USA Weightlifting Presents Medal Memories: Peter George
Peter George is a three-time Olympic medalist. He won silver medal in the 75 kg division for his performance in the 1948 London Games, which was the first Olympic Games to take place in 12 years. George went on to win a gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Games and won another silver at the 1956 Melbourne Games. He was also a five-time World Champion and multi-time World Record holder in the Clean and Jerk. When George first lifted 300 pounds in the Clean and Jerk at the age of 15, he was believed to have been the youngest lifter in the world ever to have performed that feat in official competition. Currently, George is a dentist in Honolulu, Hawaii.
What was your most memorable Olympic experience?
PG – It’s got to be my first Olympics going through the tunnel into the stadium and listening to that roar of the audience, and the realization that you’re part of something much bigger than yourself, and the fact that your representing your nation and see all of those people and how their roaring for the United States and you’re part of that. It was an awesome experience. At that time I was already a World Champion, having won the lightweight class in Philadelphia, but just to know that I was part of something so much bigger, because the Olympics are really just a festival of world championships. A lot of people seem to think that an Olympian is much greater than a World Champion, well their identical, but the fact is that in the Olympic Games, all of the various sports have their championships on the same day. As far as the competition is concerned, it makes no difference what so ever. That was the greatest thrill, was when I went through that tunnel and heard the awesome roar of the crowd as the U.S. marched out to the track of the stadium in London in 1948.
Those London Games must have been particularly special for you considering that that was the first Olympics in 12 years, because of World War II. What was it like to be a part of that?
PG – It was awesome. I was 18 years old at the time and having read about the Olympics in school and listening people talk about the Olympics, I knew the last one was in1936 when I was a little boy and how Jesse Owens won all of his medals. And I know about Hitler and all of the international intrigue. Then to be a part of that in the first Olympics after the War was quite an experience.
In comparison to the other Games you participated in, was there more excitement in London?
PG – There was a lot of excitement yes. First of all, the war was over and the people were in a celebratory mood. But there were a lot of scars left over for World War II, but they cleaned up everything. There was a heavy, heavy bombing during World War II and there were a lot of empty lots and piles of rubble that were neatly piled up all over the place. So it was evident that they had been through a very, very rough time and people were ready to rejoice with this International festival.
What was it like to be on the medal stand for the first time?
PG – As I first mentioned, in my first Olympics in 1948, I was already a world champion and I’d experienced the awesome sensation of watching the flag being raised, and listening to the star spangled banner, so that was a very, very awesome experience. That first one in London was kind of a disappointment, because I came in second and I had the winning weight overhead, but I just didn’t hold it long enough. So I got a silver medal.
What was it likely getting your gold in Helsinki?
PG – Pretty much the same as when I won in Philadelphia, but even though as far as weightlifting is concerned, there is absolutely no difference whatsoever, between an Olympic Champion and a World Champion, but as far as the general public is concerned, they say ‘Olympic Champion, wow that’s something.’ Just to stand there and listen to the Star Spangled Banner and watching the flag going up and knowing that it’s all done, because of you is a very moving experience, to know that you’re part of something bigger and that you’re not just an individual. With the Olympics its more National and International, you’re representing your country and that’s very inspiring.
What was your favorite Olympic Games that you participated in?
PG – I would say in 1952 in Helsinki, because that was the year I won the gold. As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing about the Olympics is winning the gold, so that was obviously my favorite Olympics.
How early did you get involved with weightlifting?
PG – Around 12 years old. I started out in a kid’s class in my neighborhood. The institution I went to was called the American College of Modern Weightlifting, but was simply an enlargement of a backyard garage where we had a lifting platform and weights and so forth. What I learned at that institution perhaps did more for me personally that any of the higher education that I had received and I’ve had over 10 years of education after high school.
As a kid, I was very shy, awkward, thin, weak and a very poor student. Weightlifting elevated all of that. Weightlifting is the only sport that actually improves you. Physically, measurably, you can see how it improves you when you’re doing it. You can measure day by day as you’re getting stronger and better. My coach always kept repeating to all of his kids that ‘everyday you’re getting better and stronger’ paraphrasing an old maxim by Émile Coué a French philosopher that ‘everyday I’m getting better and better’. You could actually see that as you were actually lifting and as a gullible 12 or 13 year old kid seeing how the wisdom of my coach was being played out in my own life, I was getting stronger every day, that increased my confidence and everything else including my school work. This encouraged me. The fact is if you believe it and you act on it, it will come true. Positive thinking is perhaps the most important element in achieving weightlifting success.
What is one thing that a usual spectator would understand about preparing for Worlds or preparing for the Olympics?
PG – How important your mental attitude is in the achieving of success in weightlifting. Mental attitude is the most import aspect of success in weightlifting. I’ve written many articles on that for Strength and Health magazine. Tommy Kono and I get together and talk a little bit and we both agree that mental attitude is the most important factor in the success of weightlifting. My advice to any lifter is to read Tommy’s two books.
What’s your relationship like with Tommy Kono?
PG – I first met Tommy Kono in 1950 in Philadelphia. He was this skinny Asian kid who people said ‘he’s going to amount to something in lifting’. In ’52, he made the Olympic team and he, John Davis and I were teammates and roommates at the Helsinki Games. I got know him quite well then and ever since we’ve been quite good friends. We’ve competed once against each other and he won all the times. He is, in my opinion, the greatest lifter of all-time. You can say ‘Well how was he the greatest lifter of all-time? All of his records are broken,’ but he was the greatest competitor. He would always go where the competition was that toughest. He would go up and down body weight classes beating every champion that stood in his way.
Who was you most difficult opponent?
PG – It was Khadr El-Touni. He beat me in 1950 in Paris and then I beat him in 1951 in Milan, Italy.
You’re originally from Akron, Ohio. What brought you out to living in Hawaii?
PG – I was a dental student and during my senior year in dental school, I joined the army and my only duty was to complete dental school and on graduation I was training for the Olympics. They asked where I would like to be stationed, this was 1956, and Tommy had moved from Sacramento to Honolulu at that time and I wanted to be stationed in Honolulu where Tommy Kono was training. The Olympics were in Australia that year and so they assigned me here in 1956 and I spent four years in the army, after that I went to specialized orthodontics at Columbia University in New York City. At that point I had more friends in Hawaii than I did in Ohio, so I moved out to Hawaii and stayed here and lived here happily ever after.
What was it like to balance between academics and weightlifting?
PG – I graduated from high school in 1948, graduated from Kent State University 1952, then I was at Ohio State for four years 52-56 and after that I went into the Army. I was always a student when competing. I had very well timed when to train, but I never missed a workout. I trained three times a week, sometimes it would only be about a half hour, but never more than an hour and a half, that’s why the mental attitude is perhaps the most important aspect of training. It’s not how hard you trained, but how you applied your confidence in the effort. My first priority was education, but I was very much into weightlifting.