A McCallister Olympian

On this day in 1932, nearly 100,000 people “swarmed into Olympic Stadium” in Los Angeles to witness the closing ceremonies of the Tenth Olympiad in the modern era.[1] Among the athletes who had won medals was C. Harold McCallister, a member of the United States’ bronze-winning water polo team.

McCallister was born in South Dakota in 1903 but moved with his family to California at the age of ten. He played water polo in high school and for a year he was captain of the water polo team at Stamford University. After completing his medical degree at the University of Colorado, he established a career in Los Angeles, but he continued to play water polo. At the time of the Olympics, McCallister was 29 – “pretty old for an athlete” by his own admission.[2]

With the world in the grips of the Great Depression, some people thought that holding the 1932 Olympics at all was a bad idea. Only 37 countries were able to send teams to compete, and there were fears that construction costs alone would be unsustainable. In addition to new venues for the various competitions, an entire Olympic village had been constructed – the first in modern Olympic history.  The village, which included a postal office, several dining rooms, and entertainment options like a movie cinema and a radio station, offered accommodation to athletes from every country participating at a cost to each athlete of only $2 a night.[3] There were doubts about the wisdom of this, too – according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, many predicted that housing athletes from so many countries together was asking for trouble.[4]

But the Los Angeles games of 1932 surprised everyone. Despite taking place in the midst of the Depression, the games succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hopes. Rather than losing money, they became the first modern games to actually make a profit. The costs of construction were much lower than nay-sayers predicted, because every single house built for the Olympic village was sold after the games ended – for $140, or a bit more if furnished.[5] By the time the closing ceremonies began, seats in Olympic Stadium had sold out. And as for all those athletes living together? Harold McCallister recalls that “the camaraderie was terrific. People of the various countries, although they could only say, ‘hello’ or ‘how are you,’ were all friends.”[6]

McCallister competed again in the 1936 Olympics, attended several later games as a spectator and was involved in organising the Los Angeles games of 1984. He continued to participate in sports, playing badminton, handball and table tennis with the Los Angeles Athletic Club long after his retirement from medicine in 1975. He died in October 1997.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]The Games of the Xth Olympiad, Los Angeles 1932, Official Report’ (published 1933), p. 771.

[2]Charles H. McCallister, interviewed by George Hodak for An Olympian’s Oral History, Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 1988; p. 8.

[3] Xia Gao & Te Bu, ‘Research on Historical Origin of Olympic Village, Asian Social Science, Vol. 7, No. 3 (March 2011): 6.

[4]Abby Chin-Martin, ‘The First-Ever Olympic Village Was Built in Los Angeles‘.

[5]Chin-Martin, ibid.

[6]Hodak, An Olympian’s Oral History, p. 8.

The Antrim Torchbearer

On this day in 2012, 17-year-old Gemma McAllister of Glengormley, Northern Ireland, carried the Olympic torch through Antrim, cheered on by thousands of local people.[1]

The opportunity to carry the torch was an appropriate honour for someone who has done so much to advance the cause of youth sports in her country – and beyond. In addition to playing football (soccer) internationally, she also represented her school in hockey and girls’ rugby and played water polo for Belfast team the Donegall Diamonds. Since 2009 – the year it began in Northern Ireland – Gemma has been part of the Youth Sport Trust’s Young Ambassador programme, which has as its goal “changing young people’s lives through sport”.[2] 

She served on the programme’s steering group and has worked to encourage young people to participate in sports. She even held a mini-Olympics event, in which a hundred primary school children participated.[3]

In January of 2012, Gemma’s love of sport took her all the way to Egypt, where she attended a youth sport conference as part of the British delegation. The conference focused on creating sporting opportunities for young Egyptians.[4] While there, Gemma gave a speech on behalf of the British Council in Egypt.[5] At home, her position as ambassador involved promoting last year’s Olympics and Paralympics in London, and in this role she was involved in a project that brought athletes from several middle eastern countries to train in Antrim during July and August in preparation for these major sporting events.[6] 

Gemma was selected to be a torchbearer by the Youth Sport Trust “for her outstanding contribution as a Young Ambassador”. The experience, she recalls, “was unbelievable.”[7]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]‘Olympic Torch Relay: Antrim’s Moment to Shine, in Active Antrim, issue 14, September 2012-January 2013): 4.
[2] Youth Sport Trust:About Us

[3]‘Moment to Shine’, Olympic Games Official London website: Torchbearers: Gemma Mcallister

[4]Sporty Gemma on British team off to land of pyramids for conference, Belfast Telegraph, 3 January 2012.
[5]Successful Year for Antrim Grammar, Antrim Times, 26/12/12.

[6]FiveAthletics and Paralympics teams to train in the north‘, Athletics Northern Ireland, March 2012.
[7]‘Young Ambassador Carries Torch in Antrim’, Youth Sport Trust: news, 7 June 2012.