"The name of Bert Nelson, together with that of his brother, Cordner, was that of a pioneer of the kind that dignifies the annals of free enterprize. As with the assassination of JFK, everyone remembers where they were and who they were with on the day they opened their first copy of Track & Field News. My late brother, Ross, and I were with Harold Abrahams at Wembley at the 1948 Olympic Games. Everyone expressed unbounded admiration. The pioneering work of the Nelsons inspired the creation of the ATFS in a cafe in Brussels in August 1950 and the publication of our own Athletics World in March 1952. All Bert's friends in Britain will join me in sending our sincerest condolences to all the Nelsons. They must be comforted by the fact that no man who sets standards ever lives in vain."
And from Harold Connolly, who set a world record in the hammer throw during the 1962 U.S.-Soviet Union dual meet at Stanford Stadium:
"Through Track & Field News, Bert Nelson was the pulse and soul of track and field in the USA. His United States and world performance lists inspired me all the way to the Olympic victory stand and beyond. My personal athletic achievements and those countless others are a major part of the shining legacy of my friend Bert."
So it's so long to Summer and goodbye to Bert. Your contributions to our lives will be remembered, as well as your accomplishments.
Keith Peters is sports editor of the Weekly
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