Security takes many forms

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Much has been written about security at 2012 games.  In fact, I have even written a few pieces.  In the wake of the many high profile terrorist attacks, both domestic and international, I remembered a security event that I personally was a part of.

In October 1978,I found myself in Strasbourg France. My friend and associate Frank Baer had invited me there.  If you don't know who Frank Baer was, let me tell you.

Frank, a former Gymnast was the Executive Director of the USGF (The United States Gymnastic Federation) and its founder. He started it all in his garage in Tucson. Arizona.  It was there, along with my FOX Sports Associate, Marty Groothuis, That I signed to represent the Gymnastic Organization in all areas of its growth. This included getting commercial endorsements, bringing about TV exposure, creating new uniforms and also establishing new competitions.

It worked out tremendously well.  However, the 2012 Olympics brought to mind an incident that involved me personally. It took place in 1978 at the Gymnastics World Championships in Strasbourg, France.

I had gone there as the guest of Frank Baer.  I had conceived this wild idea of bringing over the Romanian team to compete against the United States. To achieve this  would be quite a coup.  Of course, the crown jewel of the Rumanian team was little Nadia Comenici.

If you know your Olympic history, you will remember that Nadia at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal became the first Gymnast in history to score a perfect 10.00.  As a matter of fact, she wasn't done.  By the time that Olympiad ended she scored 6 more.  Her record of 7 still stands to this day.

So, there I was in Strasbourg, a sleepy little French Hamlet located in the Alsace... close to where my sister-in-law Rose grew up. But that is another story for another time.

My goal was to present my grandiose scheme and sign up the Romanians to make their first appearance in the United States. Strasbourg was a pastoral scene with blemishes. The blemishes to this ancient village were the police armed to the hilt with riot gear and armored half-tracks with mounted machine guns that patrolled every street of this ancient and delightful European Vista.

This was the first World Championship that the Israeli team had attended since the 1972 Munich Massacre.  Everything was tense and on edge. In fact, the Israeli team members were spread for safety reasons throughout 7 different hotels.

You need to understand this was taking place amidst the Cold War that existed.  There were two distinctive Political Blocs... Eastern and Western.  They trained separately and armed guards stood vigil at the entrances. Now, I had a problem! Traveling with me was my friend the late great columnist Jim Murray who later wrote about this escapade in my life. I was there as Frank Baer's guest.  I had no official standing, but I had to get behind the Iron Curtain, (The Eastern Bloc).  I needed an official badge.

I noticed that the most prominent badge was a Photo ID in a plastic 2 x 3 case pinned to one's lapel. What was I to do?  I hadn't come this far to be stymied.  Too many people were counting on me.  I suddenly hit on an idea. Upon reflection years later, I realized I could have been thrown in jail, or worse yet, killed.

I went to a local 5 & 10, where I bought an identical plastic badge holder into which I slid my California Driver's License (it had my photo), walked up to the eastern Bloc Sentry, who was armed with an UZI and controlled the meanest looking German Sheppard I think I had ever seen. I smiled at the guard, patted the dog on the head and won my victory.

However, that's not the end.  Sid Silver helped me arrange for a U.S v. Romania tour across the United States.  We sold out in no time.  Everything was going smoothly, or so we thought.

They were to start in NYC where Mayor Lindsey, The Firemen's band and a Red Carpet would great them.  Everything was set. Competitions involved cumulative scoring going from one city to the next. They would be in 5 Arenas in five different cities from NYC to Los Angeles in 10 days.

The night before their arrival I received a call at my home.  "Nadia had broken her pinkie finger and could not compete". I was devastated.  Every Arena had been completely sold out.  We refunded all the money and Lloyds of London reimbursed us.

You might think that was the end.  Hardly! While attending an Oak Park High School graduation party for my grand daughter Sarah and her friends, I learned the true reason.  As I related the story, one of the graduate's fathers, a Romanian gentleman, told me the real reason they cancelled was because the head of the Secret Police who was to accompany the Romanian Team had defected ...He was that man!

I subsequently verified the facts... after all it was the Cold War!


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Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.