The YMCA and the Olympic Games

Date: 15 August 2016

Argentina YMCA has been exploring the connection between the YMCA and the Olympic Games.

Far from being a complete record, this is a great collection of stories that the entire YMCA is proud of.  We share their report below.

The relationship between the International Olympic Movement and the Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA dates back to the early days of modern Olympic Games, especially during the 1920s and 1930s when the institution played a meaningful role in the growth of this competition.

The work of the Director of the Athletic Department of the American Young Men´s Christian Association, Elwood S. Brown, was paramount, who was very much involved in the organization of the games between the allies during World War I.

This was noted by the Baron de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympic Games) who got in touch with Brown. Brown accepted and agreed to make all the resources and infrastructure of the Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA available to support the development of the Olympic movement.  Elwood Brown also contributed to Olympism in Latin America and the East, especially in India, by promoting the sports commitment of Young Men´s Christian Associations/YMCAs in both regions.

Since its inception, the Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA favored the sports talent of the first young Olympic athletes across the globe.  In many cases, it provided facilities for Olympic athletes to train or to educate more people once the competition had finished. 

In Argentina, the institution´s support for Olympism was very strong. The first Olympic delegations were coordinated and escorted by professionals from the Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA. Likewise, the institution was closely involved in the creation of a sports structure for the country.

Some Unique Facts

-The Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA received the Olympic Cup twice: In 1920, for its contribution to Olympic sports – especially the creation of basketball and volleyball, and in 1929, for its contribution to the growth of the Olympic movement worldwide.

-In 1924, Johnny Weissmuller, winner of three gold medals in swimming, was a member of the Young Men´s Christian Association/YMCA of Chicago in his childhood. He was then famous for his performance of Tarzan.

-In 1924, the Argentine team was directed by YMCA professor Federico Dickens and ten athletes made it to the Games, two of them members of the institution: Otto Dietsch and Francisco Dova, who broke the South American record in the 800 m competition that same year.

-In 1932, Horacio Gwyne, who was a boxer from YMCA Toronto, won a gold medal in the Bantamweight Class.

-In 1936, the Mexican Basketball Team nurtured from the YMCAs from Mexico City and Chihuahua.

-In 1936, the 4×100 Relay team at the Berlin Olympic Games included two members from YMCA Argentina: Antonio Sande and Carlos Hoffmeister.

Delfo Cabrera, who was member of YMCA Argentina, won the Olympic medal in Athletics in 1948.

Dara Greis Torres is the only swimmer to have participated in five Olympic Games throughout 24 years: Four gold medals, four silver medals, and four bronze medals. She was a member of the YMCAs from Beverly Hills, California, and Florida.

-In 1972, Seifu Makonnen, from the YMCA of Ethiopia, represented his country, also in Boxing.

-In 1972, Mark Spitz, winner of 7 gold medals in Swimming, was a member of the YMCA of Sacramento.

Rena Kanokogi, member of the American YMCA, pioneered Women´s Judo at the Olympic Games. She compelled organizers to include judo in the 1988 Olympic Games.

Jenny Thompson, who secured twelve gold medals at the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, learned how to swim at the YMCA of Merrimack Valley, Maryland.

Ian Crocker, winner of four gold medals in 2000 and 2004, learned how to swim at the YMCA of Portland, Oregon.

-In 2016, Daniel Purvis, member of the YMCA of Southport, Great Britain, became British champion of Men´s Artistic Gymnastics.

Michael Phelps, the athlete who has won more gold medals in the history of the Olympic Games, is a professor at the YMCA Aquatics Center in Baltimore County, Maryland. In the morning, he teaches aquaerobics to the elderly and in the afternoon he teaches swimming to children, and also works as a lifeguard at the center. He had previously participated in the “Play Every Day” program, which taught children how to swim at YMCA facilities in New York. A swimming program from the YMCA of Mumbai, India, takes after his name: “Michael Phelps Swimming.”