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From The Vault Of Art Shay: Sidewalk Olympics

By Art Shay in News on Aug 1, 2012 7:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his archives, Art reminds us the Olympic dream always starts small.)

Somewhere I have a picture of an unmounted young Canadian Mountie, machine gun cocked and ready, aiming and shouting at a pretty college girl trying to enter the Olympic wrestling gym at Montreal through the wrong door. The sweaty events behind the door would hardly be worth a death in the afternoon-or the bloody aftermath of mindless murder by a soldier just doing his duty. ("Shoot anyone who tries to get past you, Brian.") I believe that when his machine gun wavered from his first target to include me and my camera in the arc of his sighting, he came to his senses and lowered that automatic gun. His change of deadly focus was covered with chagrin. Even his teenaged hair turned red. And I had missed a great sequence in the ongoing war between ABC and Canada in 1976.

It was a war that had begun with our ABC crew's appearance at the Montreal party featuring the mayor's welcoming us to their beautiful city. Unfortunately, the Mayor had difficulty finding the exit for his speech: "and so we welcome you to historic Montreal where… so I once again say ,'Welcome' to the ABC crew- and if there is anything we can do to make your visit ...for Montreal is famous for its hospitality to visitors- especially." Like that. Finally, Howard Cossell and O.J. Simpson, with an assist from Jim McKay, burst into mocking applause that routed him from the stage. I must say that I was not a fan of Canadian hospitality to the press ever since they had held two Leicas hostage at the airport a month earlier, when I had been sent by Fortune magazine to photograph a farm tool company. They wanted $250 to admit each Leica for the day "beecuz Monsieur," the custom guy said indignantly, "you have taken zee job of a Canadian photographer." So I cabbed it downtown and bought a $75 Olympus with which I shot the job.

At one of the first track meets I was standing on the sidelines, which had been yellow chalked to set limits on the roaming of fotogs, still and cine. With 400mm Kilfitt to my eye, I focused on the first turn a hundred yards away when I felt this truncheon rat-tat-tatting on my toe. I looked down, then up. It was another unmounted host Mountie beating time on my foot."Monsieur," he said, "your foot eez one inch over zee line." I cleverly riposted with that internationally understood epithet: "Fuck you!"

He reached for his complaint pad and I spelled it out, letter by letter, followed by spelling out my name. His unmounted sergeant came up and said, “You are lucky he didn't shoot you."

I was too young for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but guessed it would have been the same.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.