Former Olympians remember Londons 1948 games
July 18th, 2012
Former Olympians remember
London's 1948 games
It was “the most exciting thing in my life”
On July 27, when the athletes enter London's Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the XXX Olympiad, millions of Canadians will have their eyes glued to their TV sets. Included among them will be two Westmount residents who will surely have nostalgic gleams in their eyes.
Sol Tolchinsky, 83, and Murray Waxman, 87, were two of the six-members selected from the Montreal YMHA Blues basketball team that played for Canada in the XIV Olympiad — London's 1948 Summer Games.
On July 29 of that year, more than 4,000 athletes from 59 nations marched into a packed Wembley Stadium, which included King George VI, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary. Because of World War II, the '48 Summer Olympics were the first since the infamous 1936 Berlin Games, where Jews and blacks were initially prohibited from participating. Tolchinsky and Waxman were part of a contingent of 118 that followed the flag bearer waving the old The Canadian Red Ensign.
“Entering into the stadium was the most exciting thing in my life,” said Waxman. “There were about 100,000 people in the stands and we watched the king and queen come in. Then we walked around the stadium with all the other members of the games. I was thrilled with the whole thing.”
Back then, the 23-year-old Waxman lived on Hutchinson St. and was working for an accountant. Tolchinsky was an 18-year-old needle trade worker living on l'Esplanade Ave. Both homes were close to the YMHA building on Mount Royal Ave. West.
The Olympic team selection process was different in those days. “We got into the finals of the Canadian championships against UBC [University of British Columbia], who beat us. We were the second team so they chose six guys from our team…” began Waxman, before Tolchinsky cut in, “That's not how it happened. What happened was it was a round robin in Toronto between us and them and two colleges. We played a college team and they played a college team and we each beat the college team. Then we played each other and we beat them.”
Well, they were both kind of right.
The YMHA Blues won the Eastern Canada championships but lost the Canadian finals to another Vancouver team at McGill's Sir Arthur Currie gym. But at an Olympic trials tournament in Toronto, the Blues beat those same Canadian champs from Vancouver to win one bracket while UBC secured the other. The Olympic selection committee then chose eight players from UBC and six from the Blues — Tolchinsky, Waxman, Sydney (Cy) Strulovitch, Ben Lands, Doodie Bloomfield, Mendy Morein and coach Moe Abramowitz. The last three have since passed away.
It was a big deal not only for the players, but for the entire YMHA. “After all, we were six Jewish kids out of nowhere, working for the Y. Playing basketball wasn't a full-time job for us,” said Waxman.
They crossed the Atlantic both ways on the Cunard Line's RMS Aquitania for a six-week adventure. “Two weeks in the boat (one week to get there and one week to get back), two weeks in practice and two weeks for the games,” remembered Tolchinsky.
That year, basketball made only its second appearance as a medal sport. Unfortunately, the team's 3-2 opening round record wasn't enough to propel them to the second level and Canada finished ninth out of 23 teams in a tournament that would eventually be won by the powerful U.S. squad.
Upon their return, the local players were nevertheless treated like heroes. Waxman's family had proudly affixed a large “Welcome home from the Olympics” banner to the balcony. Tolchinsky added that taking part in the games actually changed the course of his life. He had been working in the needle trade at 10 Pine Ave. West from the age of 15 and after the games, one of his friends — the late Irving Adessky, a McGill University law graduate who went on to become Hampstead's long-serving mayor — convinced him to go to college. Tolchinsky listened, took the required exams and was admitted. “That's how I got into McGill, because of the basketball, otherwise I wouldn't have gone. I would have been in the schmatta industry at 10 Pine Ave. West.”
Tolchinsky played basketball for McGill during his first year. During the second, he joined the famed Red and White Review, the theatre troupe that at the time included some guy named William Shatner.
The theatre troope, where he also met his wife Margot, was a natural fit for a young man whose older brother was Shmuel Tolchinsky, better known as Mel Tolkin, who was, among other things, the head writer for the early '50s TV sketch comedy series Your Show of Shows, featuring Sid Caesar. “Solly's real thing should have been in theatre. He was a very smart writer at that time … although you wouldn't know that now,” said Waxman with a laugh.
Instead, Tolchinsky became an exposition services contractor while Waxman went into real estate.
Still a fan of the game, Waxman said he's impressed by the way it has evolved over the years. “It's exiting to see what's happened to sports compared to what we were doing at the time. It's a completely different ballgame. First of all, they're bigger, stronger, more capable, and the technical skills are way above the skills that we had in the '50s,” said the 6-foot tall Waxman, adding, “You don't see too many 5-foot-6 guys playing basketball.”
Tolchinsky, who at 6-foot-4 was the tallest member of the team, just couldn't resist. “I'm the only centre in the YMHA Hall of Fame who, when he jumped, could not touch the rim.”
YMHA, Sol Tolchinsky, Murray Waxman, Anthony Bonaparte, The Suburban