Remembering Frank Spellman

By Kevin Farley | Jan. 12, 2017, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
Frank Spellman, 1948 Olympic Weightlifting Champion, died Thursday at the age of 94 his gym and family said. Spellman was the oldest living Olympic Weightlifting champion in the United States. 

Spellman came from humble beginnings. Left an orphan at age 7 after his father's death, Spellman lived in an orphanage until he was 17 years old. 

Like many greats of our sport, Spellman found Weightlifting while training as a gymnast.

"When I was four years old, my parents took me out to a state fair," Spellman told USA Weightlifting in 2012. "There, I saw a guy doing handstands and balancing and it just lit me up right away. One day in college a fellow came in and came in and I noticed he had a terrific physique. So we started talking and I said, 'I couldn’t help but notice your physique, what did you do to get that?' He said, 'Weightlifting.'

"One day after school I went down to his house and we went down in a cellar where he had a set of weights," Spellman said. "He showed me how to clean and press a weight. At that time I was weighing about 120 [pounds], so he put on a 100 pounds and I cleaned it and pressed it. I ended up pressing 130 [pounds] and he couldn’t believe it."

From there, Spellman was hooked. He started training toward an Olympic dream. He won silver in the 1947 World Championships 

"For one reason or another I thought I might try this weightlifting thing. I was living in South Philadelphia then. I went over to the South Philadelphia weightlifting club and joined and they had a guy who kind of ran the club. He saw something in me so he coached me and I used the same routines up until the days I retired," Spellman said.

In 1948, Spellman traveled to London to represent the United States at the Games of the XIV Olympiad. London, like much of Europe, still bore scars of World War II. Despite the damage, the Games resumed in London after a 12-year break. It was time for the world to come together and celebrate the values of peace through sport that defines the Olympic Movement. 

In London, Spellman, then 25, went 9 for 9 in his lifts. Spellman secured the Gold Medal in the middleweight category by successfully completing three lifts in each the snatch, clean & jerk and military press. He set an Olympic Record with a total weight of 390kg, edging out his American teammate Pete George by 7-and-a-half kilograms.

"I had goosebumps all over," Spellman said of his Olympic experience. "It was very, very exciting. Immediately after the competition they had a little thing going on for the first, second and third place guys, but several days later we went into the Olympic stadium and they had a program there and our name was up on the billboard. It gave each athlete’s name, their country and the place they took, and that was very exciting. It just was something very special."

After the Games, Spellman did not give up the sport, lifting into his nineties. Spellman was a regular at Acceleration Fitness in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where he lived with his wife Camylle who passed away in 2013. 

A member of numerous Halls-of-Fame throughout the world (including USA Weightlifting's), Spellman is remembered as a charismatic athlete with the strength and stamina of an Olympic Champion.