It Happened in Jersey: Olympic Sports
Wolverines By A Nose
In 1938, the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships were held in the College Avenue Gym at Rutgers. The gym was built on the site of the first collegiate football game between Rutgers and Princeton, in 1869. The Michigan Wolverines, defending team champions had defeated Ohio State a year earlier in Minnesota by a comfortable 75–39 margin. This time the Buckeyes made things very uncomfortable for Matt Mann’s Wolverines, taking the national title down to the very last race.
The winning swimmers for Michigan included Ed Kirar in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, Waldemar Tomski, Ed Hutchens, Tom Haynie and Kirar in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Two Princeton swimmers won their individual races: Richard Hough was the 200-yard butterfly winner and Al Vande Weghe (right) won the 150-yard backstroke. They teamed with Hendrik Van Oss to win the 3 x 100 medley relay. The Princetonians finished fourth overall and Rutgers came in seventh.
Michigan came out on top 46–45. They would go on to capture the national title three more years in a row, making it five straight between 1937 and 1941.
In 1952, the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships were back in New Jersey, held at Princeton University’s Dillon Gymnasium. Mike Peppe’s Ohio State squad outpionted second-place Yale, 94–81. Three of the Buckeyes who won NCAA titles were from Hawaii:
Dick Cleveland, Yoshi Oyakawa and Ford Konno (left). Oyakawa won gold in the backstroke later that year at the Olympics and Konno won gold medals in the 1,500-meter freestyle and 4 x 200 freestyle relay. Konno and Oyakawa were named co-captains of the 1956 Olympic team.
Two of the champions crowned at Princeton suffered eerily similar fates. Jack Taylor of Ohio State, who won the NCAA backstroke title, finished third in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1952 Olympics, earning a bronze medal. He became a naval jet fighter pilot and was killed practicing carrier landings in Guantanamo Bay in 1955. The star of the diving competition was 20-year-old David “Skippy” Browning (right) from the University of Texas. He won a gold medal in the men’s springboard event in Helsinki that summer. After his victory, he climbed a flagpole to take an Olympic flag home as a souvenir and was arrested. Browning became an Air Force pilot and was killed in a crash two weeks before he was to start training for the 1956 Olympics.
The Road...to Oz
For more than a dozen years from the early 70s to the mid-80s, the Jersey Shore Marathon was one of the premier long-distance events on the East Coast. As the New York City Marathon grew in size and stature, however, the Garden State race (which also took place in early November) saw participation shrink and was cancelled in 1986. The race was revived in 1997, starting at Monmouth Park in Oceanport and finishing on the Long Branch Boardwalk.
The most successful competitor in race history was Oz Pearlman, an Israeli-born mentalist. Yes, mentalist.
Oz began honing his skills as a magician after being dazzled by a sleight-of-hand performer during a cruise with his family. After mastering magic, he began focusing on becoming a mentalist—analyzing people’s subliminal cues and body language to “read” their minds. He has made a good living performing in a wide range of venues, as well as corporate events, and was able to quit his day job at Merrill Lynch.
Oz ran cross-country for a year in high school and then continued for fun in college. He entered his first marathon in 2004 and, by 2005, he was within striking distance of race leaders. In 2006, Oz won the Chicago Lakefront 50-miler and continued to do well in ultra marathons.
In 2008, Oz won the New Jersey Marathon with a time of 2:33:09. In 2011, Oz won the New Jersey Marathon for the second time with a time of 2:28:19, crushing the event’s record by two minutes. He won again in 2013, coming within four seconds of breaking his own mark.
In 2014, Oz won the New Jersey Marathon for the fourth time. He produced four aces as he crossed the finish line. In 2015, he was center stage again, this time at Radio City on an episode of America’s Got Talent.