Peter George, a gold medalist in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics,
is now an orthodontist.
Photo by Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin

George a giant
in the world of weightlifting

By Pat Bigold

Dr. Peter George's life was shaped by his success in weightlifting.

But even with three Olympic medals (two silvers, one gold) to his name, George knows he's hardly a household name across America.

"Weightlifting has never gotten the kind of publicity basketball or track and field gets," said the 67-year-old Honolulu orthodontist.

That's why he wasn't surprised to find his name initially left off the list of 100 Golden Olympians.

He finally got added to the prestigious list when basketball superstar Michael Jordan voluntarily dropped off due to prior commitments.

"To Michael Jordan, it would have been just another command performance he had to attend, but to me it's a big deal," said George.

His travel expenses to Atlanta will be paid for by Xerox.

"I guess they looked back on the records of each athlete," he said. "When I retired, I was the most successful weightlifter of all time. I had scored more team points than any other lifter in the history of sport.

"Then Tommy Kono broke my records and now I think he's the greatest lifter of all time."

Kono, another three-time Olympic medalist, also was chosen a Golden Olympian. He and George will leave together for Atlanta on Wednesday.

"To us, he (George) was the 'boy wonder,'" said Kono.

"When he was 14, he was a junior national champion, at 16 he was a national champion, and at 17, he was a world champion. Everyone considered him the 'boy wonder.'"

At 15, George became the youngest person ever to clean and jerk 300 pounds.

By age 27, George had competed in more world championships and amassed more team points than any other weightlifter.

But in 1956, four years after he won gold in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and set middleweight lifting records, George came to Hawaii from Akron, Ohio, and found it meant very little to his commanding officer.

A recently commissioned member of the Army's dental corps, George wanted to work at Tripler Army Medical Center but the dental corps commanding officer there at the time did not want him.

"He said he didn't want any jocks on his staff," said George. "He said I should go to Schofield."

George said that when he got to Schofield and checked in the 25th Infantry Division, he asked permission to leave work early three times a week to beat the traffic to the Nuuanu YMCA so he could work out with Kono.

The Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, were only a few months away and George was trying to stay in peak form.

But the same CO at Tripler was also in charge of all the Army dental corps in Hawaii.

"He said, 'No way,'" said George.

"He said if you want to do that, maybe you should go into special services and train all day. But I said, 'I'm a dentist and I want to work as a dentist.'"

George said he nonetheless drove to Nuuanu after work, traffic and all, and managed to do his workouts, although Kono was wrapping up his workouts by the time George got there.

Getting to the 1956 Olympics, his last, was made even more difficult when the stage on which he was standing at Farrington High School during a weightlifting event gave way in September, a month before the Games.

"I had 400 pounds when the boards split apart, and my knee was wrenched," he said. "I couldn't squat for a while after the accident.

"So I had to pull weights much higher to get them on my shoulders."

By the time he got to Melbourne, he had lost considerable strength in his thighs - the critical mechanism for lifting.

George won his second silver at the Olympics that year. He won his first in London in 1948.

George said today's weightlifters are lucky because if they show any Olympic promise, they can go to train full-time in Colorado Springs.

"There was no training center back in the 50s, and, unlike today, if anybody so much as gave me $5 for expenses, I'd be disqualified," said George.

George said no Olympic medalists, even in the more obscure sports, are better received these days by everyone because of TV.

"TV made the big difference for the Olympics - it's what made an explosion for athletes as celebrities," he said.

"There is now about 20 times as much coverage."

George made his biggest impact on the sport by proving the superiority of the squat over the split style of lifting.

It was the subject of a book he privately published called, "Secrets of the Squat Snatch."

Peter George

Age: 67.
Hometown: Honolulu
Education: Kent State U., Ohio State U., Columbia.
Occupation: Orthodontist; assistant professor of stomatology at the School of Medicine, University of Hawaii.
Olympic history: Silver medal, 1948, London; gold medal, 1952, Helsinki; silver medal, 1956, Melbourne.

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