by Dennis Phillips
May 9, 2019
Seven county residents have had the honor of not just representing their country, but also Chautauqua County in the Olympic Games.
On Wednesday, Randy Anderson of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame discussed the county residents who have participated in the Olympics during the Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture series.
The county Olympian who probably is the most recognizable because she won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 in the pole vault competition is Fredonia native Jenn Stuczynski Suhr. Suhr also won a silver medal during the 2008 Beijing and finished seventh due to illness during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Anderson said Suhr holds the world indoor pole vault record of 16 feet, 6 inches and holds the American outdoor record of 16 feet, 2 inches.
Suhr attended Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester on a basketball scholarship. Suhr didn’t start pole vaulting until 2004 when her coach, now husband, Rich Suhr started to train her for the track and field event that involves a person using a long flexible pole, which today is usually made either of fiberglass or carbon fiber, as an aid to jump over a bar.
Anderson said it’s unknown at this point if Suhr will try to qualify to participate in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but she hasn’t ruled it out at this point. If she was to qualify and participate in the Olympics, the 38-year-old Suhr would become the oldest female Olympic pole vaulter, and if she won a medal, would be the oldest male or female in the event to do so by three years.
Another famous Olympian still active today is Tara VanDerveer, women’s basketball coach at Stanford. She was the coach of the gold medal winning USA women’s basketball team during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The U.S. team went 52-0 in practice games before the Olympic games and finished 8-0 to win the gold.
Anderson said she was born in Massachusetts, but her family eventually moved to the Buffalo area and own property at the Chautauqua Institution.
VanDerveer started her career playing at Indiana University before turning to coaching after graduation. She has coached at Idaho, Ohio State and became the coach of the Cardinals in 1985. She is now the third winningest coach in college basketball, only trailing the late Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Anderson said VanDerveer has won two national titles at Stanford and has been named coach of the year four times. She is in both the women’s and Naismith halls of fame.
Boxing is the sport of the next county resident who participated in the Olympics — Jimmy “Jimtown Express” Clark. Anderson said Clark was born in Norfolk, Va., but his family eventually moved to Titusville, Pa., and Clark then moved to Jamestown.
Clark participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the games known for Adolf Hitler’s attempt to show white supremacy. Clark, an African American, lost in a controversial decision on points in the quarterfinals to white Polish boxer Henryk Chmielewski. Anderson said many, including Clark, thought that the Jimtown Express was robbed by the judges because he was an African American. Anderson said some people suspect that Clark lost the fight because Hitler was upset over track and field star and African American Jesse Owens winning four Gold medals.
Anderson said the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, located at 15 W. Third St., has the boxing robe that Clark wore during the 1936 Olympic Games on display.
Geza Farkas was originally from Budapest, Hungary, but due to political unrest in his native country, the olympian eventually moved to the U.S., first to Akron, Ohio, before moving to Jamestown. Farkas was a long-time gymnastic coach at the Jamestown Area YMCA.
As for his Olympic career, Farkas participated in the 1952 Oslo and 1956 Melbourne games. In 1952, Farkas finished 25th in the all-around gymnastics competition and in 1956 he finished 15th in the all-around. Anderson said Farkas’ best event was the rings.
John Eke won two Olympic medals in the 1912 Stockholm games. A native of Sweden, Eke had made his way to Jamestown prior to the 1912 games. For the Olympics, however, Sweden officials asked Eke to return home to represent his native country. People in Jamestown helped Eke raise money for his return trip home to participate in the games, Anderson said.
During the Olympics, Eke won the bronze in the individual cross-country event and won gold as part of the team cross-country competition. When Eke returned to Jamestown, Anderson said thousands of people met him at the train station and a parade was thrown in his honor. The mayor, Samuel Carlson, gave Eke a silver cup for his accomplishments.
Richard Shearman was the coach of the gold winning speed skating team for the USA in the 1952 games in Oslo. Anderson said Shearman was called “Handlebar” because of the mustache he sported.
He moved from Chautauqua County to Lake Placid in 1956 to open a bar that was aptly named “Handlebar.”
Chad Green was born in Dunkirk and participated in the 1996 games in Atlanta as part of the USA baseball team. Green won a bronze medal playing the outfield. He was then drafted in the first round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1996. He played professionally for nine seasons, which also included time with the San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and the then Florida Marlins. Anderson said Green reached Triple-A baseball, but never made it to the show.
Anderson said two more residents of the county were almost olympians, but missed out on their chance. Brad Rendell qualified in the steeplechase in 1940, but unfortunately those games were canceled because of World War II. Also, Jay T. Kearney qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in canoeing. However, because of the political tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R during the Cold War, the U.S. boycotted the games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.