Casey Converse on the Greatest Olympic Story Never Told
March 9, 2016
Casey Converse on the Greatest Olympic Story Never Told (Colorado Springs Magazine)
It has been called the greatest untold story of the Olympic Games. It’s a true tale of athletics as Cold War proxy battle, widespread doping and an improbable comeback. And its legacy ties to Colorado Springs. You can read about it in our article “The Greatest Olympic Story Never Told.”
This spring, Casey Converse’s book Munich to Montreal: Women’s Olympic Swimming in a Tarnished Golden Era will reveal a new in-depth look at little known piece of Olympic history—a piece the now Air Force Academy swim coach lived as a member of the U.S. Olympic swim team at those 1976 Montreal Games. We talked with Converse to get the inside story.
Springs: Why did you want to tell this story?
Converse: It nagged at me for years for two reasons. One, I swam on the men’s team in Montreal. While I was mostly oblivious to what was going on with the East German women at the time, I was good friends with Shirley Babashoff, who was the biggest single victim of the East German doping program. We trained together in ’75 and ’76 leading up to the games. The second reason is because this is a remarkable story of overcoming the odds, and I felt like it was in danger of being lost in the decades.
Your book and the USA Swimming film, The Last Gold, are separate ventures but had symbiotic beginnings?
I began interviews and research for the book at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Chuck Wielgus and Mike Unger of USA Swimming became interested in the story a couple years later. Initially I knew more about the subject than they did, so I helped get them started. Since then, USA Swimming let me tag along to interview the East German athletes last summer and gave me access to other interviews. Also, some of our swimmers at the Academy were filmed for the promotional trailer for the film. It’s been a great relationship.
How do the book and the film differ?
The book is told through my lens, that of a former athlete who has coached for 30 years. I am interested in the dynamics between the coaches and the athletes, and how athletes develop over time. It was a fascinating time in the history of swimming. There was a revolution in the sport that came about after the introduction of functional swim goggles in 1972. The film is centered on the individual characters: the Germans and the Americans, especially Shirley Babashoff.
When do the book and movie release?
The Last Gold is being considered for international film festivals. The nationwide debut is scheduled to coincide with the Rio Olympics this summer. The book is set for a launch and signing at Stir coffee shop on March 13. I’ve seen the film, and it is a beautiful telling of the story using historical footage and current interviews of the major players. It’s a great production with the narrative voiced-over by Julianna Margulies.